Football is back! Although it's only the preseason, I know millions of fans have been yearning for football and today, their wish comes true.
The Eagles kick off the preseason tonight at The Linc against the Baltimore Ravens. The additions made by this team in this chaotic offseason, including the newest addition WR Steve Smith (from the Giants), have fans and the organization labeling this season as "Super Bowl or bust."
Philadelphia has added six former Pro Bowlers (Asomugha, Rodgers-Cromartie, Babin, Young, Brown and now Smith) this offseason along with proven defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins and offensive tackle Ryan Harris.
With the influx of talent through free agency, there are sure to be some good football players cut from the team. The players' performance and sadly injuries will determine many of the Eagles' roster moves, but I will take a shot at predicting the 53-man roster, come Week 1 in St. Louis.
* indicates starter(s)
# indicates rookie
QB (3): *Michael Vick, Mike Kafka, Vince Young
This is really the only position set in stone barring unforeseen circumstances.
RB (3): *LeSean McCoy, Ronnie Brown, #Dion Lewis
McCoy looks to take another step forward this year and is a breakout season away from becoming an elite running back. I think he's already a top-10 back.
Ronnie Brown is a nice addition as the backup while 5th round pick Dion Lewis is guy with speed who won't see much playing time this year but could become a quality player in the future.
FB (1): *Owen Schmitt
After Leonard Weaver's horrific Week 1 injury, Schmitt stepped in nicely. He is a good receiving back but don't expect him to be on the field as much as other FBs around the league because of the Eagles notorious pass happy offense. Solid player.
WR (5): *DeSean Jackson, *Jeremy Maclin, Jason Avant, Riley Cooper, Johnnie Lee Higgins
Don't get all crazy, I'm putting newly acquired Steve Smith on the Physically Unable to Perform list (PUP), which means he must sit out the Eagles first six games (the Eagles have a bye in Week 7, so this give Smith a full week to practice before his first game).
Smith is coming off micro-fracture knee surgery and reports indicate he won't be ready by opening day. I think the Eagles play it safe and put on the PUP list.
Smith is a good player (I encourage you to check out Sheil Kapadia's excellent breakdown of the move) who provides the Eagles with depth at receiver.
Eight of his 11 career touchdowns have come in the red zone. Smith set a Giant franchise record with 107 receptions in 2009 and became such a favorite target of Eli Manning on third downs that New York fans came up with the saying “third and Smith.”
This position depends on Jeremy Maclin's health. Maclin has a mysterious illness and has not practiced with the team. Andy Reid has said he expects his star receiver to be ready by Week 1, but who knows?
We don't even know if the Eagles have figured out was is wrong. If Maclin is healthy the Eagles keep the above five players (excluding Smith) but if not, they may keep six.
TE (3): *Brent Celek, Clay Harbor, Donald Lee
Celek is a quality tight end who did not have the season everyone thought he would last year after his breakout season in '09. Celek was asked to block a lot last year, and I think Andy Reid addressed this issue by signing veteran Donald Lee.
Lee is said to be a good blocker who receiving skills are probably average in this stage of his career. Harbor is a second year player who the Eagles like, so I'm very confident they will keep him.
OL (10): *Jason Peters, *Todd Herremans, *Jamaal Jackson, *#Danny Watkins, *Ryan Harris, Mike McGlynn, Evan Mathis, #Jason Kelce, Austin Howard, Fenuki Tupou
The left side of the line is the only certain here. Jackson and sixth-round pick Jason Kelce are locked in a battle for the center spot, but I'm going to give Jackson the nod here.
First-round pick Danny Watkins looks to be the starter at right guard while a healthy Ryan Harris is an upgrade over Winston Justice at right tackle.
Speaking of Justice, I'm also putting him on the PUP list, as he continues to recover from offseason surgery, although he may very well be ready for week 1 (as a backup). I have the Eagles keeping Tupou over King Dunlap but who knows.
This depth is good, not exactly confident who makes the team here as performance in the preseason will be key.
DL (10): *Trent Cole, *Antonio Dixon, *Cullen Jenkins, *Jason Babin, Juqua Parker, Mike Patterson, Darryl Tapp, Trevor Laws, Anthony Hargrove, Daniel Te'o-Nesheim
The Eagles have a ton of guys here in training camp and look to have a very strong rotation. Legendary D-line coach Jim Washburn has brought his attacking philosophy to Philly and has always played eight lineman, so who starts is not important.
Dixon and a healthy Patterson will be key run stoppers while Jenkins and Laws will come in on passing down to try and provide an inside pass rush.
The defensive ends are led by Cole, Babin and Parker. I think Cole and Babin will have double-digit sack numbers while Parker will continue his streak of five consecutive seasons with five or more sacks.
