Report Card for Philadelphia Eagles Positions Through First Week of Preseason
Preseason is in full swing as the Philadelphia Eagles are preparing for their preseason game on Monday night against the New England Patriots. Usually the third preseason game is the dress rehearsal, but the Eagles opponent that week is the same as their opponent on the first week of the regular season. The starters are expected to play anywhere from two to three quarters against New England.
The first preseason game isn't a very telling one. The starters usually only play a series or two and the coaching staff usually doesn't game plan a whole lot. They want to keep things simple and see what all 90 players can do in a live game situation.
The beauty of the first preseason game is that we only see the starters, most of which we already have a good read on, for a few plays, while the other players that we haven't seen much of, for the most part, play the rest of the way. That means we get a better sense of what the Vinny Curry's and Nick Foles of the world can do.
Overall it's been a pretty solid start to the season for the Eagles. The starters looked rusty, but we already know what they can do. It was the backups who really impressed. That shows just how much depth there is on this roster across the board.
Here is a report card on all the positional units and a breakdown of their performances up to this point in training camp as well as the first preseason game.
Andy Reid is a flat-out quarterback guru that always gets the most out of his starter and the prospects behind him. This year will be no exception. The Eagles were able to outscore the Pittsburgh Steelers in the second half 24-10 because of their depth at quarterback.
Michael Vick looked really rusty before injuring his thumb, but that shouldn't be a cause for concern. Vick has shown more accuracy in camp this summer than he ever has throughout his career. That should be sign of great things to come. You can't let two short series against a really good defense overshadow what has been a very dedicated summer for Vick. Moving the ball hasn't been a problem for Vick in his career, and six plays in the preseason won't change that.
Mike Kafka was basically getting the backup quarterback role handed to him this summer. He is entering his third season in the NFL and has made zero starts and just two relief stints. The Eagles went 0-2 last season when he came in for relief of the injured Michael Vick. Still, he had to show something to gain the confidence of the coaching staff. One bad interception and possibly no more work for the rest of preseason has had the opposite effect. He is still the projected backup quarterback, but the position will be a little more open than it was a couple weeks ago.
Nick Foles threw two touchdown passes against the Steeler defense, but it's important to note that most of those players were third stringers. It shows that he is ahead of schedule, but it doesn't mean that he should be handed the backup quarterback job because of what he did against a bunch of players who are just fighting for a roster spot.
Trent Edwards looked lousy during OTAs. He had to improve quickly during camp and in the preseason just to make it to the second week of preseason. He did a nice job, but again, he did it against backups. It was nice to see that he isn't washed up just yet, but he isn't making this roster until he really shines against first and second stringers.
Overall this is a deep group. Vick is the starter who should be a Pro Bowl player this season. Mike Kafka is still the backup entering his third year in this offense. Foles is a promising rookie that is showing a lot of potential early. Edwards might be the best fourth string quarterback in the NFL. It is great to see that the backup quarterback spot will get a lot of competition over the next three weeks.
The Eagles have the most talent they have ever had at running back. LeSean McCoy is coming off the best season for a running back in franchise history, while the young backups are showing a lot of ability.
Everyone already knows what McCoy can do. He makes people miss in the open field. He fights for extra yards. He has a knack for scoring touchdowns in the red zone. He is a great pass blocker and a solid receiver, both in the backfield and lining up in the slot. The Eagles have to be ecstatic with what they get from their starter. Anything they can get from their backups is just an added bonus from here on out.
Dion Lewis is a player to keep on eye on. He has been burning defenders all throughout camp and showed a little bit of that against the Steelers. Lewis is a lot like McCoy. He has really quick feet, good hands and fights for every yard he can get. The drop off from McCoy to Lewis is going to be a lot smaller than what people will expect in 2012.
As far as immediate impact goes, Bryce Brown is one of the best seventh round picks I can remember. He wasted three years of his life in college, but is finally focused and ready to show what he can do. He is a big back at 220 pounds with a lot of straight line speed. He can make just about any defender miss in the open field and has great patience. He will have to earn every carry he gets this season, but should still make a good impact in his rookie season.
