The offseason heading into Matthews’ senior year, Kelly’s players kept showing up in the news for all the wrong reasons. Running back LaMichael James was arrested on domestic violence charges. Place-kicker Rob Beard and defensive end Matt Simms were charged with misdemeanor assault for their involvement in a street fight. Quarterback Jeremiah Masoli was identified as a suspect in a theft.
Kelly called a team meeting to express his disappointment. That night linebacker Kiko Alonso was cited for driving under the influence.
“He told us the guy was off the team. He was mad,” said Matthews. “We were in the team meeting room. He rips us for the offseason — everyone is getting in trouble, the star quarterback was stealing from a frat, domestic violence charge, a bunch of little stuff — finally he calls a team meeting, rips us — get it together — and then that night [the DUI]. It was bad.
“He couldn’t breathe. That was the worst I’ve seen.” Read more »
If you missed the offense, click here. Below is the position-by-position review of the Eagles’ defensive performance against the Redskins, after having re-watched the game.
* The starting defensive line from left to right was Cedric Thornton, Isaac Sopoaga and Fletcher Cox. Cox moved around a bit in nickel, sometimes playing left defensive end. A big hole opened up between him and Trent Cole in the first as Alfred Morris picked up 15. But Cox gave great effort on the play and eventually chased him down. He didn’t do much as a pass-rusher until late. Cox got free on a big blitz in the fourth and crushed Robert Griffin III. He later sacked Griffin when the Eagles used just a three-man rush.
* Thornton had a good second half too. He hustled from the back side, dropping Morris for a 2-yard loss and later charged through a double-team on the play where DeMeco Ryans sacked Griffin. Thornton also used his length, batting down a pass at the line of scrimmage. He missed a tackle on a 3rd-and-1 in the fourth, but otherwise played well.
* Tough to grade Sopoaga without the All-22 (not released yet). But he drew a holding penalty on a run play in the third and chased Griffin to the sideline on an incompletion later in the quarter.
* The backups from left to right were Clifton Geathers, Damion Square and Bennie Logan. Geathers got good pressure on two occasions, once fighting a double team and forcing Griffin to scramble. Logan blew up a stretch play in the third as Mychal Kendricks finished the tackle after a 1-yard run. Logan also played some nose tackle and drew a holding penalty in the third.
* In case you were wondering, Trent Cole was still a beast upon re-watch. The Eagles’ right outside linebacker owned the first half. He flew in from the back side and forced a Morris fumble early on. He jumped on Morris in the end zone to notch a safety. He dropped Morris for no gain on a zone-read play. He came flying in at Griffin and hit him as a pass-rusher. He slipped past the fullback and dropped Morris for no gain. And he tackled Griffin after a scramble on third down, forcing a punt. That was all in the first half.
* Cole dropped 23.8 percent of the time on pass plays, per Pro Football Focus. His best option in coverage might be to drill the opposing receiver. That’s what he did on one play in the third, forcing the receiver to the ground within 5 yards of the line of scrimmage. Cole hit Griffin on a play-action pass in the third and closed in on the play where Cox got a sack. Cole gets this week’s award for “player who most exceeded expectations.”
* Connor Barwin also played really well. The Eagles’ primary goal was to limit the Redskins’ ground game early on. Barwin forced Morris out of bounds for a 3-yard loss in the first. He stood up over the center and rushed the QB on the Brandon Boykin interception. He hustled to bring down Pierre Garcon after a 5-yard gain on a screen. And Barwin pressured Griffin on at least four occasions. Really strong debut.
* Brandon Graham played 19 snaps. On 14 passing plays, he never dropped back. Looked a lot more like a nickel pass-rusher than a 3-4 outside linebacker to me. We’ll wee if that continues. Graham set the edge on a Morris run that was dropped for a 2-yard loss and pressured Griffin on two occasions.
* Casey Matthews mixed in for three snaps, and it looked like he was actually playing outside linebacker.
