For NFL teams like the Eagles, the third preseason game is the cliched dress rehearsal for the regular season, with the starters seeing the most playing time they will get before opening day. Teams use this game to evaluate key position battles at starting spots as well as to determine their top reserves.
The final game is generally reserved for the srubeenies who are scrapping for a chance to make those final few roster spots, or land on a team’s practice squad, or to generate some solid film to shop around to other teams after getting cut.
With the Eagles putting that third game to bed with Thursday night’s defeat of the Browns, now is as good a time as any to start predicting the final roster as well as the cuts that will allow them to get there.
One thing this last game told us is that the Eagles are not exactly a dream team. Of course, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a pipe dream that this team could go to the Super Bowl. Some further player development as well as some solid roster decisions, including some possible last-minute, to-be-determined additions, could make this Eagles team a legitimate contender.
For now though, here’s how things could shake out:
Starter: Michael Vick
Backups: Vince Young, Mike Kafka
Set in stone with Vick starting, and while there’s been some chatter to the contrary, Young is almost definitely the number two. That said, it’s possible that if Vick gets hurt and misses games Kafka becomes the starter and Young remains the second quarterback. This would allow the team to use Young in the same way Vick was used before, Wildcat-style.
RUNNING BACK (3)
Starter: LeSean McCoy
Backups: Ronnie Brown, Dion Lewis
In limited playing time, LeSean McCoy has already looked in mid-season form. He’s been quick, elusive, and decisive, everything everyone expected. He’s also 100% healthy and well rested. McCoy will almost definitely challenge for the Pro Bowl this season after getting snubbed last year. Stud.
Ronnie Brown has looked fantastic as a backup and if the worst happens and McCoy goes out with an injury, the Eagles will be in good hands, or legs actually. Brown would start for many teams.
Rounding out the group is rookie Dion Lewis, who has looked great as a small but well built jitterbug. He’s extremely quick and agile, and has already demonstrated a near-veteran’s ability in pass protection. At his size he’ll likely never be an every down back but he’s an incredible piece to have. Also, look for Lewis to see some action on the kick return unit, though with the ridiculous new kickoff rule this isn’t nearly as important a position as it used to be. Still, the ability to return kicks could determine that last roster spot. If the third running back can also field returns, that means it’s less likely the team goes heavy in another area, like receiver or corner.
Lastly, say good-bye to Eldra Buckley, who may have been a hard worker but with his paucity of talent will be challenged to find another team to even give him a shot. Maybe in the CFL. Or the UFL.
Starter: Owen Schmitt
Backup: Likely someone on the practice squad, possibly rookie Stanley Havili
The Eagles aren’t exactly a run-first team, but Schmitt is a solid option at an afterthought position. He’s as tough as they come, can lead block as well as anyone, and can actually catch a pass when needed. But really, fullback isn’t really much of a priority or a concern.
WIDE RECEIVER (6)
Starters: DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin
Backups: Jason Avant, Riley Cooper, Steve Smith, Sinorice Moss
DeSean Jackson will obviously start, new contract or not, and with Jeremy Maclin and Steve Smith practicing as of Saturday, there’s a very good chance the Eagles are saddled with a very good problem — too many good receivers.
It’s unlikely the Eagles keep more than six, and even that is a stretch. With running back Dion Lewis pretty much a lock to to make the team and with him potentially returning kicks, not to mention that stupid kickoff rule, a guy like Johnnie Lee Higgins really has no spot on this team.
In that vein, the Eagles may be tempted to keep Sinorice Moss or even Chad Hall, with either one serving as a punt returner as well. Sure, DeSean will see time back there, but if they’re smart it will only be in critical spots. They need someone else they can use on a regular basis. I think Moss gets the nod over the feel-good story Hall, as talent trumps fairy tales. If Moss can show he’s finally healthy the job should be his. Plus, if Moss ends up getting hurt at some point, it’s very likely Hall will be still be there sitting by the phone waiting for a call.
Also, with Smith far from a sure thing due to his injury, the team will need an extra option just in case. Moss makes more sense as a pure receiver than a running back/receiver like Hall, who really isn’t an NFL-level talent. Moss was a second round pick for a reason. If healthy he’s their best option for the bottom of the depth chart. Of course, it still wouldn’t be a surprise for Hall to somehow pull off a miracle, with a red-headed Santa-shaped man giving Hall an early gift of a roster spot. Hall obviously isn’t going to be the next TO out there but his hard work and relentless toughness may just win him a role. Maybe.