It is going to be a tough year to be Chris Polk. Last year, he was one of the best running backs in college, poised to be a second or third round pick in the 2012 NFL Draft. Now he is the fourth best running back on the Eagles roster, just waiting to be cut so he can hopefully sign on with another team. He is a physical runner and a decent receiver, but he just doesn't have the ability that the three players ahead of him have.
This group is really deep and should help to bring some balance to this offense.
The Eagles full backs have yet to show anybody why they deserve to be on this roster. The Eagles have so much talent at defensive end, defensive tackle, wide receiver and cornerback. Why would they keep a full back who is barely a mediocre player?
Stanley Havili and Emil Igwenagu both struggled to impress as lead blockers and only Igwenagu had a catch or run (8-yard reception). Igwenagu had the advantage of playing both tight end and full back during college and throughout camp.
Neither player is a favorite to make the roster at this point. It's their blocking abilities that will secure them a roster spot. One of these guys will have to show they can be more than a average blocker. Would Andy Reid really award a roster spot to a full back who offers little to the offense and not much lead blocking ability?
The Eagles just keep getting deeper at wide receiver. We already knew that DeSean Jackson was the most dangerous deep threat in football, that Jeremy Maclin is one of the better receivers in football and that Jason Avant is one of the best slot receivers in the game. What we didn't know is how much competition there would be for the final one or two receiver spots.
Damaris Johnson has been outstanding, especially if you consider the fact he was a undrafted free agent and hasn't played organized football since 2010. Johnson is a smaller version of Jackson, which is really saying something. He is going to get a lot of touches this season. He is that ultra-small but ultra-quick wide receiver that is great at turning short passes into big plays. He is also an excellent punt returner.
Riley Cooper has really opened up some opportunities for other receivers to step up. Cooper is out with a collarbone injury until the first week of the regular season at the earliest. That means that Johnson, Marvin McNutt, Chad Hall and Mardy Gilyard all have a chance to step up. So far they aren't disappointing.
This is really deep group that should force Andy Reid to put six of them on the final 53 man roster. The Eagles offense has always benefited from a deep receiving core. They have never been an offense that likes to rely on one receiver. This could be the deepest wide receiver group in the Andy Reid era.
Tight end doesn't have as quite as much depth as some of the other spots on this roster. They are still looking for a third tight end to step up and secure a roster spot. Ideally the Eagles will utilize more two tight end sets this season. They should keep a third tight end for depth and insurance purposes. So far no one has really impressed at that spot.
Brent Celek is the starter and a go-to guy over the middle of the field and in the red zone. He is as solid as they come at tight end. He isn't the freak athlete that Jimmy Graham and Vernon Davis are, but he is as well-rounded as anybody. He blocks just as well as he receives.
Clay Harbor is the clear-cut No. 2 option right now. There is no more getting around it. You may not like his contributions in the passing game, but he has become one of the better blockers in the NFL. He is great in pass protection and really seals the edge in the running game. He could see time at full back this season if the Eagles don't elect to keep one on the roster.
Brett Brackett, Chase Ford and Emil Igwenagu are fighting for a the third tight end spot. All three are decent receivers, but all three have really struggled to impress in the blocking game.
Overall, I like this group. It starts with Celek and Harbor. Ideally, they will stay healthy and the third tight end will just focus on learning from these solid veterans.
Last year this was an A+ position for the Eagles. They had All-Pro Jason Peters at left tackle and a Pro Bowl caliber player at right tackle in Todd Herremans. Now Peters is out with a torn Achilles tendon and the left tackle spot is a little bit more vulnerable.
The left tackle spot will be manned by either Demetress Bell or King Dunlap. Two weeks ago, Dunlap looked like he would be a key reserve. Now Bell looks really mediocre and Dunlap is the new starting left tackle, at least for now. Both players will get an equal shot for the starting job.
Dennis Kelly will probably be the fourth offensive tackle on the roster. He has been working at guard and right tackle mostly, but he does project as a left tackle down the road. He plays a little stiff at times, but the Eagles love his 6'8" frame and his physicality.
