Philadelphia Eagles: A Preview and Analysis of the Final 53 Man Roster
The regular season is almost upon us. The preseason is down to just one final game. Every team must cut their roster down to 80 players by August 30 and again down to the final 53 by September 3 after everyone has played their final preseason game.
The Eagles will have a number of tough decisions to make. They have brought in a plethora of talent and will have to cut several talented veterans and young promising players as well. They drafted 11 players in the 2011 NFL Draft, and at least two of those players won't make the team.
The Eagles looked poised for a Super Bowl run yet again, but this time, they have more talent than they ever did in the early 2000s. They have gone after several Pro Bowl caliber players including Nnamdi Asomugha, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Cullen Jenkins, Ronnie Brown, Jason Babin and Vince Young.
It's clear the time to win is now. There is no way Andy Reid keeps his job in three years if he still hasn't brought the Lombardi Trophy to Philadelphia.
The Eagles are even deeper at quarterback then they were a year ago. In 2010, the Eagles had an MVP candidate in Michael Vick and a very promising young quarterback in Kevin Kolb. This season, the Eagles have an even more mature Michael Vick, a proven winner in Vince Young and a third stringer with a lot of potential in Mike Kafka.
Young will put Eagles fans at ease if Michael Vick should go down again. Young is a dangerous runner like Vick and he also has a very strong arm. Young isn't completely comfortable with the offense just yet, but should be in a couple of weeks. It's never a bad thing to have a still relatively young quarterback with a 30-17 career record backing up your franchise quarterback.
Mike Kafka will be the third string quarterback. Kafka has had an outstanding preseason. He has demonstrated a really good feel for the offense and reads blitzes better than a lot of starting quarterbacks. The only real knock on Kakfa is his inexperience and his arm strength. He is a similar player to Colt McCoy in those aspects. It wouldn't surprise me if the Eagles turned Kafka into a good draft pick in a trade in another year or two.
This is a very deep backfield that could be together for several years, outside of Ronnie Brown, of course. Brown is turning 30 this year and probably only has another year or two left of being an effective runner. Brown is more of a one year fix until Dion Lewis is ready to be a number two back.
All three running backs have had good preseasons and should all find ways of contributing in the offense. Expect the Eagles to run the ball more in 2011. You don't sign a veteran like Ronnie Brown and continue to run the ball 10 or 15 times a game. I believe Andy Reid will want to protect Michael Vick with an offensive line that will have only one starter back at the same position as the 2010 season.
Dion Lewis won't got many touches this season unless someone gets hurt, but he will see plenty in an Eagles uniform. Lewis has been very impressive so far. He is dangerous in the open field and has shown he can be an effective pass catcher as well. A full season learning from both McCoy and Brown will greatly benefit Lewis as he becomes the number two back in 2011. McCoy and Lewis should work well together similar to the way we thought McCoy and Westbrook would, before Westbrook got hurt.
Owen Schmitt will remain the Eagles starting full back. They didn't bring in a veteran to push him, and seventh round rookie Stanley Havili hasn't gotten many touches this preseason. Schmitt needs to improve as a lead blocker a little bit, but is a lock to make the team regardless.
One of the deepest receiving cores in the league nearly became one of the thinnest this offseason. Jeremy Maclin was suffering from a virus and had a cancer scare this offseason. He is practicing again and should be ready for Week 1. DeSean Jackson was holding out and still has not signed a contract extension. Jackson is on the final year of his rookie deal, where he is set to make just $600,000 in 2011.
The Eagles did add some depth by signing former New York Giant Steve Smith. Smith is still recovering from knee surgery he had in the offseason. Smith is practicing with the team and could be ready by Week 1.
Jason Avant will be the slot receiver yet again. Avant's hands and excellent route running have made him the ideal slot receiver.
Riley Cooper is still a lock to make the team, but not a lock to be active every game. The big question with the Eagles is, will they keep four or five receivers active every week. With only 45 of the 53 players on a roster activated each week, most teams will only activate four receivers. The Eagles usually activate just four receivers each week. Cooper has a lot of potential as a red zone threat and will have to show that each week to become a vital part of this offense.
