The Eagles may get a glimpse at their secondary of the future on Sunday against the Washington Redskins.
Jaiquawn Jarrett, a second-round pick in April, is expected to start for injured safety Kurt Coleman, and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie looks likely to start in place of an ailing Asante Samuel.
There's a decent chance Jarrett and Rodgers-Cromartie could also start next season - or at least head into training camp with that opportunity, although neither has impressed in 2011.
Jarrett was a second-round pick in April, and teams generally want to get starters out of that kind of investment. Rodgers-Cromartie, wedged into a job as the nickel cornerback this season, could return to his familiar spot on the outside next year if the Eagles move one of their big-name corners.
Coleman has a partial biceps tear and was placed on injured reserve Wednesday, and Samuel, nursing a hamstring injury, is a "stretch" to play Sunday, coach Andy Reid said.
If he can't go, Samuel may have played his last game as an Eagle. With a logjam at cornerback, the Eagles seem likely to deal someone, and Samuel is the most logical choice, especially considering the team considered trading him in the offseason. A Pro Bowler each of the last four years, including three in Philadelphia, Samuel is due a significant raise next season, to $8.4 million, up from $5.9 million, and he has clashed with management over being dangled in trade talks.
Nnamdi Asomugha and Rodgers-Cromartie can both play press coverage, so keeping the two of them would make schematic sense.
Reid was eager to get another look at Jarrett, who has just one start this year.
"We have a pretty good idea about Dominique, he's been out there for a few years playing on the outside, and we know what kind of player he is," Reid said. "Jaiquawn, that's a whole different story. He doesn't have as much experience."
Jarrett has played in 11 games this year but has just 14 tackles (12 solo). He hasn't played much safety and hasn't stood out on special teams.
Perhaps most telling, however, was that Jarrett could not crack the starting lineup even as Coleman, Nate Allen, and Jarrad Page went through struggles at safety.
Reid said improvement by Allen and Coleman accounted for Jarrett's lack of snaps.
"It's really only due to that. It's not effort or knowledge from Jaiquawn," Reid said.
Jarrett, drafted 54th overall out of Temple, was supposed to be a hard-hitting, instinctive complement to Allen, who is better in coverage.
"There's always pressure. You have high expectations on yourself, so when I get out there I want to make sure I'm executing to the best of my ability," Jarrett said of the scrutiny that comes with being a high pick. "In the beginning of the season there was a lot going on, learning process. I'm still learning as of today, you never stop learning. I'm more comfortable today than I was four months ago."
Rodgers-Cromartie has also had to learn as he adjusted to playing nickel back. He has not looked comfortable in coverage.
"It was tough for a long time. I just had to keep my head down and keep grinding, that's how I've always been. Ain't going to complain too much, ain't going to say too much, just going to grind it out," he said. "You come in . . . making plays [last year], and then you come in and you're not really doing anything, getting beat on plays you shouldn't get beat on. It's a humbling experience."
Rodgers-Cromartie said he did not have anything to prove - "I just go out there and play ball" - or a preference about playing inside or outside as a corner. But Reid has indicated that he sees the speedy defensive back on the outside.
"His natural spot, where he feels the most comfortable, is on the outside," Reid said last week.
If he can play well Sunday, he might get to make himself comfortable in a starting job in 2012.