Demetress Bell really raised some panic among Eagles fans. He was torched on the first two possessions against the Steelers. It's only one game and he can easily bounce back, but man was he bad.
As good as the Eagles offensive tackles were a season ago, that is exactly how good the guards can be this season. The running game will really hinge on how well the interior linemen play this season. They can't rely too heavy on a lot of stretch plays and off tackle runs. They have to be able to get yards right between the tackles. This is especially true once the Eagles get inside their opponents 5-yard line and on all short yardage downs.
Evan Mathis is coming off his best season where he was arguably the best guard in football. Danny Watkins was up and down all year, but once he started to figure out his position, he showed flashes of greatness. Jason Kelce was the real surprise of this unit. He was supposed to be just fighting for a roster spot. Instead, he stole the starting center role right from under Jamaal Jackson and became one of the better starting centers in the NFL.
These three players should all play at a Pro Bowl caliber level this season. Mathis already did last season and both Watkins and Kelce have that type of potential. They are now settled in Howard Mudd's blocking scheme. They should start to really dominate this season.
The Eagles are crazy loaded at defensive end. There is no better way of putting it. Anytime you can field Vinny Curry and Phillip Hunt as your third string defensive end pairing, you're doing alright. The depth on this unit is either going to force Andy Reid to keep six defensive ends on the final roster, or cut somebody who really deserves to make this roster. Maybe he will get lucky and turn one of these six players into a mid-round draft pick.
Trent Cole and Jason Babin were out for the first preseason game, but the pass-rush was still dominant. That is a great sign. Babin and Cole are Pro Bowl players. They don't need preseason. A little time off for them is a blessing for the rest of this group.
Brandon Graham had a rough season in 2011. He is making up for it in a big way this summer. Graham is back to his ideal playing weight of just under 270 pounds and has shown the ability to get after the quarterback that he started to really show right before he tore his ACL in 2010. Now Graham is poised for a big 2012 campaign,
Darryl Tapp is a good run defender, but an average pass-rusher. The Eagles need all the run support they can get. The problem for Tapp is that there are five other really good defensive ends on this roster, plus two defensive tackles (Fletcher Cox and Cullen Jenkins) that can line up as a defensive end. How does he make the roster with all that capability at defensive end?
Phillip Hunt and Vinny Curry are two really promising young pass-rushers who will surprise you with how well they can handle the run already. They should figure into the Eagles defensive end rotation this season.
It's hard not to love this group. I can't remember a deeper defensive end group in the history of the NFL.
Mike Patterson is the key to the defensive tackle unit. He is the nose tackle that they need for the wide-9 scheme. He allows Derek Landri to come off the bench and also allows Cullen Jenkins and Fletcher Cox to rotate at the under tackle spot. Patterson is still waiting on doctors' clearance from his offseason brain surgery.
Derek Landri has been a really bright spot on this line all summer long. He doesn't have great size or speed, but he is incredibly fast off the line and plays with great technique. He is going to be in the opponents backfield on a weekly basis. When Patterson comes back, he might be the Eagles fourth best tackle which is really saying something.
Cullen Jenkins and Fletcher Cox should rack up a lot of sacks this season. They are both incredibly athletic and really versatile. Last season Jenkins had 5.5 sacks. This season, Cox will be rotating with Jenkins, and his numbers could go up. The inside pass-rush will be in full effect this season.
Antonio Dixon and Cedric Thornton will be fighting for the final spot at defensive tackle, if there is even one available. Thornton is the type of player that everyone can root for. He was an undrafted free agent last summer who found a spot on the practice squad. Dixon is a big defensive tackle who has showed up to training camp out of shape two years in a row. Dixon is the better run defender, but there is no denying Thornton's potential.
Five years from now, Eagles fans won't remember how bad some of their linebacking corps were under Andy Reid. Mychal Kendricks will be a big reason for that. He is as athletic as they come at outside linebacker and he doesn't lack any physicality of tackling ability.
Kendricks was brought in to cover tight ends and make an impact against the run, and he has already shown the ability to do just that. He had four solo tackles in the first half of the Eagles preseason opener and was always around the ball. He didn't get tested by a truly athletic tight end, but he will on Monday night when he goes up against the likes of Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez.
