Philadelphia Eagles 53-Man Roster: Early Impressions
The Philadelphia Eagles have finalized their cuts to reach the 53-man roster. It’s naïve to think the roster won’t change at all by the end of the season, but the core of the team is solidified. The Eagles have put together a team that is a legitimate contender for the Super Bowl. In this article, I will break down where the team has improved and where it might still be weak. I'll also give my opinion of how talented the Eagles are at each position. It's also important to note how many players they kept at each position.
QB: (3) Michael Vick, Vince Young, and Mike Kafka
When Michael was first given the job last year, he seemed to provide the spark the Eagles had been missing. His ability to stretch the play and pickup difficult yards appeared to be the perfect remedy for Andy Reid’s inability to call the right (non-gimmicky) play when it really mattered.
Vick’s talent makes it so Reid doesn’t have to think so hard, and I think we can all appreciate that. Just think of how many extra wins that is worth. Seriously, think about it.
Vince Young may not be a wonder boy in the west coast offense, but his physical abilities make him a more than serviceable backup. He’s come a long way in learning the west coast offense and seems to be more comfortable in it every day.
I’m sure Reid won’t be able to resist using Young on the field at the same time as Vick, but if it leads to more points, I won’t complain. After Young’s hamstring injury in the last preseason game, his status is day-to-day heading into week 1.
Mike Kafka showed some improvement in the preseason, although it was against scrubs on defense. It’s important to note he doesn’t shy away when he’s thrust into the spot light. That being said, I hope I don’t have to hear his name called again for the rest of the year.
Overall the Eagles are more talented at QB then they have ever been at one time. With any luck, we won't need to test the talent of the bench too much.
RB/FB: (4) LeSean McCoy, Ronnie Brown, Dion Lewis and Owen Schmitt
This is without a doubt the best group of running backs the Eagles have had in the Andy Reid era.
LeSean McCoy surprised everyone last year. His ability to juke people at near full speed and break off 30-40 yard chunks at a time was simply amazing. I expect him to have an even bigger year this season, possibly getting his first pro-bowl appearance.
Ronnie Brown is an incredible addition to the backfield. I can’t tell you how much I love not having another worthless backup running back. Brown is excellent in pass protection and brings a more physical side to the backfield. I expect Brown’s presence to be incredibly beneficial to the Eagles offense this season, in more ways than I can even predict.
I see Dion Lewis as a mix of Darren Sproles and Maurice Jones Drew. He has the quick shifty ability of Sproles, and also the short, thick-legged, tackle breaking running style of MJD. I’m not saying he’s up to MJD power yet, but give him a year or two and I think he could be close. Lewis is slated to be the 3rd RB and also a kick returner, where I expect him to make a name for himself and show the world what he can do; assuming that a few kickoffs might not fly through the back of the end zone.
And Owen Schmitt is the fullback, moving on.
WR: (5) DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, Steve Smith, Jason Avant, and Riley Coop
Say hello to a very dynamic receiving core.
DeSean Jackson is one of the most electrifying players in the league. The league-wide fear of his speed pushes defensive secondaries back, giving even bigger running lanes to both Vick and the Eagles backs.
When you team Jackson with Jeremy Maclin you get a lethal combination. They are both legitimate number one receivers, which makes it harder to double cover Jackson. Maclin had a breakout season last year, but he still hasn't reached his full potential yet.
The addition of Steve Smith, could be great, but the jury is still out on this one. He’s battling back from a knee injury. If he comes out 100% healthy he could add another dimension to the Eagles offense. But at this point, having not seen him play at all in the preseason, it’s naïve to expect he’ll play at 100% right away.
I do wonder how Steve Smith’s presence will alter Jason Avant’s slot position. Gotta believe at some point he’s gonna have to take a back seat to Smith, and I have a feeling that time is coming sooner than later, especially if Reid starts itching to try out his new weapon.
(However, it is likely that the Eagles try using more 4 WR sets this year, to take advantage of all their talent. And stretching all those defenders out would create big running lanes as well.)
Riley Cooper is one year better. Hopefully he can be the red zone target everyone seems to think he is.
Overall I expect an even more productive receiving core this year. With even more potential if Smith can contribute and Cooper can become a red zone monster.
TE: (2) Brent Celek and Clay Harbor
Brent Celek was an up and coming tight end before last season, but he had a very down year, being forced to stay in and block more often to better protect Vick, and those blocking results were mixed. It’s entirely possible that an upgraded offensive line and the addition of Howard Mudd could give Celek the chance to run more routes, which is better suited to his skill set.