Johnnie Lee Higgins, Chad Hall and Sinorice Moss all get cut despite making being strong candidates to make the team. With the new kickoff rule, return men aren't as valuable as they used to be. Both Higgins and Moss have struggled to make enough of an impact in the passing game this preseason and won't fit in the Eagles' plans this season.
Chad Hall has shown a ton of ability throughout camp and preseason but is probably the odd man out. Hall has improved his route running and can catch the ball in traffic despite his small frame. He could sneak onto the roster if Smith has lost a step or two and the Eagles' coaching staff doesn't believe he can make enough of an impact.
Brent Celek is still the clear choice for the Eagles' starting tight end, but the No. 2 spot is still up for grabs. Second year man Clay Harbor is trying to retain his spot as the Eagles' No. 2 tight end, but he is being challenged by veteran Donald Lee.
Lee has 198 receptions and 19 touchdowns in his career and has been a proven blocker and red zone threat for many years. Harbor had nine receptions last season but has improved has a blocker. Neither player has really run away with the spot, and the Eagles could elect to keep both players.
The Eagles have struggled in short yardage and red zone situations and having another talented tight end that can block and catch would be very beneficial to them.
Lee is a good veteran who is coming off a Super Bowl win. That experience alone is worth keeping on the roster.
When you bring in a coaching legend like Howard Mudd to coach your offensive line, you have to give him the players to run his scheme. The Eagles have completely changed up their line to fit his blocking scheme. The days of overweight and slow-moving 350 pound linemen are over. Mudd likes his linemen to be lean and athletic but have a certain intensity level to push back stronger and more athletic linemen backwards.
Jason Peters is the lone Eagle to keep his spot from a year ago at left tackle.
Left guard will be manned by former Cincinnati Bengal Even Mathis. Mathis had only made 22 starts in 58 career games in his eight-year career, but he fits the mold for what Mudd wants. He is a good nasty streak and is a versatile lineman. He will benefit from blocking next two an All Pro in Jason Peters.
The center spot is still not officially decided yet, but it appears that rookie Jason Kelce has beat out veteran Jamaal Jackson. Jackson has suffered season ending surgeries in back to back seasons, but looks healthy in 2011. Jackson is more of a Juan Castillo type of lineman at 325 pounds, while Kelce is clearly a Mudd guy at 280 pounds.
Kelce was the Eagles' sixth round draft pick out of Cincinnati. He was thought to be too small to be an effective lineman and was passed up by several teams, but he has gone from an unwanted rookie to a starting center for a Super Bowl contender. Not bad for his first four weeks on the job.
Danny Watkins has locked up the right guard spot in his rookie season already. Watkins is another athletic lineman with a real nasty streak. He has only been playing organized football for four years, but he is obviously a very quick learner. He should thrive under coach Mudd even if he has some early struggles as a rookie.
Todd Herremans has been moved to right tackle. He was moved to right tackle in practice on Saturday, just two days after the third preseason game. Herremans is an ideal right tackle despite playing the majority of his career at left guard. At 6'6" 320, Herremans has the ideal size and athleticism to play tackle.
The Eagles went into 2011 with the hope that Winston Justice would be the starting right tackle, but he is behind schedule with his rehab on his knee and probably won't be ready to the start of the season. Ryan Harris was brought in from Denver to compete for the right tackle spot but has been unable to stay healthy since the first preseason game against the Ravens. Harris will be either cut or put on the PUP list, making him ineligible until Week 8.
King Dunlap started the last two weeks at right tackle and did a good job there, but protecting Michael Vick's blindside is too important to give to a player who has been very inconsistent in his career. Dunlap will be a key reserve in 2011.
Jamaal Jackson will be the backup center most likely, unless Howard Mudd believes that Kelce isn't ready to start.
Winston Justice should be headed for the PUP list as well. The Eagles could make a decision on what to do with Justice after their bye week in Week 7. If he is healthy and Herremans struggles at right tackle, they could move Herremans back to left guard and start Justice at right tackle.
Reggie Wells was signed on August 20 and could make the team as a backup guard. Wells spent 2010 with the Eagles as well, but never saw much action.
Julian Vandervelde, the Eagles fifth round draft choice last April, will also make the team as a backup guard. Vandervelde fits the Howard Mudd mold at guard and could develop into a start in another year or two at left guard.