Brian Rolle is the other starting outside linebacker for the Eagles while Jamar Chaney also should see plenty of time in certain nickel packages. Both players have a lot of speed; it's the run support that should worry Eagles fans.
Chaney really struggled against the run last season as the Eagles starting middle linebacker. Rolle got bullied a lot against Pittsburgh last week. Both players need to have a better showing next week against New England.
The depth at outside linebacker is pretty good as well. Keenan Clayton is a coverage specialist with the potential to get better against the run. Akeem Jordan is a solid veteran who also excels on special teams. The depth is good, they just haven't really proven anything at the NFL level yet.
This position went from being one of the worst in the 4-3 defense to one of the best with DeMeco Ryans. He was a stud in the 4-3 defense until he hurt his Achilles. He is a stout run defender, good cover linebacker and a great leader. He is everything this defense needed last season, and then some.
The Eagles run defense will rely on their middle linebacker. That is how the wide-9 scheme works. They get into the backfield and try to make plays before the running back can get started. When they can't get to him in the backfield, it is really up to the linebacker to contain the play.
The Eagles finished 16th against the run last season. If Ryans is even half the player everyone expects him to be in this defense, the Eagles should be a top-10 run defense. That should be enough for this defense to be truly elite.
The Eagles finally have the right pieces in place at corner. Last season they were stuck with Asante Samuel. Don't get me wrong, he is great at what he does, but he doesn't fit in the same secondary with Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.
Now the Eagles can really let their corners play press coverage. Nnamdi has the strength to really push wide receivers off their routes while Rodgers-Cromarite can play as close as he wants, knowing that he has the recovery speed to catch up to anyone.
The Eagles also have two solid slot corners in Joselio Hanson and Brandon Boykin. You can rely on both corners to lock down on their man in nickel and dime packages. It's rare to find a team with two slot corners of their caliber. The Eagles would be smart to hold on to both players. They both have performed exceptionally well all summer long.
The Eagles also have good depth on the outside with Brandon Hughes and Curtis Marsh. It shouldn't be so crazy to predict that the Eagles will keep six corners. Cliff Harris could also figure into the mix, especially if he impresses as a punt returner.
The two safety spots are the two most criticized spots on the Eagles roster. I'm here to tell you that it will change this season. Safety isn't going to be strength of this defense, and it won't have to be. With the linebackers covering the backs and tight ends, the front four wreaking havoc in the backfield and the corners locking down on their receivers, all the safeties have to do is cover the deep portion of the field.
Nate Allen is a solid safety. The Eagles have him listed as a strong safety, but he really is more of a free safety. They view their safeties as pretty interchangeable. Allen can play around the line of scrimmage or play more like a center fielder in the secondary.
Kurt Coleman might be the most underrated safety in the NFL. He just always seems to be around the ball. His pass coverage got better and better as the season went along. I believe that you are going to see Allen and Coleman take the next step as safeties this season. They both have a great deal of potential and have all the talent in the world around them to really take the pressure off.
The Eagles should give legendary special teams coach Bobby April his best group that he has had in a long time. The kicking and return game both have a chance to be really special, and the coverage unit should be solid as always, assuming Colt Anderson is healthy this season.
The special teams unit really stood out from the Pittsburgh game. Brandon Boykin started things off right with a 46-yard kickoff return. Damaris Johnson had a couple of good punt returns himself, including a 25-yard return that was called back. The kicking game stepped up when Chas Henry booted a 54-yard punt and Alex Henery sealed the game with the go ahead 51-yard field goal with 12 seconds remaining.
It was a great start for this unit that was still without Colt Anderson, but they still have to figure out who the punter will be for the 2012 season. Chas Henry has more of a future with the team, but Mat McBriar is a Pro Bowl player when healthy.
We may not know who the punter is, but at least we know the return game will be in great shape with Damaris Johnson bringing back punts and Brandon Boykin taking back kicks. The return game was dull, at best, last season. They should be an exciting group this season, and they won't even need DeSean Jackson's help.