Senior Bowl Diary: Searching For a Safety

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Every time Howie Roseman meets with the media this offseason, he knows one topic that is guaranteed to surface: the Eagles’ plan at safety.

It’s become an annual tradition to a certain extent. The Eagles have tried time and again – through the draft, trades and free agency – to fill the two safety spots, but have been largely unsuccessful.

In 2013, Patrick Chung struggled throughout, while Nate Allen showed some improvement. Earl Wolff battled a knee injury and made rookie mistakes, but proved his athleticism translates to the NFL level.

Overall, though, safety is high on the need list this offseason. The Eagles could take a shot at one of the top free-agent options like Buffalo’s Jairus Byrd or Cleveland’s T.J. Ward. Or they could find a prospect or two in the draft.

Which brings us back to this week’s Senior Bowl. Some of the top safety prospects – Alabama’s Ha Ha Clinton Dix, Florida State’s Lamarcus Joyner and Louisville’s Calvin Pryor – were not in attendance. Pryor (6-2, 208) is one guy who has been popping up on early mock drafts to the Eagles with the No. 22 pick.

We’ll have more on the top guys listed above in the coming weeks, but below are three safety prospects we tracked down in Mobile.

Deonne Bucannon, Washington State

Bucannon played against Chip Kelly in college. Washington State never held Oregon to fewer than 43 points while he was there, but Bucannon had three interceptions in his career against the Ducks.

At 6-0 7/8 and 216 pounds, Bucannon has excellent size for a safety and was known in college as a big hitter. During the pre-draft process, though, he wants to show he can cover too.

“I kind of feel like a lot of people didn’t see me as what I was sometimes,” Bucannon said. “And that’s a lot of the reason why I decided to come out here – to show everybody that I am more than just a hitter, more than just aggressive. I can actually play football.

“I’m trying to make it my goal [to show people] that I can actually cover. I can actually cover and stay with the slot receivers, with the tight ends and my hips aren’t as tight as what people may think because I’m a big safety.”

Bucannon played mostly zone in college and was a playmaker with six interceptions and three forced fumbles. If he can prove his versatility in the coming months, his stock will rise.

Ahmad Dixon, Baylor

The storyline is somewhat similar for Dixon. Considered a big hitter, he has to prove to scouts that he can cover.

Asked what he thinks the biggest question about him is, Dixon said: “It’s my coverage ability. And that’s because we don’t do very much man-to-man coverage at Baylor. We’re moreso a quarters-based team so more in zone a lot. But that’s what I’m here for, to show everybody that I can cover and I’m not afraid to do so.

“I’m not very good in [practice] one-on-ones, but in the game I’ll lock you down.”

At 5-11 1/2, 205 pounds, Dixon also has good size for a safety.

“I realize that every hit won’t be a big hit,” he said. “Sometimes you have to get nasty and grab an ankle or jump on the back, whatever it takes to pull a guy down. You won’t be able to get that big hit every time.”

Jimmie Ward, Northern Illinois

He was probably the best cover guy among the safeties in Mobile. And Ward’s stock seems to be rising.

“Some coaches told me I wasn’t even on the list, and then I got interviews from ‘em,” Ward said. “So I’m progressing each and every day.”

At 5-10 3/8, 191 pounds, Ward isn’t as big as Dixon and Bucannon. But he played some nickel in college and could be a nice fit for teams looking for someone to match up with tight ends and slot receivers.

Ward said his family didn’t have a lot growing up and he didn’t always eat right. But he’s already put on 9 pounds this offseason and wants to add about 10 more to get up to around 201.

Ward will be a key player to watch at the scouting combine next month. If he tests well and adds some bulk, Ward will be an intriguing option for teams looking for safety help.

Follow Sheil Kapadia on Twitter and e-mail him at skapadia@phillymag.com.
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