The jury is still out on Clay Harbor. I’m not sure he’ll ever be a pro bowl tight end, but at this point no one is really asking him to be one. Hopefully he could be a reliable red zone target, the Eagles could always use more of those.
I was really hoping to see Donald Lee make the team. I heard Andy Reid was looking to try more 2 TE sets, and Lee is a very good blocking TE.
OL: (9) Peters, Dunlap, Mathis, Kelce, Jackson, Watkins, Herremans, Justice
Jason Peters, King Dunlap, Evan Mathis, Julian Vandervelde, Jason Kelce, Jamaal Jackson, Danny Watkins, Todd Herremans, and Winston Justice
The potential of this offensive line is a mystery. Moving Todd Herremans to right tackle was a very smart move. Hopefully they let him keep that position, because I’m not sure I want to test out Winston Justice until they know his knee is completely better.
Overall the line has a lot of quality veterans and promising rookies. I for one love that the Eagles have gutted all the worthless backup offensive lineman they had stashed in this roster for years.
I think what Eagles fans will see this year is a cleaner pocket for Vick to stand in. (though it could take a few weeks for them to really develop continuity) Howard Mudd's blocking scheme encourages attacking the defender before he can attack you, which should make the pocket slightly bigger and create a nasty personality along the Eagles offensive line.
I do worry about starting rookie center Jason Kelce, right next to rookie right guard Danny Watkins. If there was ever an obvious bulls eye on the Eagles line that a defensive coordinator would look to attack, that would be it. Shooting a blitz into the right A gap could really confuse those rookies.
(I don't mean any disrepect to Juan Castillo, because he had some very successful offensive lines over the years, but if he was always a "defensive guy" I almost think the o-line has to be incredibly better now that the best o-line coach in the league is coaching it.)
DE: (5) Jason Babin, Trent Cole, Phillip Hunt, Juqua Parker and Darryl Tapp
The biggest addition to the defensive line has been coach Jim Washburn. His scheme should bring the best out of even the worst players in the league, and because the Eagles defensive line is already full of quality players, I expect very little learning curve and some very quick results.
I have to say that I’m very surprised that they cut Daniel Teo-Nesheim. He seemed to have a lot of promise and to my knowledge was beginning to flourish under Jim Washburn’s scheme. I may be wrong, but it seems that for years the Eagles have always kept six DEs, and this year they only kept five.
It seems like this would make the defensive line rotations uneven, but because Trent Cole is usually in the game, he may have a less frequent rotation. This would mean that Darryl Tapp would switch with Cole every so often on the right side, and Babin, Parker, and Hunt would rotate more often on the left side. That’s the best I can tell from what I’ve seen in training camp and in the preseason.
If the Eagles can continue to generate pass rush without blitzing eventually they will begin to force hurries, sacks, and interceptions. If they can do that, the whole defense can be successful.
DT: (5) Antonio Dixon, Mike Patterson, Cullen Jenkins, Trevor Laws, and Cedric
The news here is obviously still Cullen Jenkins. I can’t wait to see him push offenses around and collapse pockets right on top of the quarterbacks. Jenkins signing with the Eagles was almost more surprising than Nnamdi's... almost.
Jenkins came to the Eagles to get an opportunity to work with Jim Washburn. Can't imagine that a man who just won a Super Bowl ring is dying to get there again, but he does know what it takes to get it done, and I like having that experience on the d-line.
I was very surprised to see Cedric Thornton make the team. I guess I never paid much attention to him, because from the first second I saw him on the practice field, I just figured “he’s a camp body”. It seems like his presence on the 53 man roster is what pushed Daniel Teo-Nesheim out the door. The rest of the d tackles are to be expected, Andy Reid’s proven run stopping commodities from last season Antonio Dixon, Mike Patterson, and Trevor Laws.
I was hoping that Anthony Hargrove would make the team, but it seems like they want bigger DTs, especially after the Steelers ran through them in the preseason.
I really look forward to seeing how the DTs improve under Washburn's scheme.
LB: (6) Casey Matthews, Jamar Chaney, Keenan Clayton, Moise Fokou, Brian Rolle
Casey Matthews, Jamar Chaney, Keenan Clayton, Moise Fokou, Brian Rolle, and Akeem Jordan
This is without a doubt the youngest group of starting LBs ever assembled in the NFL. The somewhat scary thing is Akeem Jordan is the only veteran LB on the team, and he’s not really someone worth looking up to.
