The Eagles emerged victorious in their first preseason game last night, triumphing over the Steelers 24-23 on a 51 yard FG by Alex Henery with :12 seconds left on the clock. The win, however, was overshadowed by two things: Michael Vick’s thumb injury (although x-rays came back negative) and the team’s struggles (particularly the defense) when the starters for both sides were on the field. Taking into account what we saw last night, here’s how I see the 53-man roster shaking out for Opening Day:
Quarterback: 3 (Michael Vick, Nick Foles, Mike Kafka)
After Kafka’s dreadful performance combined with Foles’ excellent one, I’d say that Foles would be ahead of Kafka on the depth chart if Michael Vick were to suffer another injury, even if Kafka still holds the #2 spot on the “official” depth chart at this time. Trent Edwards also played well and could push Kafka for the 3rd QB spot if Kafka’s struggles continue for the rest of the preseason. Bob wrote something up on the backup QB position earlier today, check it out for more insight.
Running Back: 3 (Lesean McCoy, Dion Lewis, Bryce Brown)
Dion Lewis ran well, gaining 22 yards on 4 carries and entrenching himself as Lesean McCoy’s backup. Bryce Brown and Chris Polk each received 3 carries in their competition for the #3 RB spot, and Brown gained 33 yards on his while Polk managed a whopping 1 yard on his. To be fair, Polk did pick up 28 yards on 3 catches, but Brown gained 16 on 2 of his own. Brown’s got the much higher upside between the two, and while Polk might be more polished, the Eagles are looking for upside at the 3RB spot with Brown and that will help him win the job.
They didn’t have too many looks with a fullback last night, and I think they’ll decide to go without a traditional fullback this year. Maybe the extra roster spot vacated by the lack of a fullback could go to Chris Polk, but I think they’ll use it elsewhere.
Wide Receiver: 6 (Desean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, Jason Avant, Riley Cooper, Damaris Johnson, Marvin McNutt)
The top 3 receivers are cut-and-dry, but I think Cooper makes the team for his special teams ability despite his fractured collarbone. Johnson had a spectacular game, tallying 85 yards on 4 catches, with the highlight being a 70-yard TD catch off a Nick Foles pass. He also looked explosive in the return game, as he had a 50+ yard punt return called back because of a block in the back. McNutt’s big frame and upside give him the final roster spot in the WR corps. Look out for Mardy Gilyard though, as he’s a similarly explosive player and had a nice 44 yard TD catch last night.
Offensive Tackle: 4 (Todd Herremans, Demetress Bell, King Dunlap, Dennis Kelly)
Although Bell didn’t have a very good Eagles debut last night, he’s still the clear-cut starter at LT. Dunlap has been with the Eagles for a while now and showed flashes of improvement last season, so he’ll be the primary backup at LT. Kelly wins the 4th OT job by virtue of being a 5th round draft pick this year, although he looked slow and ineffective in his playing time last night.
Offensive Guard: 3 (Danny Watkins, Evan Mathis, Julian Vandervelde)
Watkins and Mathis are the obvious starters, and since Howard Mudd was extremely high on Vandervelde last season I’d assume he’ll be the 3rd guard over Mike Gibson and 2012 6th rounder Brandon Washington, though that is definitely subject to change.
Center: 2 (Jason Kelce, Dallas Reynolds)
Kelce is Mudd’s pet project and will start at center again like he did last season. Reynolds is a great story, having spent the maximum amount of time on the practice squad possible, and I think the Eagles reward him this season with a spot as the primary backup center. Reynolds can also play guard if he was pressed into action.
Tight End: 2 (Brent Celek, Clay Harbor)
Despite rumors of bringing in a veteran TE like Visanthe Shiancoe (who signed with New England, as if they needed more TEs) or Jeremy Shockey (please no), the Eagles have decided to stay with Harbor as the primary backup to Brent Celek in camp so far. Undrafted rookie Brett Brackett had a drop last night and doesn’t figure to sniff Harbor’s spot as Celek’s backup.
So there’s the offense: 23 players, with the only “surprise” being that the Eagles won’t carry a FB.
Defensive End: 6 (Trent Cole, Jason Babin, Brandon Graham, Vinny Curry, Phillip Hunt, Daryl Tapp)
The Eagles defensive line managed to tally 6.5 sacks despite not having either projected DE starter in the lineup and having DT Cullen Jenkins leave early with a pulled hamstring. Hunt, Curry, and Graham all looked excellent: Hunt tallied 4 tackles with 2 early sacks, Graham racked up a sack and a TFL, consistently pressured the QB, and looked explosive coming off his knee injury, and Curry had 5 tackles with 3 TFLs as he played the run excellently, which was one of the concerns about him coming out of Marshall. Daryl Tapp also had a good game and looks to be worthy of a roster spot despite his $2.6M salary. The Eagles could end up moving Tapp for a late draft pick at the end of camp to a DE-needy team, but as of now I see them taking 6 DEs on the roster.
Defensive Tackle: 5 (Cullen Jenkins, Fletcher Cox, Derek Landri, Cedric Thornton, Antonio Dixon)
I’m operating under the assumption here that Mike Patterson will open the season on the PUP list. If that’s the case, I think that the Eagles will take an extra DL (11 between the two positions rather than the typical 10) and cut the one who is having the least impact come Week 6 when Patterson is ready to be activated. Jenkins and Cox will likely start for the majority of the season, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see Landri as a starter on Opening Day. Landri is a veteran and had 2 TFLs last night, while Cox is a rookie and didn’t make a huge impact in his first NFL action. Cedric Thornton looked explosive last night from the inside, recording 4 tackles, a sack and 2 TFLs. Dixon is a holdover from his 2010 breakout under Sean McDermott, and he’s coming off a season-ending injury last year. If the Eagles wanted to stick with 10 defensive linemen, I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see Dixon cut and have the Eagles go with 6 DE and 4 DT.
