Philadelphia Eagles: Who's Winning Position Battles and Who Needs to Step Up
Is this team really ready to contend, or did all the big free-agent signings just cover up all the issues this team still has? Those questions and more won't be answered until we get to the regular season.
It wasn't a good night for a lot of players battling for either a starting job or roster spot. Jason Kelce will start over Jamaal Jackson this week in practice and will most likely get the start in the Eagles' next preseason game against the Browns. Jackson played the entire first half at center against Pittsburgh, and there has been no indication that either Kelce or Jackson is the favorite at center. The coaches want to get a good look at both players.
With just two preseason games left and the majority of starters possibly sitting out the fourth game, the time to step up and earn a starting job is now. Guys like Jason Kelce, King Dunlap and Casey Matthews need to play well against the Browns to solidify a starting role in 2011.
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The center position for the Philadelphia Eagles looked to be a lock for Jamaal Jackson. The player who replaced him last year, Mike McGlynn, was moved back to guard, and Jackson's new backup is a rookie who every team passed until the Eagles took him in the sixth round due to his lack of size.
Jason Kelce, at around 280 pounds, was thought to be too small to be an effective center in the NFL. In Howard Mudd's offensive line blocking scheme, smaller is better; Mudd likes his linemen to be more athletic and less bulky. We have seen the Eagles swing and miss on several behemoths like Nick Cole and Max Jean-Gilles, but Kelce is exactly the player Mudd likes to anchor the middle of his line.
Jackson has started 72 games for the Eagles and is the favorite to win the starting job at center, but if Kelce impresses Thursday against the Browns, experience may not matter.
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Casey Matthews had a rough night against the Steelers. He got dominated in the run game as the Steelers' offensive linemen and tight ends pushed him out of the way like he was the kicker.
The one things Matthews does have going for him is that he isn't really in competition with anyone but himself.
The Eagles have let two of their three middle linebackers sign elsewhere during preseason. Stewart Bradley signed with the Arizona Cardinals, while Omar Gaither signed with the Carolina Panthers. The Eagles also moved Bradley's replacement from last year, Jamar Chaney, to the outside.
As of right now, Matthews is ahead of another rookie, seventh-round pick Greg Lloyd. Lloyd is still recovering from a nasty ACL injury he suffered in 2009, along with a high ankle sprain.
Matthews is still slated to be the starting middle linebacker going into the regular season and will be getting all the reps with the first-team defense. Matthews did show progress last week as the game against the Steelers got further along, but he still has a lot of room to grow.
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Defensive tackle continues to be the most wide open position for the Eagles.
The projected starters, Mike Patterson and Antonio Dixon, have yet to play in preseason. Patterson was given full clearance from four different doctors to resume playing football this year after being diagnosed with a AVM, a brain condition that alters blood flow in the brain. Dixon has had back problems throughout preseason, but should be ready for the season-opener on Sept. 11.
Cullen Jenkins has been impressive so far during preseason, but he isn't the run-stuffer Dixon and Patterson are. Both Jenkins and Trevor Laws are expected to be key rotation guys at defensive tackle in Jim Washburn's scheme. Anthony Hargrove, Cedric Thornton and Derek Landri are all battling for a possible fifth defensive tackle spot as well.
It appears that both Dixon and Patterson are still the favorites to earn starting defensive tackle roles. Both players are listed first on the depth chart at defensive tackle despite not playing a down in preseason so far, but both players will have to prove they are healthy in order to lock up their spots.
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Right tackle is still issue for the Eagles.
Going into the season, Winston Justice was slated to be the starter. Justice has fallen behind on his rehab stemming from offseason surgery on his knee and won't be ready until opening weekend at the earliest.
Ryan Harris was brought in from Denver to add some competition and potentially win the right tackle job. Harris missed more than a week of practice and last week's preseason game against the Steelers.
Head coach Andy Reid has already said he considers King Dunlap to be the starting right tackle. Dunlap performed well against the Steelers, picking up blitzing linebackers Lawrence Timmons and LaMarr Woodley throughout the first half.
Dunlap appears to be the new front-runner at right tackle and will get all the first reps in practice this week. He should be the starter against the Browns in the third week of preseason.
The battle at right tackle is far from over. A good showing from Harris could sway the battle in his favor. Harris' biggest problem in his career hasn't been his ability or technique, it has always been his inability to stay healthy.
Whoever wins the job, protecting Michael Vick's blindside is crucial to the Eagles' success in 2011.
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The safety position has drawn some serious concerns after the first half embarrassment against the Steelers. Nate Allen was partly responsible for two of Pittsburgh's three first half touchdowns.
Allen blitzed when he was supposed to stay in coverage on the first touchdown when Asante Samuel tried to jump the receiver's route. Allen looked lost in coverage and bit on several play-action plays as well.
Allen says his knee felt great, but also said he dealt with a lot of soreness as well. If he isn't 100 percent healthy coming off a ruptured patellar tendon in his knee he suffered last December, rookie safety Jaiquawn Jarrett may get a serious look.
Kurt Coleman is slated to start at the other safety position. Coleman looked solid against the Steelers, racking up 11 tackles in the game. He doesn't stand out physically at safety, but has a knack for being around the ball.
Both Coleman and Allen are still expected to be the starting safeties in Juan Castillo's new-look defense, but with a very promising rookie in Jarrett and another solid veteran, Jarrad Page, nobody's job is safe quite yet.