An NFL team's practice squad is an important part of their roster. NFL teams can carry up to eight players on their practice squad as long as they have spent less than two years on a practice squad and have not been a part of a 53-man roster for six or more games.
The practice-squad players don't dress for game or even count for the final 53-man roster. They are practice players only, who can be called up during any week as long as someone else on the roster is either cut or put on the injured-reserve list.
Also, any team can sign a player from any other team's practice squad if they sign them to their 53-man roster. That means you don't want to put a rookie on your practice squad unless you aren't afraid of losing him.
We won't see any of the Philadelphia Eagles' draft picks on this squad, but we could see a few of their undrafted free agents becoming practice players only. Some of the more recent success stories from the Eagles practice squad have included Chad Hall, Cedric Thornton and Stanley Havili.
The key factor in having a successful practice squad is having a couple of players at positions where you are thin on the 53-man roster, keeping relatively unknown players who can add something extra in practice or develop into contributors down the road
Here are the 10 most likely members of the 2012 Eagles' practice squad.
I don't know what to make of Chris Polk and his role with the Philadelphia Eagles. He went undrafted in April's draft because of some serious shoulder and hip injury concerns. He was ranked as a top five running back by many experts leading up to the draft.
Until we see him run in training camp and preseason, it's hard to gage what his actual value is. To make the Eagles' final 53-man roster, he would have to beat out either Dion Lewis or Chris Polk. The Eagles will not keep four running backs—you can bank on it.
Once everyone sees what kind of back Polk is right now during preseason, we will have a better idea of what his role could be for the Eagles or any other NFL team. If he looks good, he could be trade bait for another team. If the Eagles get a seventh-round draft pick for Polk, they get a lot more in return than they invested.
If Polk struggles, he could earn a spot on the Eagles practice squad. He could spend a year getting healthy and learning the offense. He would also serve as an emergency filler at running back should any of the Eagles backs suffer a major injury.
Chris Polk went from racking up over 1,800 total yards and 16 total touchdowns in his final year at Washington to becoming a top-five running back prospect to not being drafted at all. After a very strange and unpredictable last three months for Polk, the practice squad may not be so crazy after all.
Emil Igwenagu seems like a perfect candidate for the practice squad. He is a bit of a tweener as either a fullback or tight end. He doesn't block well and doesn't have enough explosive speed to get away with that as a receiving tight end.
He did more receiving than rushing as a senior at UMASS. He had 38 receptions for 375 yards and three touchdowns. Those numbers don't jump out at you, especially in the FCS level of college football.
He can become a quality tight end or even a good receiving fullback in the West Coast offense down the road.
He has to improve his hands, route running and his blocking. Those areas of the game aren't as much about natural ability as they are about technique and effort.
If he spends a year on the practice squad and improves as a blocker, he will be more equipped to compete for a roster spot.
Chase Ford was an afterthought for me as an NFL player until we saw what he could do at OTAs. It's hard to get excited for a tight end who had just 22 catches in the past two seasons in college. Ford looked like a player at the Eagles' camps that should have gotten 40 or 50 catches
Ford would be a really good candidate for the practice squad. He won't get enough interest from other teams for them to release a player in order to acquire him for their 53-man roster.
He would serve as both a student of the game on the squad and as an emergency third or fourth tight end that could be brought up in case of a major injury.
Brett Brackett is still a bit of a project now in his second year in the NFL. He spent most of the 2011 season on the Eagles' practice squad. He was a wide receiver at Penn State and is now trying to become an NFL tight end.
He definitely looks the part as a inside receiver. He was an outstanding slot receiver at Penn State and could run similar routes in the NFL as a tight end. T
he biggest question with Brackett will be his ability as a blocker. He doesn't have to be dominant, but he has to be solid in pass protection and blocking on outside runs. That, along with receiving skills, is what the Eagles want out of their tight ends.
If Brackett struggles as a blocker in training camp, I believe he will spend one more season on the practice squad.
Elvis Akpla is the type of player you want on your practice squad. He practices really hard, and he has the ability to grow into a player that will challenge for a roster spot. He is small at around 190 pounds and doesn't have great straight-line speed,
If he puts on about 10 pounds of muscle and improves as a route runner, he can be an NFL receiver. It's tough to overthrow Akpla inside the 20. He tries for every pass that comes his way. Effort like that can be contagious, even for a practice-squad player.
He will be a player to watch during preseason. I don't see any chance for him to even challenge for a roster spot with the Eagles being so deep at wide receiver, but give him a year in the NFL and he might in 2013.
A really bad ACL injury in 2009 has set back Greg Lloyd's career in the NFL. He is clearly a step slower than he once was. He is still a really physical linebacker, but his lack of speed will keep him from being a starter in this league.
The Eagles should be able to stash him on the practice squad for one more season. It would allow them to keep a third linebacker on the roster in case DeMeco Ryans reinjures his Achilles tendon or if any other major injury happens at the linebacker position.
Having a physical linebacker on the practice squad is never a bad thing. The harder you practice, the tougher your team can become. Lloyd can be that player in practice for one more season in Philadelphia.
There is a very good chance that the Eagles could keep just four interior linemen on their final 53-man roster. Mike Gibson is a player that can play both guard and center. They are going to cut back in terms of roster numbers at a couple positions so they can keep more players at another position.
That means they will need to keep an extra interior linemen on their practice squad. If injury strikes the guards, they would rather promote a player on their practice squad that has spent time with offensive line coach Howard Mudd. Adding outside help if they lose a guard or two to injury wouldn't be wise in a unique blocking scheme that coach Mudd runs.
McCullough has some potential to be a decent offensive linemen in this league. He has to prove he is athletic enough to play in Mudd's system and good enough in pass protection to be a West Coast offense linemen. This summer should answer those questions and tell us if he will be a good candidate for the practice squad or not.
Ryan Rau was a tackling machine at Portland State. He had nearly 300 career tackles in college and was a very underrated athlete. Now he is trying to earn a roster spot as a weak-side linebacker in the NFL.
You can never have too many athletes at linebacker who tackle well and hustle to the ball. Ryan Rau will give the Eagles just that on their practice squad.
They have enough competition at weak-side linebacker already with Brian Rolle, Jamar Chaney and Keenan Clayton that Rau won't figure to be a part of that battle. He could spend a year on the practice squad and become a better coverage linebacker while also getting stronger at the same time.
Monte Taylor is a very specific type of player, which would be why he wasn't drafted and why Seattle was willing to cut him so early this summer. Taylor is best served as a pass-rusher who can line up wide. Perfect for the wide-9, horrible for everything else.
Taylor isn't going to even sniff the 53-man roster with all that talent at defensive end. He can develop on the practice squad for a season before the Eagles decide on what type of pro he can be.
A player as one-dimensional as Taylor is will not be signed off the squad anytime soon. It will be interesting to see what he can do late in preseason games with the third-team defense.
For a while it looked like Phillip Thomas was going to challenge for a depth spot at safety on the 53-man roster in Philly. Now that the Eagles have signed O.J. Atogwe, it doesn't sound very likely anymore.
Thomas went undrafted in last April's draft mainly because of a lack of speed. He will get a chance to prove he is fast enough this summer at training camp.
He tackles well and plays physical enough to be a decent strong safety. With Atogwe just signed to a one-year deal and some questions about Jaiquawn Jarrett maybe not being good enough to be an NFL safety, Phillip Thomas could be setting himself up for a real good shot to make the roster in 2012.
For now, he is a really good addition for the practice squad.