Linebacker: 6 (Demeco Ryans, Mychal Kendricks, Brian Rolle, Jamar Chaney, Casey Matthews, Akeem Jordan)
Despite new faces in Ryans and Kendricks, the LB unit looked like much of the same from last season last night. Kendricks was a bright spot, using his excellent speed to range from sideline to sideline, and he was all around the ball, finishing with 5 tackles and 2 TFLs. Ryans didn’t play very well, as he did nothing to stand out from the rest of the LB crew despite being a highly-touted addition at the MLB position. Brian Rolle had an up-and-down game, as he recorded a half-sack with Daryl Tapp but was also engulfed by the Steelers’ OL on numerous occasions in the run game. Jamar Chaney will battle with Rolle for the starting WLB position and will be his primary backup, and Casey Matthews has bought himself some time with his positive play towards the end of last season. He could see some time in the nickel packages this season. The final LB spot will come down to Akeem Jordan and Keenan Clayton. Clayton has more potential, but hasn’t put it to much use thus far. Jordan is a solid veteran backup who can be counted on to play special teams well and do a passable job as an LB fill in for a game or two, and that’s what the Eagles are probably looking for out of their 6th LB, so he gets the spot.
Cornerbacks: 6 (Nnamdi Asomugha, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Joselio Hanson, Curtis Marsh, Brandon Boykin, Brandon Hughes)
Nnamdi and DRC both had mediocre performances last night, as Nnamdi was beat inside by Antonio Brown in a 1-on-1 matchup and left a massive hole (with the help of Jaiquawn Jarrett and Brian Rolle) in the zone on Emmanuel Sanders’ 2-yard TD. DRC missed a tackle on Jonathan Dwyer and took a silly personal foul penalty for launching himself at Ben Roethelisburger, a play that’s sure to get him a letter from the NFL offices. Marsh looks to be the primary backup on the outside to Asomugha and Cromartie, and Hanson had a good game last night to secure his hold on the nickel CB position. Boykin had a 46-yard kick return last night (to put it in perspective, the Eagles’ longest last year was 33 yards) and will play the 2nd nickel spot behind Hanson. Right now, I’ve penciled Brandon Hughes in as the 6th CB but look out for undrafted rookie CB Cliff Harris. He was unable to play last night due to a high ankle sprain, but the former star at Oregon who’s had personal issues has been all around the ball in minicamp and the early goings of training camp. If he gets a chance to prove himself in the next couple preseason games, he could unseat Hughes. Newly-acquired CB Kevin Thomas from Indianapolis and 2010 4th rounder (and one of Philadelphia’s sexiest singles!) Trevard Lindley also have chances to make the roster.
Safeties: 4 (Nate Allen, Kurt Coleman, OJ Atogwe, Jaiquawn Jarrett)
Allen didn’t play last night, but the other 3 safeties did, with varying degrees of success. Coleman played fine and tightened his grip on the starting safety job opposite Allen. Atogwe didn’t see much action and as a result did nothing to stand out, but he’ll be a veteran backup in the safety corps capable of stepping in if Allen or Coleman falters. Jarrett, on the other hand, had an abysmal game last night. The highlights: missed tackles on Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown, a poor angle on Chris Rainey’s 1st down pickup on a 3rd and 13 draw play (yikes), getting swallowed up in the open field on Rainey’s 57-yard TD run, not reacting quick enough to close the hole in the zone between him and Nnamdi Asomugha on Sanders’ 2-yard TD catch, and this (If this wasn’t preseason, I would have already ripped all my hair out after that play). As amazing as it is to say about a 2011 2nd round pick, Jarrett is on the roster bubble. If he can find a way to contribute on special teams, he’ll likely make the final roster. Sheil Kapadia said it best about Jarrett over at Birds 24/7 (which, by the way, is an absolute must-read for any Eagles fan. Him and Tim McManus do incredible work over there): “At this point, it’s tough to tell if Jarrett takes poor angles, is just slow, or both”. Yeesh. I don’t have former special teams ace Colt Anderson making the roster because I’m not convinced he’s 100% healthy coming off his late-season ACL tear in 2011.
There’s the defense: 27 guys, with 11 DLinemen and 10 DBs.
SPECIALISTS: 3 (Alex Henery, Jon Dorenbos, Mat McBriar)
Alex Henery will be the kicker (must have been a nice boost of confidence for him to make a game-winning 51 yard FG last night) and Jon Dorenbos will be the long-snapper, but the one battle in this unit is at punter. Neither Chas Henry nor Mat McBriar took a stranglehold on the punter job last night. Henry had 4 punts with a long of 54. 2 were downed inside the 20, leaving him with an average of 37.8 yards per punt (yuck). McBriar had 3 punts with a long of 43 and an average of 42.3, none inside the 20. All of McBriar’s punts were very consistent, but also very consistently returnable. Since McBriar started last night, I’ll give him the nod at punter for the sake of this exercise, but the competition really could not be any more even.
As of now, that’s the 53-man roster I see opening up the season in Cleveland on September 9th. Check back for an update after Week 2 of the NFL Preseason.