The Eagles have given new defensive line coach Jim Washburn plenty of players to work with on the defensive line. His new scheme calls for the linemen to attack the backfield rather than just cover gaps. This has resulted in 14 sacks in the first three preseason games by 10 different players. Trent Cole, Phillip Hunt, Derek Landri and Darryl Tapp have all recorded two sacks.
The Eagles will most likely keep five defensive ends and five defensive tackles to start the season, with Brandon Graham to start the year on the PUP list as he still recovers from an ACL tear last December. Jim Washburn likes to rotate his linemen a lot, so it's important for the Eagles to have plenty of fresh bodies each and every week.
Trent Cole and Jason Babin are the projected starting defensive ends. Many people have speculated that Juqua Parker would be starter over Babin this season but Parker hasn't been able to practice or play for over two weeks, is already in his mid 30s and will count for $3.5 million against the cap in 2011. Parker could be cut as early as August 30, but if not, he will be gone by the final roster cuts on September 3. Parker is still a solid defensive end, but with all the talented young players the Eagles have at defensive end, it just doesn't make sense to keep him.
Darryl Tapp, Phillip Hunt and Daniel Te'o-Nesheim will be the key reserves at defensive end. Darryl Tapp is the type of player that should thrive under Washburn. Expect around eight or nine sacks from Tapp despite not being a starter.
Hunt is the ideal candidate, along with Jason Babin, for the wide nine technique that Washburn utilizes. The wide nine calls for the defensive end to line up wide of the offensive tackle. An athletic end with good pass rusher skills is best served in this scheme. The end will get a great angle on the tackle and can really abuse some of the slower tackles in the league.
Te'o-Nesheim is in his second year and is showing signs of improvement. He gives maximum effort every play and has a good technique.
Defensive Tackle is just as crowded as defensive end, with at least one very talented player getting cut on September 3.
Mike Patterson and Antonio Dixon are the projected starters. Patterson has come back from a seizure on the field and being diagnosed with a brain condition known as AVM. He played last week against the Browns and recorded a sack. Dixon has been hurt during most of preseason, but was back at practice yesterday and is expected to be ready for the start of the season.
Cullen Jenkins is the lone lock to make the team as a reserve tackle. Jenkins was brought in from Green Bay in free agency to add a dynamic pass rusher at the defensive tackle spot. Jenkins had seven sacks last year and has 29 for his career.
Anthony Hargrove, Derek Landri and Trevor Laws are all battling for the final two spots at tackle. Hargrove and Landri both have starter experience and would be excellent fits in Washburn's rotation. Laws hasn't been a starter but has shown potential as an excellent pass rusher.
Laws has been suffering from a hip injury and hasn't practiced much so far this season. The Eagles will probably elect to take more experienced players like Hargrove and Landri, who are both 100 percent healthy as well.
Landri has two sacks in preseason already and has shown a really good spin move. It would be hard to cut a player like Landri in favor of a player who might not be ready come Week 1.
No position on the Eagles has been more scrutinized than the linebackers. Rookie starting middle linebacker Casey Matthews was been called small and out of position following the loss to the Steelers in the second week of preseason. The Eagles don't have much experience at linebacker right now. Jamar Chaney made two starts at middle linebacker last season and is now the starting outside linebacker. Moise Fokou has made 16 starts in two seasons at outside linebacker and appears to finally locked up a starting spot.
Despite all the criticism, this group has the potential to be pretty special for years to come. All three starters are very young but very athletic and possess excellent coverage skills. Don't expect tight ends to continue to put up big numbers against the Eagles as they have the past couple of seasons. Both Matthews and Chaney are natural coverage linebackers.
Once the Eagles get Mike Patterson and Antonio Dixon back in the starting lineup, it will make things a lot easier for the linebackers against the run.
It is still pretty wide open with the three backup linebacker spots. Akeem Jordan has a lot of experience in an Eagles uniform and should be a part of the defense yet again.
Keenan Clayton made one start last year on the weak side and has been a valuable tool as a nickel linebacker. His coverage skills make him too valuable to cut.
Brian Rolle will be the third and final reserve linebacker to make the team. Rolle is an outside linebacker and a special teams ace. He is undersized for a linebacker at 5'10" and around 230 pounds but plays with a major chip on his shoulder because of it. His ability on special teams probably insure he makes the team.
