Philadelphia Eagles Preseason: Week 3 Stock Report
In less than a week, the Philadelphia Eagles will be trimming their roster down to 53 players. In less than two weeks, head coach Chip Kelly will be finalizing the depth chart ahead of the club’s first regular-season game against the Jacksonville Jaguars on September 7.
As you can see, despite the many decisions that are left to be made, there is little time remaining for preparations. The competitions for playing time and battles over roster spots are coming to an end, giving us a chance for just one last stock report before the hammer comes down.
Given the fact we’re down to the last few jobs and roster spots that have not yet been claimed, our final report looks at those specific areas and what I and other insiders sense is developing. For many players, the writing is already on the wall—for better or worse.
Stock up indicates a strong likelihood a job or roster spot has been secured. Stock down means a player could find himself glued to the bench come September, if he’s even still in Philadelphia at all. And with only one preseason game remaining, it may be too late for any of these players on the fringe to alter their fortunes.
Stock Up: Henry Josey
After beginning the summer buried on the depth chart, Henry Josey looked like a long shot to make the team—that is, until the Eagles were forced to put him on the field.
With injuries to backup running backs Chris Polk, Matthew Tucker and David Fluellen, Josey received the bulk of the second-half carries in the second half of Week 2’s preseason contest against the New England Patriots. He did not disappoint.
Josey, who once led the nation with 8.1 yards per carry as a sophomore at Missouri in 2011, rushed eight times for 56 yards, not to mention he tacked on a 27-yard catch-and-run. The following week versus the Pittsburgh Steelers, the undrafted back totaled four carries for 48 yards officially—minus a 70-yard scamper erased by a questionable holding penalty.
No question about it, the Eagles are facing a dilemma with this kid. With the tape Josey has put together, it’s doubtful he’ll clear waivers and make it to Philly’s practice squad now. Given the fact he looks like the most talented pure ball-carrier on the roster behind only LeSean McCoy, the coaching staff may be tempted to award Josey a roster spot.
Stock Down: Chris Polk
Every time I mention Chris Polk’s job might be in jeopardy, I get angry comments. Well, here it comes again: Chris Polk’s spot on the Eagles’ 53-man roster is far from assured.
This is really very simple. Polk has been battling a hamstring since July and has only recently begun practicing again, admitting to Tim McManus for Philadelphia Magazine beforehand he likely would not be 100 percent upon his return.
In the meantime, backup running backs have made the most of the extra opportunities. Matthew Tucker, Henry Josey and Kenjon Barner have combined to rack up 222 yards rushing and four touchdowns on 37 carries.
Still think the Eagles are going to keep a running back who isn’t healthy over all of the other talent on the club? As McManus reports, Chip Kelly himself made the case against it.
"We need to see who is going to go and who is going to be able to play," said Chip Kelly. "But we can't evaluate anybody if they're not going to play in games or in practice."
It’s hard to dislike Polk or his upside, but with only 15 touches in two seasons, he’s not exactly irreplaceable, either.
Stock Up: Travis Long
How can you tell the Eagles are trying to make a roster spot for Travis Long? In addition to his listed position at outside linebacker, Long has been lining up at interior linebacker at an increasing number of times.
Not only is he getting work on the inside, Long is also actually holding his own based on the little we’ve seen. During the Week 3 preseason encounter with the Steelers, Long registered one tackle and one quarterback hurry from his new location while playing a total of 13 snaps, according to game-charters at Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
Need more evidence the Eagles are making room for Long? Geoff Mosher for CSNPhilly.com noticed Long was running on the first-team kickoff unit in last week’s big tune-up—typically a sign a player will be on the 53-man roster.
Signed as an undrafted rookie out of Washington State last July, Long spent 2013 on Philadelphia’s practice squad. The coaching staff must really like what it’s seen over the past year, because Long hasn’t done anything that outrageous at camp or in games, yet still appears to be making a strong bid for a roster spot.
Stock Down: Marcus Smith
It’s a good thing the Eagles already had two starters at outside linebacker. At least that takes some of the pressure off of first-round pick Marcus Smith, who does not appear to be ready to make a huge contribution as a rookie—at least not as a pass-rusher.
Smith ranked second in the nation with 14.5 sacks as a senior at Louisville, but the 2013 AAC Defensive Player of the Year is finding things are a bit more difficult in the NFL—as opposed to when it was the likes of Temple, Connecticut and Rutgers trying to keep the 22-year-old out of the backfield.
For what it’s worth, Smith has flashed some potential defending against the run and looks comfortable and agile when dropping into coverage.