TIGHT END (2)
Starter: Brent Celek
Backup: Clay Harbor
Going into last year Brent Celek had established himself as a top tight end talent in the NFL, only to see his production drop dramatically once Vick over. That doesn’t mean he can’t play, of course. He’s still a way above-average player that should improve his production this season.
Behind Celek, second year Clay Harbor has shown enough that he’s almost a lock to stay on as a solid backup option. Last year the Eagles only carried two tight ends most of the season, which means free agent veteran pickup Donald Lee will be out. Lee has looked fine but he’s caught in a numbers game, and the Eagles will almost assuredly side with the younger player and his upside. The only way Lee makes the team is if they decide to go three deep.
Cornelious Ingram, attempting again to return from his knee injuries, is a nice story but he just isn’t the same specimen he was at Florida. Maybe he’s done enough to convince some other team to give him a shot but his days with the Eagles are nearly up.
LEFT TACKLE (2)
Starter: Jason Peters
Backup: Austin Howard
Jason Peters is an obvious lock, and second-year player Austin Howard could get a chance to develop behind him. The 6-7 Howard has focused on losing weight in order to better adapt to offensive line coach Howard Mudd’s blocking schemes.
LEFT GUARD (2)
Starter: Evan Mathis
Backups: Mike McGlynn
Normally manned by Todd Herremans, this spot is a bit of a wild card now that Herremans has been shifted outside to right tackle. Evan Mathis has been announced as the new starter, though it wouldn’t be a surprise to see this change here soon. Another player on the roster could take the spot, like Mike McGlynn, or just as likely the Eagles could sift through the literally 1,000-plus players who will soon be hitting the market as teams make cuts. Rookie Julian Vandervelde could also stick over the out-of-favor McGlynn, but a stint on the practice squad is more likely.
This position will probably be a trouble spot all year if Herremans remains at tackle.
Starter: Jason Kelce
Backup: Jamaal Jackson
The Eagles seem committed to rookie Jason Kelce, who has flashed solid talent but also looked over his head Thursday night against the Browns’ first team. He will need to develop on the fly. That uncertainty should lead the team to keep former starter Jamaal Jackson, who would likely otherwise be cut. His injuries the past two seasons have set Jackson back physically, and his size and skill set don’t really mesh with Mudd’s schemes. Still, he’s a veteran in an offensive line group that is shakier than last week’s earthquake.
RIGHT GUARD (2)
Starter: Danny Watkins
Backup: Reggie Wells
First round pick Danny Watkins has had this spot locked up since the Eagles wrote his name on their draft card. And while he’s not exactly looked even average, there’s no chance they give up on him at this point. Not only does he make the team, but he will need to really smear the Sealy to get benched during the season. Still, the Eagles will likely keep a veteran like Reggie Wells around for emergency purposes. Wells is a better option than a guy like Dallas Reynolds. Plus, his name is Dallas, and that sucks.
RIGHT TACKLE (2)
Starter: Todd Herremans
Backup: King Dunlap until Winston Justice is ready
With former starter Winston Justice on the Active/Physically Unable to Perform list with a lingering knee injury and Ryan Harris being diagnosed with a herniated disc in his back, Andy Reid made the decision to move Todd Herremans out to the right tackle spot. While it leaves a bit of a mess at left guard, it’s the Eagles best option right now. With the possibility that Justice starts the season on the Reserve/Physically Unable to Perform list, meaning he can’t play until Week 7 at the earliest, and with Harris possibly done as an Eagle before he even started, the horribly inconsistent King Dunlap makes the team. For now.
Then again, it’s possible the team has had enough of Dunlap and decides to keep third year player Fenuki Tupou instead, though he’s been hurt for a good part of camp.
Ultimately, if Justice does eventually get cleared to play, it’s not a lock that he starts again. It’s actually possible he remains on the bench the rest of the season. It’s really going to depend on how well the left guard is playing and how well Herremans himself adapts to playing a new position on a new side of the line. If the line is clicking Justice may be forced to watch. As it is, if Harris was healthy it’s possible Justice would have been out of a job altogether.
So that wraps up the offense. 25 out of 53 players. Defense coming next. UDPATE: Defensive projections added.
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