* Mychal Kendricks was everywhere. All signs point to a big second-year leap out of him. He flew to the ball and knocked Morris out of bounds for a 3-yard loss early on. Kendricks did a great job to avoid blockers and tackle Morris on a first-quarter screen. His versatility was on full display. Kendricks blitzed seven times, per PFF. He rushed unblocked in the second and crushed Griffin, forcing him into an intentional grounding. And Kendricks leveled Griffin again in the third. On the Cary Williams interception, Kendricks dropped back as a safety. Outstanding performance overall.
* DeMeco Ryans was solid too. He blitzed and knocked over the left guard on a play-action pass in the third and sacked Griffin later in the quarter.
* Jake Knott mixed in a little as well. It looked like Kendricks might have had an equipment issue at one point.
* It’s difficult to gauge their play based on TV tape. But I didn’t see either Williams or Bradley Fletcher give up a completion in man coverage. There were a few times when they were dropping in zone and allowed receptions in front of them. But that seemed to be the design of the defense. Definitely did not see that performance coming from the starting corners.
* Williams came flying in on a corner blitz and sacked Griffin in the second. He made a fantastic interception near the sideline in the third and broke up a deep fourth-down pass late. Great performance from Employee 26.
* Fletcher was really good too. He made two good plays on the ball, forcing incompletions and once had a little luck on his side as the receiver dropped the ball. Fletcher suffered a concussion, and his status for this weekend is up in the air.
* Brandon Boykin got picked on quite a bit. No one’s confirming, but he may been a little banged-up. Boykin blitzed five times, the most of any defensive back. He played the slot, but then moved outside when Williams and Fletcher got dinged-up in the second half. Boykin would likely play the outside if Fletcher can’t go this week.
* Rookie Jordan Poyer played 17 snaps in the slot and got picked on. It looked like the 10-yard Leonard Hankerson TD was on him, and Poyer also allowed a 5-yard completion on 3rd-and-2. He had trouble getting off his block on a screen to Pierre Garcon that picked up 17.
* Safety is impossible to assess off TV tape, but the Eagles did not give up a completion that traveled more than 20 yards from the line of scrimmage until the Redskins’ final drive. The game-plan once they got the lead seemed to be to blitz and keep all receptions in front of them.
* Overall, Billy Davis dialed up a lot of blitzes. Per Stats, Inc., the Eagles blitzed Griffin 29 times on 56 dropbacks, or 51.8 percent of the time. On those plays, he was 13-for-26 (50 percent) for 121 yards (4.7 YPA). Griffin was sacked twice and took off once.
* Patrick Chung seemed to hold up fine until that fourth-quarter touchdown. “Needs to have better ball skills than that,” said Jon Gruden on the play. Earl Wolff played seven snaps, but mostly, it’s going to be Chung and Nate Allen early on.
Today, Chip Kelly was asked if his familiarity with the former Ducks can help him build his program with the Eagles.
“If we were gonna sing the Oregon fight song, it would,” Kelly joked.
“Besides that, I’m familiar with them and I know what they do, what Jeff [Maehl] can do as a special-teams player. I know what Casey [Matthews] can do as a special-teams player. I was with Pat [Chung] for a year. Isaac Remington’s a kid that we brought in. We moved him to the offensive line just before we released him. The other guys that we released on the offensive line are not practice-squad eligible. So we think he’s got an upside as an offensive lineman. We’re gonna take a look and see what he can do.”
Maehl, Matthews and Chung are all on the 53-man roster. Remington and defensive lineman Brandon Bair were added to the practice squad.
Maehl was acquired from the Texans and made the squad over undrafted free agent Russell Shepard and veteran Greg Salas. Matthews made the team in favor of Emmanuel Acho.
Asked specifically what role his familiarity with Maehl and Matthews had on his decisions, Kelly said: “None. It’s about special teams. Every backup player on this team, and we’ve said it since Day One, there’s three ways to make this football team: special teams, special teams, special teams. So it’s where did they contribute from a special-teams factor.