Furthermore, we’ve pretty much only seen Smith attempt a speed rush from his usual spot off of the edge, seldom mixing up his technique, moving around the formation or coming on twists and more elaborate pressure packages that take advantage of his athleticism.
Don’t get your hopes up in that department, though. As defensive coordinator Bill Davis admitted to Tim McManus for Philadelphia Magazine, it could take until 2015 before Smith even begins to realize his potential as a pass-rusher.
Stock Up: Nolan Carroll
From the time spring practices got underway until now, no player in the Eagles’ locker room has seen their stock take a meteoric rise quite like Nolan Carroll. Hailed has additional depth at the cornerback position upon signing as a free agent in March, Carroll has been building his case for a starting job all along.
Even when it seemed a groin injury that sidelined Carroll for the Eagles’ first two preseason games seemed like it might hinder his progress, Bill Davis (via Eliot Shorr-Parks for NJ.com) said that the fifth-year veteran is still in the running to beat out Bradley Fletcher.
Of course, Carroll did make an impression in his first game wearing midnight green. The 27-year-old was credited with one tackle, one pass breakup and one interception versus the Steelers.
Carroll started 22 games for the Miami Dolphins over the past two seasons, so it’s no surprise to see him provide some measure of stability on the outside, where Roc Carmichael and Curtis Marsh have floundered. That being said, seeing Carroll on the verge of possibly unseating Fletcher little more than a week out from the Eagles’ first regular-season game wasn’t exactly a foregone conclusion six months ago.
Stock Down: Earl Wolff
Alex Henery stomping out Carey Spear for the kicking job (for now) was easily Philadelphia’s biggest dud as far as training camp competitions go, but the safety battle never really got going, either. With the regular season set to begin September 7, it appears Nate Allen has this gig wrapped up.
That conclusion is based on the fact that when the starters take a seat for the Eagles’ fourth and final preseason game against the New York Jets on Thursday, Allen will most likely join them, according to his head coach. Earl Wolff, who was competing for that job, will be playing the game like the rest of the reserves.
It’s no surprise Wolff is playing. A 2013 fifth-round pick who appeared in 11 games as a rookie, Wolff could use the reps as Kelly went on to explain. Allen is entering his fifth season in the league.
Even Bill Davis had to concede (via Martin Frank of The Delaware News Journal) that Allen is ahead of Wolff. A stellar preseason performance at the hands of backups would likely be too little, too late to force a change of heart at this late date.
Stock Up: Second-String Offensive Linemen
Once the Eagles' starters ran up a 17-0 lead against the Steelers last week, the second-team offense decided to get in on the act. With Mark Sanchez at the helm, the reserves took it to Pittsburgh’s top defensive unit, growing the lead to 24-0.
While Sanchez and an impressive array of skill players will take the bulk of the credit, the drive was really a testament to Philadelphia’s backup offensive linemen. From left to right, Andrew Gardner, Matt Tobin, David Molk, Dennis Kelly and Lane Johnson have been making life easy for their quarterback and running backs throughout the preseason.
So much so that what was thought to be one of the club’s most glaring holes heading into training camp—O-line depth—suddenly looks like a major strength with the regular season approaching.
It’s hard to pick out any one player in particular, as they’ve all charted positively, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required). However, based on the metrics site’s ratings, Tobin currently grades better than all NFL guards this preseason, while Molk is tied for second among centers. That's not too shabby for a couple of blokes who aren’t exactly household names.
Stock Down: Back-End Wide Receivers
Not more than a week ago, there was talk of whether the likes of Jeff Maehl, Arrelious Benn or Ifeanyi Momah could crack Philadelphia’s 53-man roster. Today, those dreams appear a little less likely.
With Jeremy Maclin, Riley Cooper, Jordan Matthews and Josh Huff assured spots, and Brad Smith the probable fifth, there may not even be another vacancy. And of the three players listed at the top, none have truly made a strong case for the Eagles to carry six.
Momah seemed to be gaining the most traction when he made consecutive starts with the first-team offense, but once Maclin and Cooper were back in the lineup for the Steelers game, Momah was nowhere to be found. A fumble, a dropped pass and a poor route that led to an interception didn’t exactly help his cause.
Benn managed to block a punt and came up with a lucky touchdown catch when he collected Momah’s drop, but that was the fifth-year veteran’s only catch of the preseason. Now, Benn is out with a concussion and likely won’t have a chance to showcase himself in the final exhibition game.
Of the three, Maehl may be the favorite again, because, after all, he did make the roster last year. I’m not sure Maehl gives the Eagles enough as a receiver or on special teams to warrant creating a sixth receiver spot, though.
In all, it’s beginning to look a lot like all of the talk about this group of players might’ve been for nothing.