I’m sure he’s a decent player, but it seems like every time he gets to start, the Eagles can’t stop the run.
I feel alright about the starting LBs. The biggest question is obviously Casey Matthews. After his terrible performance against the Steelers, he made a lot of Eagles fans uneasy. But he bounced back against a lowly Browns team, so we should all feel better. I’m a big Casey Matthews fan, I loved it when the Eagles drafted him. I just hope he can get the job done in year one. I would love it if he could, hopefully the bloodline holds true. If it turns out that Casey has trouble in the middle, they can move Jamar Chaney back inside, where he played well near the end of last season.
At this point it's hard to tell if they've improved here, but I can't imagine they've gotten any worse.
CB: (6) Nnamdi Asomugha, DRC, Asante Samuel, Brandon Hughes, Lindley, Marsh
I’ve been pushing for the signing of Nnamdi Asomugha all offseason. And when it appeared all but done that the Eagles would be trading for DRC, we all put our dreams away and got ready to hope for the best.
Then the Eagles suddenly signed Nnamdi and I finally got my offseason Christmas present. The Eagles have grouped Nnamdi and Domonique Rodgers-Cromartie with the very appreciated long-time Eagle ball hawk Asante Samuel, forming a super trio of pro bowl corners.
Anyone who has reason to talk bad about the Eagles pass coverage can shut it. There is no doubt this CB group will be 1000x better than it was last season. That’s basically all that needs to be said. They will go out and show what they can do. And the rotating Trio of Treachery will definitely leave its mark on opposing offenses. (We need a real nickname for this trio.)
The CB group overall is a mixture of elite pro-bowl corners and young up and coming athletic corners. I fully expect these young corners to get better faster thanks to the tutelage of their new big brothers.
This will definitely be one of the most interesting positions to watch on the Eagles this season.
S: (5) Nate Allen, Kurt Coleman, Jaiquawn Jarrett, Jarrad Page, Colt Anderson
The Eagles safety group is very interesting. It seems like Kurt Coleman(pictured) and Jarrad Page are going to be the starters. Everyone else is injured and Colt Anderson is just a decent safety, he’s a much better special teams player. I was hoping Jaiquawn Jarret would start, but that hasn’t happened yet, and thanks to a deep thigh bruise it will take a little while longer.
I don’t want Nate Allen anywhere near the field until he can legitimately cover receivers. It’s not enough to stand back there and be a leader. Once his knee is 100% he can get a shot. I have total confidence in Kurt Coleman, the guy is a stud, and seems to prove it more and more every time he steps on the field.
I haven’t seen enough of Jarrad Page to really give an opinion. He's seems to have good ball skills, but as a journeyman, it's hard to expect him to bring a lot to the table. Hopefully these young safeties can get healthy soon.
Overall, I'm not terribly concerned about the safeties. The Eagles have so much talent at CB, that's bound to help out the safeties.
ST: (3) (K)-Alex Henery (P)-Chas Henry, and (LS)-Jon Dorenbos
And these are the Special Teamers, there’s nothing really wrong with any of them. I just hope that Alex Henery can be just as good in Philly as he was in Nebraska.
Chas Henry seems to be a decent punter, if he does struggle there is someone on the team who can fill in, and his name is Alex Henery. He doubled as a punter at Nebraska. If it involves kicking the guy has probably already mastered it.
And as always Jon Dorenbos is flawless. What else can you expect from a long-snapper who moonlights as a magician?
What really stands out to me this season is how the Eagles have filled the roster with talent and cut out as much worthless fat as possible. You can’t tell me you’re not glad to see them get rid of Dimitri Patterson, Eldra Buckley, Max Jean Gilles, Nick Cole, Quintin Mikell, and Marlin Jackson, to name a few.
For year’s Andy Reid has relied on subpar talent and subpar position coaching just hoping they could stumble into a Super Bowl victory. As long as Andy Reid still makes in-game decisions I can’t say there won’t be any stumbling, but the extra talent and coaching experience around him might make it easier to get where he wants to go.
I can say this might be the first Andy Reid era roster that has few if any cheap band-aid players. And those will probably get supplanted once the Eagles start raiding the waiver-wire after cut day.
What do you think of the Eagles roster? Is it legitimately better than past years? Will it be enough to get them to the Super Bowl and win?