For Their Own Safety: Eagles Add O.J. Atogwe

For Their Own Safety: Eagles Add O.J. Atogwe

The Eagles surprised and even disappointed a few people when they did not address the safety position in the draft back in April, and after some flirtation with free agent Yeremiah Bell last month, he ultimately wound up signing with the Jets. It appeared the Birds were prepared to roll with what they had back there, but that changed on Tuesday.

24 hours after reports emerged from some unlikely sources, the team finalized a one-year deal with veteran safety O.J. Atogwe, who is expected to compete for a back-up job -- some might say more.

The Rams released Atogwe following the 2010 season, just one year after agreeing to a long-term contract, to avoid paying him an $8 million roster bonus. Atogwe, who turns 31 this week, spent the first six seasons of his NFL career in St. Louis before signing another five-year deal with the Redskins last March. They in turn dumped him as free agency was getting underway this year.

A third-round pick in '05, Atogwe has had trouble staying healthy, which has played a role in derailing his career. A major shoulder injury knocked him out of the Rams' final four games in '09, which in part led to the front office's unwillingness to work out a true long-term deal. Last season, various lower body injuries cost him three more games, and he was relegated to backup down the stretch.

Atogwe is highly regarded for his football IQ, and while he's slipped out of his prime, he can still contribute when healthy. He was thought to be a possible free agent target of the Eagles in years past, so it's funny he ends up here now to far less fanfare.

How He Fits

There's been a lot of talk already about how this addition impacts the guys here now -- Nate Allen, Kurt Coleman, and Jaiquawn Jarrett. Let's jump right into it.

First, the starters. Keep in mind, we're not ruling anything out, but we don't anticipate Atogwe to battling with either of the starters for their jobs this summer. Fully healthy and ready to go for camp, Allen's position appears to be locked down for sure. He played well in several games last season, especially as the year went on, and he has the highest ceiling of any of the guys on the roster.

Coleman's spot, on the other hand, seems a bit more fluid. As long as he eliminates some of the mental mistakes, he can overcome his limited ability and be a productive player for the Eagles -- though that is a big if. Still, Coleman has the upperhand over Atogwe, simply by virtue of being the younger player with more upside. At this point, it's his job to lose.

Plus, coaches might be hesitant to trust Atogwe with a full-time role given how injuries have slowed him down, and are likely to be a factor again. At this point in his career, he may be best suited for situational packages, but is likely first in line if either Allen or Coleman go down.

The Jaiquawn Jarrett Situation

Jarrett seems to be the player with the most to lose, to the point where many folks are questioning if he will even have a roster spot at the end of training camp. There is always a chance JJ could be released, but he would have to be a flop of epic proportions to receive the boot after one year. He's a second-round pick, so this would be much worse than Daniel Te'o-Nesheim.

Besides the Atogwe signing, the basis for that line of thinking seems to be built on two points: the fact that Jarrett couldn't get on the field during his rookie season, and the lack of hype coming out of off-season programs. Given that the club normally carries four safeties, and the fourth is usually a special teams contributor like Colt Anderson, there may not be room for Jarrett unless he proves his value.

I think the Eagles realize what a serious disadvantage Jarrett was at from the moment he joined the team. We tend to think of physical safeties like Brian Dawkins who run to the ball and wreak havoc with their bodies, but the position is cerebral as well. In the absence of last offseason, which was eliminated by the lockout, a rookie like Jarrett would understandably have a hard time getting up to speed on the mental aspects of the game.

With the benefit of a full offseason, he should improve. Unfortunately, we didn't hear much about Jarrett in the Spring, and the suggestion is that means he is not getting better, not fast enough anyway. The addition of Atogwe would seem to confirm that.

However, adding a veteran safety always seemed like the smart play. If Jarrett was so bad last season, and it was primarily an issue of preparation, why would anybody expect him to have a firm grasp on the nuances of the position less than a year later? And considering the collective inexperience of the group as a whole -- five seasons between the three of them -- adding a smart veteran such as Atogwe to the mix only serves to help.

I'm the wait-and-see type with young players, sometimes to my own detriment, but this kid hasn't even had a chance. Maybe Jarrett's job is on the line here, but I'm not ready to believe the Eagles would cut the cord so fast, not given the circumstances. They made the investment, they can find a roster spot, and if they believe he could play at all, it seems like they have to give him an opportunity to gain experience under optimal conditions.

Best of NFL: Redskins notch 1st win vs. Giants; Cowboys rout Bears

Best of NFL: Redskins notch 1st win vs. Giants; Cowboys rout Bears

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J.  -- Dustin Hopkins kicked a 37-yard field goal late in the fourth quarter for his fifth of the game and the Washington Redskins avoid a near-disastrous 0-3 start with a 29-27 win over the penalty- and error-prone New York Giants on Sunday.

Kirk Cousins threw touchdown passes of 44 yards to DeSean Jackson and 55 to Jamison Crowder as the banged-up Redskins (1-2) handed new coach Ben McAdoo his first loss with the Giants (2-1).

Su'a Cravens ended the Giants' final drive with an interception in New York territory. It was Eli Manning's second pick of the quarter, with the other coming in the end zone by Quinton Dunbar after New York got to the Redskins 15 on a big play by Odell Beckham Jr.

This was a wild NFC East matchup that see-sawed the entire second half after Washington rallied from a 21-9 deficit (see full recap).

