State Of the Eagles’ Roster: Offense

Zach ErtzThe Eagles begin preseason play Friday night against the Patriots, so now is as good a time as any to get a handle on the state of the roster.

This post can serve as a primer on what to watch for on offense. We’ll roll out the defense on Friday.

QUARTERBACKS

Michael Vick will get the start, but Nick Foles will rotate in with the first team. Both guys are expected to play only in the first quarter, but that could change, depending on how the possessions play out.

If you want one man’s opinion, Vick is the favorite, but it’s not like he’s been head-and-shoulders above Foles. Neither has been making quick decisions on a consistent basis, and there have been too many plays in practice that end with the whistle blowing and the ball still in the quarterback’s hands (or the QB scrambling).

Whichever QB wins the job will need time to adjust to a brand new offense, and growing pains are to be expected. All summer long, Chip Kelly has emphasized the importance of preseason games, pointing out that it’s tougher to play the position when you face the possibility of being hit. But that has probably been overstated, considering each guy is only going to play a couple series’.

The final decision will be based on a combination of factors: last year’s film, practice performance and preseason performance. Remember, if Kelly loved Foles, he wouldn’t have brought Vick back. If he loved Vick, he would have fielded trade offers for Foles. Add in the fact that the Eagles drafted Matt Barkley, and it’s clear the team was hedging its bets, hoping someone would emerge.

Speaking of Barkley, he is expected to play the second and third quarters Friday night. The rookie has not received any first-team reps and seems like a longshot to get into the starting QB competition. But things can change if he impresses during game action.

RUNNING BACKS

LeSean McCoy has missed practice time with a knee issue, and it’s unclear whether he’ll play Friday night, although the guess is he won’t.

The competition for the No. 2 job, though, has picked up. Bryce Brown flashed his unique blend of size and speed in 2012. While Brown’s looked good for the most part at camp (minus several drops as a receiver), it’s been Chris Polk who has really stood out. An undrafted free agent in 2012, Polk shed 15 pounds this offseason and looks quick and decisive. The coaches have taken notice and bumped Polk up to the first team with McCoy out.

Look for both Polk and Brown to mix in with the starters Friday night. They will be competing for playing time in their second years.

Felix Jones and Matthew Tucker, meanwhile, are fighting for roster spots.

WIDE RECEIVERS

This has become an area of concern in recent weeks. As things currently stand, Riley Cooper is the favorite to start opposite DeSean Jackson.

Jackson has looked tremendous this summer, and Kelly praised the speedy wide receiver for coming into camp in great shape. By all accounts, he is expected to have a prominent role in this offense.

Cooper got a shot at extended playing time in the final seven games of last season, but was unimpressive, averaging just 29.4 yards. But he is one of the better blocking wide receivers on the roster and can make plays in the red zone.

A lot of uncertainty deeper down the roster. Jason Avant is expected to stick as the slot guy. Damaris Johnson has had a good camp and showed good YAC ability last year, but he’s dealing with a hamstring injury. Same goes for undrafted free agent Russell Shepard, who has also had a good camp. It’s unclear whether either will play Friday night. Johnson seems like a good bet to make the team. And Sheppard is in position to earn a spot if he continues to play well.

Fans love Ifeanyi Momah’s size, but he seems raw and hasn’t made a lot of plays at camp. Momah seems more likely to land on the practice squad than to contribute. But he’ll have opportunities Friday night. Greg Salas will have a tough time sticking, but he’s had some impressive moments at camp and could potentially steal a spot with a strong preseason.

TIGHT ENDS

Zach Ertz has been as good as advertised. The guess here is that he’ll end the season with more catches and receiving yards than Brent Celek or James Casey. Ertz has had some drops, but he’s also made some great catches. He’s lined up out wide a lot in the last two weeks.

Celek has been steady, but Ertz figures to take away a chunk of his targets. Casey has had some bad drops too, but that doesn’t seem like much of a concern, considering he only dropped two passes in the last two seasons with the Texans, per Pro Football Focus.

The top three tight end spots are obviously accounted for, and the offense is expected to utilize several two-TE sets.. If the Eagles keep a fourth, the battle will come down to Clay Harbor, Derek Carrier and Emil Igwenagu.

TACKLE

Allen Barbre and Lane Johnson will start at left and right tackle, respectively, on Friday night. Jason Peters is dealing with a hamstring issue, but looked great when healthy.

Barbre spent most of camp at guard, but began playing tackle this week. With Dennis Kelly sidelined for at least the rest of the preseason (back surgery), the Eagles need depth at this spot. And Barbre has put himself in excellent shape to make the roster.

Ed Wang is dealing with a knee issue. Michael Bamiro seems more likely to contribute in future years than in 2013. Matt Kopa and Matt Tobin will need to surprise for a chance to stick around.

Friday will be our first chance to see Johnson, the No. 4 overall pick, in game action.

GUARD/CENTER

There aren’t any questions with the starters: Evan Mathis (LG), Jason Kelce (C) and Todd Herremans (RG). But backup spots are up for grabs.

We mentioned Barbre above. He’s in the mix as a backup guard too. Danny Watkins looks more comfortable this summer, but the former first-rounder will have to prove himself in game situations. With a solid preseason, he should earn a roster spot.

The backup center job is up for grabs between Dallas Reynolds, Julian Vandervelde and Matt Tennant. Reynolds has experience from last year, but the others could steal a spot.

Friday will be the first time we see Kelce in game action since he tore his ACL during Week 2 of the 2012 season.

Follow Sheil Kapadia on Twitter and e-mail him at skapadia@phillymag.com.
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