IT SURE LOOKS like we're closer to the start of the Eagles' defensive-coordinator search than the end.

Head coach Andy Reid is due back from vacation this weekend, and is scheduled to interview New Orleans secondary coach Dennis Allen on Sunday, when Allen arrives in Philadelphia after his weekend interview with the Denver Broncos, a source close to the situation said.

The Eagles don't seem in any hurry to get to Allen; they don't seem concerned that he might not make it out of Denver. The Birds showed the same nonchalance toward the Denver journey of Jim Mora earlier this week, before Mora decided the two d-coordinator openings weren't right for him.

Eagles secondary coach Dick Jauron - who was allowed to interview in Cleveland this week - and former Cardinals defensive coordinator Bill Davis are the remaining known candidates. Davis reportedly talked to the Browns yesterday. He is not believed to be a leading Eagles candidate.

A source with knowledge of the team's plans has said the Eagles do intend to talk to at least one of the coaches still involved in the playoffs, something that can't happen until that coach's team is eliminated. The Eagles and the Ravens denied reports yesterday that the Eagles had asked permission to speak with Baltimore linebackers coach Dean Pees. Or, more precisely, the Eagles denied asking for permission to talk to Pees and the Ravens said he wouldn't be talking to the Eagles.

There is a strong possibility that more candidates will emerge in the coming days. The team's brass will assemble in Mobile, Ala., next week for Senior Bowl practice, which is the NFL's informal job fair.

CSNPhilly.com has reported that Jauron agreed not to sign on anywhere else without first talking to the Eagles. Remember, when Jauron, 60, was hired last year, everyone figured his presence would provide smooth continuity if Sean McDermott's second year as Eagles defensive coordinator didn't go better than his first. It sure seems possible that the Birds intend to kick a few tires, then announce Jauron, who might not thrill fans but apparently has the respect of the locker room.

Allen, 38, seems very much like McDermott, 36, was when he succeeded Jim Johnson. Before Allen's name came up, it seemed the Birds were looking for experience instead of potential.

"It's a small league, and there aren't many secrets. His reputation has grown, and the word has gotten around. You can see it on film," Saints coach Sean Payton said yesterday, when the New Orleans Times-Picayune asked him about Allen's candidacy for other jobs. "He's extremely talented, and another thing about him, he's an extremely hard-working guy. He's a guy that's gonna have more of these opportunities down the line [if he isn't hired this time around]."

"This experience of going through the interview process and getting his name out there is deserved. He's done a very good job. He's extremely well thought of within this building."

This has been a strange process so far. The Eagles are the reigning NFC East champions, with some of the best offensive talent in the league. One would think just about any assistant in the league would see their d-coordinator job as a springboard to the bright spotlight and a head-coaching opportunity. Mora (who, of course, has already been a head coach) didn't even wait to be formally interviewed before he said no thanks. McDermott, the guy the Eagles fired, quickly had offers in Denver and Carolina, a source close to the situation has said, choosing Carolina. If the league's assistants are beating down the Eagles' door, we certainly aren't hearing about it.

Among the questions raised is how the rest of the league views the Eagles organization right now, and exactly how other teams saw the McDermott situation.

Scratch Bowlers

Eagles corner Asante Samuel and left tackle Jason Peters have withdrawn from the Pro Bowl. Samuel, who battled a knee injury down the stretch, has been replaced by the Packers' Tramon Williams, whose postseason performances have raised his profile considerably. Peters has been replaced by Atlanta's Tyson Clabo.

The Eagles will still be represented in Hawaii by kicker David Akers, quarterback Michael Vick and wideout DeSean Jackson.

Birdseed

Eagles special-teams quality-control coach Jeff Nixon, who also worked with running backs, yesterday was named running-backs coach for the Dolphins. Nixon, a former Penn State running back, coached running backs at Temple before coming to the Eagles. Wonder if Nixon's departure opens a permanent spot on the staff for Duce Staley? . . . Former Eagles executive Mark Donovan has been named president of the Kansas City Chiefs . . . Andy Reid has been named the league's most outstanding coach and Michael Vick its outstanding pro player of the year by the Maxwell Club.

For more Eagles coverage and opinion, read the Daily News' Eagles blog, Eagletarian, at www.eagletarian.com.

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