Prescott, Cowboys rout Bears on SNF
ARLINGTON, Texas -- Dak Prescott led scoring drives on all four Dallas possessions in the first half before throwing his first career touchdown pass, and the Cowboys beat the Chicago Bears 31-17 on Sunday night to snap an eight-game home losing streak.

With his second straight win, Prescott doubled the number of victories the Cowboys (2-1) had in 14 games without injured quarterback Tony Romo over three seasons before the rookie fourth-round pick showed up.

Prescott's first TD pass was a 17-yarder to Dez Bryant for a 31-10 lead in the fourth quarter, and he's up to 99 throws without an interception to start his career. Philadelphia rookie Carson Wentz has 102, and those are the two highest career-opening totals in NFL history.

Brian Hoyer had trouble moving the Chicago offense early with Jay Cutler sidelined by a sprained right thumb as the Bears fell behind 24-3 at halftime and dropped to 0-3 for the second time in two seasons under coach John Fox (see full recap).

Vikings stop Newton, snap Panthers' home win streak
CHARLOTTE, N.C.  -- The Minnesota Vikings keep finding ways to overcome injuries --and keep finding ways to win football games.

Sam Bradford threw a touchdown pass to Kyle Rudolph, Marcus Sherels returned a punt for a score and the Vikings snapped the Carolina Panthers' 14-game home winning streak 22-10 on Sunday.

The Vikings put the clamps on Cam Newton, intercepting the league's reigning MVP three times and getting eight sacks, one of those resulting in a safety by Danielle Hunter. The eight sacks were the second-most ever against Newton.

"We have a great team -- the best team I have been a part of," said Vikings defensive end Everson Griffen, who had three sacks. "We come from every area on the field and we get sacks."

Said Newton: "They were dictating to us after they got the momentum."

The Vikings improved 3-0 despite losing running back Adrian Peterson and offensive tackle Matt Kalil to injuries last week. They lost starting quarterback Teddy Bridgewater in the preseason (see full recap).

Bills bounce back with win over Cardinals
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y.  -- LeSean McCoy scored twice and safety Aaron Williams returned a botched field-goal snap 53 yards for a touchdown in leading the Buffalo Bills to a 33-18 win over the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday.

Quarterback Tyrod Taylor also scored on a 20-yard run at a time the Rex Ryan-coached Bills spent the past week taking the brunt of criticism after opening the season 0-2.

The win also came on the heels of Ryan firing offensive coordinator Greg Roman and replacing him with running backs coach Anthony Lynn.

McCoy scored on 24- and 5-yard runs, and finished with 110 yards rushing after combining for just 117 in his first two games. Taylor had 76 yards rushing, including a 49-yarder, the longest by a quarterback in team history (see full recap).

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Doug Pederson: For the Eagles, 'this was a good benchmark'

Doug Pederson: For the Eagles, 'this was a good benchmark'

On his way to the locker room following his team's stunning 34-3 victory over the Steelers, Eagles head coach Doug Pederson reacted, well, like you probably did.

Pederson had to be surprised by what had just transpired. After all, this wasn't the Browns or the Bears. This was the Steelers, who entered the game with the second-best odds behind New England, per Bovada, of winning the Super Bowl (the Patriots were first). 

And the Eagles didn't just beat them. They clobbered them.

But minutes later, when Pederson met the media for his postgame press conference, he tried his best to act like it was no big thing.

“I told the team way back in OTAs that it just takes a little bit of belief," Pederson said. "Belief in themselves. Trust the process. Believe in the coaches and the coaches believe in one another. That’s what they did tonight. 

"Am I surprised? A little. But at the same time, I know that locker room, I know those guys and I know what they are building. By no means have we accomplished anything yet. The season is still extremely young. But what they did tonight just proves that they are coming together as a football team.”

Yeah, yeah. Sorry, Doug. It's OK to be surprised. Scratch that. Make that stunned. This was supposed to be a rebuilding year. But now? Forget that. 

At least for the next two weeks. The Eagles are on their bye week and don't play again until Oct. 9 at Detroit. 

“It is still a young season, only three games. This was a good benchmark," Pederson said. "That’s a good football team, the Steelers are a great football team. They are going to be there at the end, they always are. Coach (Mike) Tomlin always has those guys ready to play. 

"But for our guys, it is just a little glimpse of that belief that I have been saying since the spring and summer. If they just do their jobs, I just feel that good things can happen. We just protect each other in that dressing room in there and keep coming to work everyday.”

Pederson is the only head coach in team history to win each of his first three games. It's only the ninth time the Eagles have started 3-0.

And of course, a big reason they've done so is their prodigy quarterback Carson Wentz, who became only the second rookie in team history to record a 300-yard passing game (Nick Foles is the other).

More impressively, Wentz now has attempted 102 straight passes without an interception, the longest streak ever begin an NFL career (per ESPN). Dallas'  Dak Prescott is at 99 after the Cowboys beat up the Bears.

But don't ask Pederson to admit he's amazed by Wentz or the fact he had the presence of mind to make plays like the riveting 73-yard TD pass to Darren Sproles (much more on that here).

“You know, you just put on his college film. Just watch him," Pederson said. "We exhausted his college tape and those were the plays that he made at North Dakota State. That play tonight was just a tremendous play by both he and Darren Sproles. Those are the types of things that we know he can do. He just keeps gaining confidence every single week.”

As does the defense, which kept one of the league's most potent offenses out of the end zone

"They just weren’t going to be denied," Pederson said. "They just weren’t going to bow their necks. They weren’t going to let them in the endzone. It just came down to our will versus theirs and I was just so happy with the way the guys played. Just a great team effort.”