“If you’re gonna be the fourth or fifth receiver, and right now that’s Damaris [Johnson] and Jeff [Maehl], it’s the value that they have to Coach [Dave] Fipp and our special teams. And it’s the same thing: Why did we keep three [backup] inside linebackers as opposed to one backup outside linebacker? It’s how those three players contribute on special teams, and that’s kind of where it was. That’s why we made the move to get [Najee] Goode from Tampa Bay. It’s the same thing.”
Kelly had an interesting comment when explaining why he kept five inside linebackers instead of OLB Chris McCoy.
“Right now, at our outside linebacker spot, we had a lot of rush guys, not a lot of drop guys,” he said. “The one drop guy we had was Connor Barwin, so to keep a third rush guy… we kept Vinny [Curry]. We kind of look at Vinny, could play in that spot for us if possible. But to keep another rush guy that’s not contributing on teams just wasn’t gonna help us.”
Of course, Trent Cole and Brandon Graham have been practicing as rush/drop guys all preseason long. Perhaps Kelly’s response suggests they’re not going to be in coverage much once the regular season begins.
ALLEN TO START AT SAFETY
Nate Allen will start opposite Chung at safety Monday night.
Asked how he came to that decision, Kelly said: “Film evaluation, games played, production so far for the preseason camp and OTAs.”
But he also added that rookie Earl Wolff is “pushing” Allen and will see playing time Monday night. Whether he and Allen will rotate is unclear.
“We’ve just got to get him in the game,” Kelly said.
Offensive tackle Dennis Kelly (back) is officially out for Monday. Cornerback Brandon Hughes (hand) is likely out, although that’s not final. And tight end James Casey (hamstring) is practicing with the team today.
Chip Kelly is big on versatility. That is no secret. It has been the buzzword since he took office. He wants his starters to be malleable, and he insists that his reserves are capable of performing multiple duties.
“When you only have 46 guys active on game day, you’ve got to have versatility in your non‑starters, because there’s just not enough numbers,” Kelly explained. “If you’re two deep at every position, you know, that’s 44 excluding specialists. And at some positions, you’re going to carry a third, a third running back, so where does that spot come from? It’s got to come from somewhere.”
Howie Roseman allowed that the back of the roster was shaped largely in the name of versatility. It wasn’t just about whether the individual could play multiple positions (the fact that Danny Watkins was working exclusively at guard didn’t help him), but also whether his skills overlapped with someone else’s on the team. It is part of the reason why Emil Igwenagu is here instead of Clay Harbor. Why Casey Matthews won a job over both Chris McCoy and Emmanuel Acho.
“We were looking for different skill sets in the back of the roster,” Roseman said. “So some of the conversations we had about the fourth outside linebacker applies at this moment to the tight end spots.
“…When you talk about a Casey Matthews possibly if you got in a bind in a game, he could play outside. When Chip talked about the versatility of the back of the roster, we didn’t want to duplicate a lot of skills. So that’s what made some of the choices at the back of the roster, maybe some guys who played well in the preseason but maybe they were duplicating the skills that some of the guys we had. Did it make sense to keep them or try to find guys that did some different things?”
The consensus is that Acho outperformed Matthews this preseason. The second-year linebacker had at least a share of the lead in tackles in three of the four preseason games, including an 11-tackle performance against the Jets in the finale. However, Acho is more of a run-stuffing inside linebacker. Matthews can presumably play in space better. Same for Najee Goode, who was claimed off waivers from the Bucs Monday and took Acho’s spot on the roster.
Special teams also matter. As Sheil has pointed out, Matthews was second on the Eagles in special teams tackles last year. Receiver Jeff Maehl, chosen over Russell Shepard and Greg Salas, is also being billed as someone who can contribute on special teams.
The fact that both Maehl and Matthews played for Kelly at Oregon certainly didn’t hurt their chances. But the guess here is that they are on this team (at least for now) mostly because they give Kelly more options than the alternatives.
