Philadelphia Eagles: Under-the-Radar Players to Watch for at Camp
Training camp is finally here. No more bragging about what the Philadelphia Eagles did this offseason. It's time to go to work and start proving some of that hype to be true.
The Eagles head into training camp as a confident team full of depth. That depth is really going to take shape at Lehigh. Those second- and third-stringers are going to push for playing time and fight for a couple starting positions.
Last year there were a couple of "sleepers" at training camp that really impressed. Jason Kelce, a sixth-round draft pick won the starting center job and Brian Rolle really impressed as well. Both players wound up becoming starters, Kelce right away and Rolle after Week 3.
Which players that are relatively unknown are going to impress at camp this summer? Here are five players that will really impress in the next few weeks at Lehigh.
1. Bryce Brown
When the Eagles selected Bryce Brown with their last pick in the seventh round of last April's draft, most fans probably had no idea who he was. It's not surprising for a player that only played one full season in college. He transferred after his freshman season at Tennessee and had just three carries in one game while at Kansas State.
Brown will make a name for himself at training camp. Coming out of high school he was the highest-ranked running back in the same class as Trent Richardson. He is a bigger back at 220 pounds who also possess really good speed. He ran a 4.37 during his pro day at Kansas State.
Brown looked fantastic during the Eagles OTAs. He isn't technically as sounds as most of the running backs coming into the league but he has as much talent as anyone in the league.
The Eagles are in need of a compliment for LeSean McCoy. Someone who can give the offense five to 10 touches a game without losing a beat.
If Brown can impress as much in training camp as he did during the OTAs, he will win the No. 2 running back spot. I believe Brown will be a really good back in this league. We will have a better idea of exactly what kind of back he will be once we see him in pads at training camp
2. Marvin McNutt
The Eagles are loaded at wide receiver. It's going to be a tough summer for any receiver trying to crack one of the last roster spots. Marvin McNutt is that receiver. We know that DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin and Jason Avant are locks to make the roster, but what about the other two or three receiver spots?
Riley Cooper isn't a lock to make the roster, but he is close. He did a decent job filling in when DeSean Jackson was suspended for missing a team meeting and also when Jeremy Maclin missed a couple starts with a bad hamstring and shoulder injury.
The Eagles will keep at least five wide receivers, maybe six. You usually don't have a specific number of players you want to keep at each position. It all depends on the players. If a guy like Marvin McNutt performs really well at camp, he makes the roster. Same thing goes for Damaris Johnson. If both players play well, the Eagles will keep six wide receivers unless Cooper really looks bad.
McNutt is the type of receiver that the Eagles need. He is a really polished possession receiver. He has good hands and great route-running ability. He is the type of receiver that produces in the red zone. If he shows that type of ability at camp he will make the roster, regardless of what the other players do at camp. You just can't let go of a good red-zone target.
3. Cedric Thornton
We saw just a glimpse of defensive tackle Cedric Thornton last summer at training camp before he was stashed away on the practice squad. I liked what little I saw from him. This year he has a much better shot of making the 53-man roster.
Mike Patterson has been ruled out for training camp as he has not fully recovered from the brain surgery he had in January (h/t FoxSports.com). He will most likely start the regular season on the PUP list and could finish the year on the IR list. That means one extra defensive tackle could win a job on the roster and be a part of Jim Washburn's defensive line rotation.
The locks at defensive tackle right now are rookie Fletcher Cox and veteran Cullen Jenkins. Derek Landri and Antonio Dixon were expected to make the roster along with Patterson, but now that spot may be open for Thornton. The Eagles could elect to keep just four defensive tackle with the belief that Patterson could come back this season.
In order for Thornton to make the roster, he has to show he can penetrate into the backfield. All defensive linemen in Washburn's wide-nine scheme have to be able to penetrate into the backfield. How well he gets into the backfield during preseason will determine if he earns a spot on the roster or not. Performing at a high level in practice is one thing, but doing it in a live-game situation is a whole other ballgame.
4. Phillip Hunt
Phillip Hunt is one player to really keep an eye on this summer. He is a player with a lot of upside, but is still a really raw player. Last season he was in his first season removed from the CFL. He struggled to get any playing time until the last four weeks where he had two sacks and a safety.
Hunt looked visibly faster and stronger during the OTAs. On paper, he is the fifth-best defensive end on the roster behind Trent Cole, Jason Babin, Brandon Graham and Vinny Curry. If he outperforms either Curry or Graham at camp he will see about 30 to 40 percent of the snaps in Washburn's rotation.
Hunt would see most of his snaps on obvious passing downs. He has to show that extra burst as a pass-rusher in order to get more playing time in 2012. If he is a pass-rushing force, he will have a chance to steal playing time from either a first-round pick in 2010 or a recent second-round pick.
5. Cliff Harris
During the 2010 season Cliff Harris was one of the top cornerbacks and punt returners in the nation. He was suspended for the 2011 season following some traffic and drug-related issues. His off-the-field issues kept him from being drafted last April. Nobody had seen him play since the 2011 national title game. He is a bit undersized at corner already and off-the-field issues kept him from being drafted.
The Eagles have a lot of young and unproven corners on their roster already. Curtis Marsh and Brandon Hughes are expected to be the backup corners this season. Harris' best shot at making the roster will be on punt returns. He took four all the way back in 2010. He was the most dangerous return man in college.
Great return men can never be undervalued. An explosive offense with an explosive return game is just not fair to the rest of league. The Bears got by with a bad offense because of what Devin Hester brought to the return game.
If Harris is going to make the team, it is going to be because of his impact in the return game. The Eagles were awful in the return game last season. Any Eagle that can impress in the return game will make this roster.