That would leave the Eagles without a backup middle linebacker on the roster, but Jamar Chaney could move back to the middle if Casey Matthews gets hurt.
Greg Lloyd Jr., the Eagles seventh round draft pick, will probably be put on the practice squad with a chance to make the team next season as a backup middle linebacker if no other teams signs him off the Eagles practice squad.
Last season, the Eagles were very thin at cornerback. How quickly things can change with a good offseason strategy. In 2010, the Eagles struggled to find a player that could hold down the right cornerback spot. Ellis Hobbs and Dimitiri Patterson both struggled with the deep ball. It was clear to everyone that the Eagles needed help at the position.
The Eagles decided to upgrade at corner with not one but two Pro Bowl caliber players in Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. Wide receivers have had a tough time getting open against Asomugha, Rodgers-Cromartie and Asante Samuel so far in preseason.
There was some talk in the offseason that the Eagles would trade Samuel once they got Asomugha, but a trade never took place, and the Eagles will be very difficult to pass against in 2011.
Joselio Hanson, the Eagles' nickel back, appears to be on his way out. The Eagles have three very young and promising corners behind Hanson in Trevard Lindley, Curtis Marsh and Brandon Hughes. The Eagles are fielding offers for Hanson, who is being rumored to go to St. Louis or Carolina.
Lindley, Marsh and Hughes all should make the team, but expect to Marsh and Hughes to spend most of the season inactive on game day. They will spend the 2011 season learning under three Pro Bowl corners.
Kurt Coleman is becoming a star in the Eagles secondary. Coleman has 16 tackles in the last two preseason games and has been solid in coverage as well. According to a study on safeties in the NFL last year by Pro Football Focus, he is one of three players that did not miss a single tackle last season. He has already locked up a starting safety spot, which isn't a bad for a former seventh round draft pick in just his second season.
Nate Allen was supposed to start opposite of Coleman at safety, but it doesn't look like the torn patella tendon in his knee is at 100 percent yet. Allen suffered the tear last December. Jarrad Page, a former Patriot and Chief, may get the start over Allen come week 1. If Allen is healthy, the position is his, but the Eagles don't want him starting until is knee is ready.
The Eagles second round draft pick, Jaiquawn Jarrett, has the other reserve safety spot locked up. Jarrett is an outstanding tackler but still need to get more comfortable with the offense and the speed of the game.
The Eagles special teams are in great shape despite having a rookie kicker and punter.
Alex Henery, the Eagles fourth round draft pick, will be the kicker in 2011. Henery is one of the most accurate kickers in the history of college football and has a big leg to boot. Henery has made of all three of his field goals and all six of his extra points. Henery hasn't been tested by a longer field goal in preseason yet, but will get his chance eventually.
Chas Henry is the Eagles new punter. Henry is an undrafted rookie out of Florida with a good all around leg. He is averaging over 44 yards per punt in the preseason, and three of his nine punts have been downed inside the 20.
Jon Dorenbos will continue to be the Eagles' long snapper. He is one of the best in the game and has shown the ability to fly down the field and cover punts.
The Eagles will have a lot of tough cuts to make on September 3. Included in roster cuts will be Chad Hall, Sinorice Moss, Eldra Buckley, Mike McGlynn, Rashad Jeanty and Trevor Laws.
Hall and Moss will really suffer from the new kickoff rule, as having a dynamic kick returner is a moot point now. If Steve Smith had to be put on the PUP list, then either Hall or Moss could make the team, but Smith is now ineligible after practicing with the team.
Buckley is a good special teamer but gives nothing to the offense. His ability on kickoff coverage becomes expendable.
McGlynn did a remarkable job filling in for Jamaal Jackson at center last season, but doesn't fit in with Howard Mudd's blocking scheme.
Both Rashad Jeanty and Trevor Laws are good players who could start for someone else down the road, but neither player should make the team. Laws had a chance but needs to get healthy very soon and start proving himself to new defensive line coach Jim Washburn.
Brandon Graham is all but assured of starting the season off on the PUP list, which will make him ineligible until after the Eagles first six games. The Eagles have a bye week in Week 7, so he should be back for a Week 8 matchup against the Cowboys. The Eagles would have to cut someone before they can put Graham back on the roster unless another player is put on IR following a season ending injury.