Philadelphia Eagles Whose Stock Is on the Rise After First Preseason Game
Now that the Philadelphia Eagles have a preseason game in the books, the evaluation process is in full swing. The coaching staff has new tape on over 80 players following last Friday’s exhibition game against the Chicago Bears, film that could go a long way toward settling the various position battles throughout the roster.
That goes double for the second-, third- and fourth-string players who will either compete sparingly or, in some cases, not at all in Weeks 2 and 3 of the preseason. Whether the game counted in the standings or not, it certainly wasn’t meaningless to the guys gunning for bigger roles or their NFL livelihood.
With that in mind, our latest stock report will focus almost entirely on Eagles reserves. Furthermore, most of the emphasis will be placed on their performance in the recent preseason affair, as games mean more than practice. Finally, we’re looking purely at players whose stock was improved by their recent outing, as the ones who didn’t improve their status were mostly a) veterans whose jobs are assured or b) long shots in the first place.
Quarterback: Mark Sanchez
Say what you want about Mark Sanchez. There aren’t many other backup quarterbacks in the NFL who have 68 career starts to their name, not to mention own a winning record that includes a 4-2 mark in the playoffs.
In his Eagles debut, Sanchez did exactly what an experienced signal-caller should do to an opponents’ second-string defense. He completed seven of 10 passes for 79 yards while leading the offense on touchdown drives of 53 and 51 yards.
Perhaps most impressive of all, though, was his failed Hail Mary attempt at the end of the first half against Chicago. Sanchez’s bomb traveled between 65 and 70 yards through the air to the back of the end zone. Sanchez had surgery back in October to repair a torn labrum in his throwing shoulder.
As backup quarterbacks go, Sanchez is proving Philadelphia could’ve done far worse.
Running Back: Matthew Tucker and David Fluellen
Chris Polk’s job is probably safe, but the third-string running back doesn’t exactly strike me as irreplaceable, either. Especially not when Matthew Tucker and David Fluellen are breathing down his neck for a roster spot.
With Polk nursing a sore hamstring, Tucker and Fluellen saw extended action in Chicago, combining for 94 yards from scrimmage on 16 touches (5.9 yards per carry) and three touchdowns. Tucker in particular has garnered quite a bit of attention at training camp, with starter LeSean McCoy going so far during a Q&A with reporters as to single out the second-year back’s performance.
Perhaps the competition in the backfield is closer than it appears. The Eagles could choose to carry four backs, which would leave room for both Polk and one of the others. Then again, if he doesn’t get back on the field soon, either Tucker or Fluellen could render Polk unnecessary.
Wide Receiver: Ifeanyi Momah
The Eagles will have a difficult time reaching a decision with regards to Ifeanyi Momah. The second-year wide receiver is about as raw and unproven as a prospect comes. He doesn’t figure to offer much in the way of a special teams contribution, either—often a prerequisite for backup wideouts.
On the other hand, the difference between Momah now and this time one year ago is night and day. In my opinion, Momah has been one of the top three or four receivers at training camp. He’s 6’7” and reportedly runs a 4.4 40—and is actually using those attributes this time around.
What do the Eagles think? With Riley Cooper inactive with a foot injury, Momah ran with the first-string offense. He finished with two receptions for 15 yards, although a third intended target was intercepted.
When Momah was cut last summer, he didn’t so much as wind up on anybody’s practice squad. That certainly wouldn’t be the case this time around, if he winds up being released at all.
Offensive Line: Andrew Gardner, Matt Tobin and David Molk
Beyond Dennis Kelly and Allen Barbre, the latter of whom is promoted to starter while right tackle Lane Johnson prepares to serve a four-game suspension, no other Eagles reserve offensive lineman has played more than a handful of snaps in the NFL.
The good news is, despite their collective inexperience, the second-string offensive line did a fine job against Chicago’s backups, particularly from left to center. Left tackle Andrew Gardner, left guard Matt Tobin and David Molk helped pave the way for breakout games from running backs Tucker and Fluellen in addition to making the Bears’ pass rush appear as though it was standing still.
Gardner and Tobin seemingly hold the inside tracks to roster spots, while Molk’s outlook improved with the news Julian Vandervelde underwent surgery, as reported by Jeff McLane for The Philadelphia Inquirer. And if one of them were suddenly thrust into a real, live game, it appears as though it might not be a total disaster for the Birds.
Defensive Line: Beau Allen and Brandon Bair
Beau Allen has been getting most of the attention and rightfully so. The seventh-round pick was splitting first-team reps at nose tackle while Bennie Logan eases his way back from a hamstring injury, not to mention the kid was an absolute beast against Chicago. On one play, the Bears even had a triple-team going against the rookie.
But the guy who actually turned out to be something of a surprise last Friday was Brandon Bair, a 29-year-old defensive end out of Oregon who’s been hanging around the league since 2011. Bair has never played in an NFL regular-season game, but working with the Eagles’ second-string defense, he seemed to be making a serious bid for a roster spot.
Bair finished the contest with two tackles. He showed good technique against the run, flowing down the line of scrimmage to the ball. He was also in on a blocked field goal. Bair’s age works against him, but another performance or two like that is going to garner serious consideration.
Linebacker: Marcus Smith
The Eagles’ choice of Marcus Smith with the 26th overall pick in this year’s draft was met with a great deal of skepticism.
On Friday, he took the first step toward silencing critics.
Smith wasn’t very good at the thing he was best known for at Louisville, which is rushing the passer. The 2013 AAC Player of the Year managed just one pressure after racking up 14.5 sacks as a senior, which was good for second in the nation.
However, the rookie outside linebacker showed he isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty against the run , setting the edge nicely a few times. Where Smith really flashed, though, was playing in space. He demonstrated natural instinct and agility in coverage, getting his hands on one pass attempt and making a great open-field tackle to force a loss on a completion.
Smith is a work in progress, but the Eagles could find uses for that kind of athleticism.
More on Marcus Smith’s NFL debut here.
Defensive Back: Malcolm Jenkins
Jay Cutler’s pass intended for Dante Rosario was out of the tight end’s reach, but Malcolm Jenkins wasn’t taking any chances. The sixth-year veteran came crashing in from his position at safety to deliver a shoulder into the target’s back.
The play was aggressive. It was timely. It was clean. It was exactly what’s been missing from the Eagles secondary, as cliché as it is to say, pretty much since Brian Dawkins departed after the ’08 season.
Jenkins put another big hit on Rosario on the following series, taking out his legs just as a pass arrived. Yes, the play resulted in a 23-yard gain for a third-down conversion, but more often than not, a receiver will drop the ball in that situation.
Jenkins was around the ball a lot for playing less than a quarter, finishing with three tackles, including one for a loss. Is there any question the free-agent addition has already improved Philadelphia’s secondary?
Specialist: Alex Henery
How close is the kicking competition between incumbent Alex Henery and undrafted rookie Carey Spear? Spear didn’t even get into the game last Friday.
That was partly due to circumstance, as the Eagles didn’t attempt a kickoff, field goal or extra point in the final 22-plus minutes at Soldier Field. Then again, the fact that the coaching staff wasn’t trying to fit him into the game earlier shows this isn’t much of a contest at all.
For what it’s worth, Henery looked good, connecting on all four of the NFL’s experimental 33-yard extra points. He also boomed several kicks out of the end zone or otherwise deep enough to force touchbacks.
Unless there is some kind of development in the free-agent market, it appears likely Henery is poised to return for a fourth season as Philadelphia’s kicker.
All comments and observations from Eagles training camp were heard or witnessed firsthand by the author, unless otherwise attributed.