Philadelphia Eagles: 5 Position Battles To Watch for in Preseason

Randy JobstSenior Analyst IAugust 8, 2011

Philadelphia Eagles: 5 Position Battles To Watch for in Preseason

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    The Philadelphia Eagles may have signed several Pro Bowl-caliber players to an already solid team, but there's still plenty of starting sports up for grabs.

    The Eagles have several rookies looking like favorites to be opening week starts while also having several veterans trying to just not get cut to make room for all of the new talent. Right guard and backup quarterback already seem to be set.

    Danny Watkins is working with the first unit while spending extra time with position coach Howard Mudd to get his technique down. Watkins is learning a new offensive line position as a rookie in a limited amount of time.

    Vince Young is already working with the second unit and appears to have already locked up the backup quarterback spot despite having to learn a new offense while Mike Kafka has already spend a full season in the offense.

    Young's work ethic and willingness to accept a lesser role on the team shows how much he has matured as a player. It seems his "dream team" comment was completely overblown.

    Still, the Eagles have five spots that may go down into the final week before the regular season before they are finally decided.

Defensive Tackle

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    Defensive tackle is a spot that has become wide open for anyone on the current roster to make it through final cuts with a good camp and preseason.

    Mike Patterson going down with a seizure last week really changed the dynamic of this unit. Patterson appeared to be a lock to be a starting defensive tackle with the rest of the positions anybody's game. Now it appears there are three guys fighting for the two starting spots with about five of six fighting for the four total roster sports that the Eagles will most likely keep after final cuts.

    Patterson's situation is very sketchy right now. Patterson has received second and third opinions and has never officially been diagnosed with AVM, a condition where there are tangled arteries and veins in the brain that alter blood flow.

    He may receive clearance to resume normal football activities, but that doesn't mean he will be back on the active roster anytime soon. I expect Patterson to take a year off and make sure he is 100 percent healthy. Coming back too soon and risking an even more serious seizure or possible stroke isn't worth the risk.

    Cullen Jenkins and Antonio Dixon are the favorites to win a starting job at tackle, but Dixon has struggled at camp, and Jenkins is learning the 4-3 after having spent the past two seasons in Dom Capers' 3-4 defense. Jenkins should be a very nice fit in the Eagles defense. He has proven to be able to get after the quarterback, he had seven sacks in 11 games last year.

    Dixon came on strong in 2010 but hasn't had a very impressive training camp. Guys like Trevor Laws and Cedric Thornton have looked better at times, and Dixon has jumped early on as many hard counts as the rest of the defensive combined. Dixon is still a lock to make the team but certainly not a lock to earn a starting job.

    Trevor Laws is another lock to make the team but is still battling for a starting spot. His skills as a pass-rusher make him the ideal fit for Jim Washburn's scheme.

    Cedric Thornton and Derek Landri are the wild cards in the defensive tackle position battle. Neither player is going to win a starting job, but both could earn a spot on the final roster if Patterson is unable to play football this year.

    Thornton is an undrafted free-agent pickup who has looked impressive throughout training camp. Derek Landri was a starting tackle for the Carolina Panthers last year where he racked up 43 tackles and three sacks.

    One of these guys will make the team if Patterson isn't cleared to play football in 2011, while it is Jenkins and Dixon's jobs to lose as starters although Dixon is starting to lose it.

    Watch for Dixon during preseason. If he isn't impressive in preseason, Laws will be starting next to Jenkins in Week 1 at St. Louis.

The Linebackers

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    The Eagles' linebacking unit became a little foggy when Stewart Bradley left for Arizona; it became even more unclear now that the Eagles have Jamar Chaney to the strong side.

    Casey Matthews and Moise Fokou are the leading candidates to start alongside Chaney as of right now, but with the Eagles' aggressive front office, we all know how quickly that can change.

    Matthews looks like the real deal at middle linebacker. His football instincts are through the roof, and he can see plays developing before most of the veterans do. There doesn't appear to be much competition at middle linebacker for Matthews.

    Greg Lloyd is the only other middle linebacker on the roster, and he may be stashed away on IR as he is still recovering from a TORN ACL he suffered in college.

    Moise Fokou is in the lead on the weak side, but he will have a lot of competition. Keenan Clayton made on start at weak side and looked very good in nickel packages. Fokou has 16 starts under his belt and has more than held his own on the outside.

    With the Eagles possible keeping six corners and four safeties, they will probably only keep five or six linebackers. Chaney and Matthews are the only locks to make the team.

    It will be interesting to see how all the Eagles linebackers fit in and how they use them with all their talented defensive backs.

Strong Safety

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    Strong safety is another position that has a lot of stiff competition. Rookie Jaiquawn Jarrett along with Kurt Coleman and Jarrad Page are all in the running.

    Coleman made two starts in 2010 and is having himself a very nice training camp. Coleman made his starts at free safety last year for injured Nate Allen.

    Jaiquawn was the Eagles second-round draft pick from Temple. Jarrett has the physicality and athleticism needed to be a great strong safety but may be still be a year away from being the starter.

    Jarrad Page was brought in to add competition at the position. Page has 63 games with 258 tackles and 12 interceptions.

    If the Eagles intend to keep four safeties, Page should be the fourth safety but probably doesn't win a starting job.

Right Tackle

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    Right tackle is one of the most important position for the Eagles as it is the position that protects Michael Vick's blindside. Winston Justice is the incumbent, but newly acquired Ryan Harris is starting to become the ideal starter.

    Winston Justice has a rocky 2010 season, eventually being pulled from the Eagles final game in the Wild Card playoffs matchup against the Packers. Justice took over at right tackle in 2009 for injured Shawn Andrews and did an outstanding job in 2009, but he struggled mightily in 2010.

    Ryan Harris has shown the ability to be a starting tackle but has struggled to stay healthy the past two seasons missing 13-of-32 games.

    Harris is the more athletic of the two and is the better fit for Howard Mudd's offensive line. Justice is still rehabbing from his arthroscopic knee surgery from February and isn't expected to be fully cleared to play until mid-August.

    With the high level that Harris has been playing in camp and Justice being behind on his rehab, right tackle appears to be Harris' job to lose.

The 5th Wide Receiver

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    With the holdout of DeSean Jackson and the illness of Jeremy Maclin, depth at wide receiver as starting to be a major priority for the Eagles. The Eagles will keep five receivers. No more. No less. Jason Avant and Riley Cooper are the other locks at the position, but the fifth spot is wide open.

    Chad Hall, Johnnie Lee Higgins and Sinorice Moss are the candidates to earn that fifth and final spot.

    Hall spent a lot of time on the active roster last year after spending the previous two years serving in the Air Force. Hall was one of the most dynamic players in college at Air Force but has yet to show that in the NFL. Hall has ability as a return man, a receiver and coming out of the backfield.

    Lee Higgins was a free-agent pickup for the Eagles. He spent the past four seasons playing for the Raiders. Lee Higgins never established himself in a very weak receiving core in Oakland, but he never played with great quarterbacks either. He does possess good kick return ability, which is still a need for the Eagles.

    On paper, Sinorice Moss is a long shot to make the team. He has only played in 37 games in his first five seasons and hasn't played since 2009. Moss has been one of, if not the most impressive receiver in camp while both Maclin and Jackson are out. Moss has great speed and return ability when healthy.

    If Moss is healthy, he will easily earn a roster spot.