Philadelphia Eagles: Analyzing the Lingering Preseason Position Battles

Brad Gagnon@Brad_Gagnon NFL National ColumnistAugust 22, 2012

Aug 18, 2011; Pittsburgh , PA, USA; Philadelphia Eagles offensive tackle King Dunlap (65) against the Pittsburgh Steelers during the first half of the game at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, PA. Mandatory Credit: Jason Bridge-US PRESSWIRE

The Philadelphia Eagles might not find a whole lot out in their third preseason game Friday against Cleveland. That's because Philly will have to apply a conservative approach against a team it runs into again in just over two weeks. 

Fortunately for the Eagles, they have fewer position battles to worry about than the rest of the teams in their division. Here's a look at what remains up for grabs.


Left Tackle

This is obviously of utmost importance. Demetress Bell was signed in the offseason to be the man to replace Jason Peters, but he's been slow to grasp a new offense and has not performed well in the preseason. 

As a result of Bell's struggles, veteran reserve King Dunlap is now the frontrunner to start on the left side. The four-year veteran knows the system well and has proven in spot duty that he can be relied upon by offensive line coach Howard Mudd. He's also a 6'9", 330-pound mountain of a tackle who might be less injury-prone than Bell is.

Prediction: Dunlap spends the majority of the season at left tackle while Bell works as a backup on either side.


Backup Quarterback

Nick Foles has obviously been the talk of the preseason, and rightfully so. The rookie third-round pick has looked like a veteran former first-round pick, displaying his top-rate arm strength and showing off the kind of pocket presence Eagles fans wish they saw from Michael Vick.

Meanwhile, Mike Kafka, who was the favorite for the job headed into the preseason, struggled in the opener and wound up with a broken hand. 

If this was a balanced competition from the get-go, it'd be over. But since Kafka has put in some time with this offense and has some actual NFL experience against first-teamers, he's still in the mix. Trent Edwards has played relatively well in garbage time and is still an outside candidate in case Kafka really tanks.

Foles will have an opportunity to finally face some legitimate starters Friday night, because with Vick and Kafka both hurt, he's likely to start in Cleveland.

Prediction: Foles wins the backup job and Kafka is named the third quarterback.


Backup Running Back

Incumbent backup Dion Lewis is being pushed hard by Bryce Brown, who was one of Philly's best offensive players Monday night in Foxborough. Lewis ran for just nine yards on three carries while Brown compiled 67 yards on 11 touches. He displayed great vision and patience for a rookie back, and he now has 100 yards on only 14 touches this preseason.

Speaking of rookie backs, Chris Polk is also in this conversation. He runs harder and with more power than Lewis or Brown, but comes with health concerns. He also made some great plays against New England, is better than Lewis, Brown and LeSean McCoy at blitz pickup and might even be versatile enough to line up at fullback.

Again, the Eagles know what they have in Lewis, while Brown and Folk have yet to play against NFL starters. That's what makes this so difficult.

Prediction: They keep Lewis and Brown as co-backups and attempt to stash Polk on the practice squad. Instead, he gets picked up by someone in need of a bruising young back.


Weak-Side Linebacker

With Jamar Chaney sidelined in training camp, Brian Rolle stepped up and performed well enough to gain an obvious edge at the WILL spot. But then Rolle struggled in the preseason opener and the door was once again opened for Chaney, and maybe even Keenan Clayton. 

All three were mid- to late-round picks in either 2010 or 2011, and none have been overly impressive thus far. Rolle played better last year, but Chaney was forced to shift to the middle to cover for the struggling Casey Matthews.

Rolle didn't make any big mistakes against the Pats, but we barely heard from him. Same for Clayton, who hardly played. Chaney didn't play and has yet to dress in the preseason. 

Prediction: Rolle starts in Week 1 but expect him and Chaney to rotate fairly often. I don't think Clayton makes the final 53, unless Chaney's injury lingers.


Nickel Cornerback

Veteran Joselio Hanson has held this job for several years but Hanson has struggled in the preseason and rookie fourth-round pick Brandon Boykin has emerged as one of the team's top playmakers. 

Prediction: Boykin starts the season in the nickel role with Hanson there as insurance.