Cole and Parker have always gotten off to great starts before tiring in the second half of the season but the depth here should help change that. Last year's first-round pick Brandon Graham will join Smith and Justice on the PUP list after tearing his ACL last season.
I don't expect much from him this season although he should get stronger with time plus more reps and if he shows improvement, could vie for playing time late in the year.
I'm expecting big big things from this unit in 2010.
LB (5): *Jamar Chaney, *#Casey Matthews, *Moise Fokou, Akeem Jordan, Keenan Clayton
This is the biggest question mark coming into the season (O-line and the kicking game are a close second). Fans have been clamoring for a veteran here, but you can't have Pro Bowlers at every position, thus the team has decided to go young here.
The Eagles thinking here is that if you have a dominant front four, the linebackers will mostly need to find the ball and wrap up. I disagree with people ranking this unit as the worst in the league.
Chaney was very good when he came in and started the last 4 games of the season at MLB. They moved the athletic Chaney to the strong side to make use of his cover skills.CSN Philly writer Reuben Frank noted, "Jamar Chaney is the Eagles’ best coverage linebacker since Carlos Emmons. Not even close."
Matthews was the Eagles fourth-round pick in April's draft and figures to be in the spotlight all season.
I know the casual fan doesn't pay much attention to the preseason, but all eyes will be on Matthews throughout the preseason, starting tonight against the talented Ravens running game led by Ray Rice.
CB (6): *Nnamdi Asomugha, *Asante Samuel, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Joselio Hanson, #Curtis Marsh, Brandon Hughes
The Eagles have arguably the deepest and most talented cornerback trio in the league (Aso, Asante, DRC). All three are Pro Bowlers. The Eagles gave up a franchise record 31 passing TDs last season but have revamped the corner back position and made it a strength.
I know some fans think Hanson isn't very good and will be cut, but he's actually a very good slot cornerback. Per Football Outsiders, in 2010, Hanson was ranked eighth among all corner in success rate defined as the percentage of passes that don't manage to get at least 45 percent of needed yards on first down, 60 percent of needed yards on second down or 100 percent of needed yards on third down.
Hanson was second in all of football in yards per pass (4.4) allowed and first in yards after the catch (YAC) allowing just 1.5. He clearly does his job as a nickel corner, so I don't think Juan Castillo will let him go. The only way they let him go is because the depth here makes him expendable, as is his $2.4 million cap number.
Marsh was drafted in the third round and played corner for just two seasons at Utah State. He has reportedly looked good in practice. I'm guessing he along with former Giants practice squad player Brandon Hughes, beat out Trevard Lindley for the last spot
The Eagles will play a lot of nickel and dime defense this season because a) the talent in the secondary, and b) they will have the lead in many games, which will force the offense to throw the ball more.
S (4): *Nate Allen, *Kurt Coleman, #Jaiquawn Jarrett, Colt Anderson
Along with the linebacking crew, safety is the youngest position on the Eagles roster.
Allen is a stud in the making but is coming off knee surgery. Coleman was a seventh-round pick last year. Jarrett was a second-round pick this year.
Jarrett will be fun to watch in the preseason when he finally will be able to show his strength which is hit people in the mouth and may take over the starting spot from Coleman with more playing time.
Anderson will make the team because he is a special teams stud who flies around the field making tacklers. Love him.
Combined, these four guys have played three NFL seasons.
Kicking Game (3)
K: #Alex Henery. Rookie who set an NCAA record by making 89.5 percent of his attempted field goals in his college football career. He's got big shoes to fill in replacing 5-time Pro-Bowl kicker David Akers, who was the last remaining Eagle from Reid's first year in '99.
P and H: #Chas Henry. Rookie who won the 2010 Ray Guy Award as the NCAA's top punter last season. Henry will also be the holder in the kicking game.
LS: Jon Dorenbos. Long snapper who does his job well.
PR: Higgins and DeSean (both listed at WR). Higgins returned three punts for touchdowns in 2008. He has a career PR return average of 8.5. We all know what Jackson has done (four career PR scores).
KR: Higgins and Lewis (listed at RB). Higgins has not returned kickoffs since 2008 but is listed as the KR on the Eagles depth chart. Lewis is the No. 2 guy here although he never returned kicks for Pitt in college.
PUP (3): Smith, Justice, Graham
Eagles depth chart according to the team's official website.
We know for sure Graham will start the season on PUP, and I think Smith will join him. Both will be activated at some point barring setbacks while Justice may end up on IR or may be taken off PUP before the start of the season.
When anyone of these guys is finally activated, the team will have to release a player on the active roster to make room for them.
*Also note, the team may put a few guys who won't make this team on IR and will look to sign some guys to the practice squad.
This roster is the most talented Eagles roster since the Andy Reid era began in 1999 and is one of the most talented teams in the league.
If Michael Vick and can stay relatively healthy, we can all agree this team has a chance to be special.
There you have it, what do you think?