Kelly is a man of logic, and there is logic in building a roster with players that can plug multiple holes.
There is also logic in sacrificing some flexibility in the name of quality. Is it better to have “player x” who is not as good but can fill several roles, or “player y” who might not be as versatile but is better at his primary assignment?
Kelly seemingly chose “player x” a few times over the past few days. Time will tell whether he made the right choice.
WHAT YOU MISSED
The Eagles signed LB Goode and released Acho. Sheil has the details.
Six of the eight practice squad slots have been filled.
Local and national writers examine the recent roster moves.
Some background on new cornerback Shaun Prater.
WHAT THEY’RE SAYING
Griffin received clearance from orthopedic surgeon James Andrews on Thursday evening to play in the season opener, but Shanahan declined at the time to declare the second-year quarterback his starter because he said Andrews told him there were “a couple of concerns that he had” and that he needed to talk with Griffin over the weekend first.
Shanahan declined to share the details of the discussion or what “concerns” Andrews had shared…
Andrews denied Shanahan’s claim Friday, saying in a text message, “None of it is true. No concerns.”
Told on Monday of the doctor’s declaration and asked why Andrews would have said that, Shanahan scoffed at the notion Andrews had no concerns and said, “I don’t know where you got that information from because that’s not what he shared with Robert. That’s not what he shared with me or Dr. Christopher Annunziata, Dr. Anthony Casolaro or with Robert when we had the conference call.”
Danny Watkins may have found a new home.
Former Eagles 1st rnd pick Danny Watkins will sign w/MIA. Guard visited Fins, was getting interest from other teams after clearing waivers
— Jason La Canfora (@JasonLaCanfora) September 3, 2013
His agent stressed that a deal still wasn’t in place as of Monday night.
Practice for the Redskins begins on Wednesday. Regular season football is drawing near.
The Eagles made another roster move this afternoon, claiming linebacker Najee Goode off waivers from the Bucs and releasing Emmanuel Acho.
Goode (6-0, 244) was a fifth-round pick by Tampa in 2012. He was active for three games as a rookie, but only played three defensive snaps, according to Pro Football Focus. He ran a 4.64 at the Combine and had a 35-inch vertical leap. You can see how those numbers stacked up to other linebackers right here.
Goode started at middle linebacker in the Bucs’ preseason finale and had a pick-six.
The West Virginia product had 87 tackles (14 for loss), five sacks and an interception as a senior. He earned All-Big East first-team honors in 2011 and played all three linebacker positions for the Mountaineers.
Here’s a snippet from NFL.com on Goode as a draft prospect:
Goode is a bit of a tweener in that he bounced from inside to outside linebacker in his career at West Virginia. NFL teams will face the same dilemma West Virginia did when deciding where to play him. He played outside for much of his career, serving as the flow tackler for a defense that featured classmate Bruce Irvin at outside linebacker. Goode had a solid year working from the inside and can clash with top offensive linemen. He has 3-4 and 4-3 base defense versatility as well, which makes him a late-round prospect.
Acho had an excellent preseason, and Chip Kelly raved about his smarts after the finale against the Jets. Also of note is that the Eagles decided to keep Casey Matthews instead of Acho. Matthews has not shown anything on the defensive side of the ball, but did have 14 special-teams tackles last year, second on the team to only Akeem Jordan.
Overall, the Eagles have five inside linebackers on the roster: Goode, Matthews, undrafted free agent Jake Knott, along with starters DeMeco Ryans and Mychal Kendricks.
Yesterday, we took a look at what Howie Roseman had to say about Danny Watkins. But the Eagles’ GM touched on a variety of other topics during a session with reporters at the NovaCare Complex.
Here are 10 items that stood out.
1. The Eagles only have three outside linebackers on the roster: Connor Barwin, Trent Cole and Brandon Graham. Barwin is the only true 3-4 OLB among that group. Chip Kelly and Roseman parted ways with Chris McCoy, Everette Brown and Travis Long. When asked for his thoughts on the Eagles’ depth at that spot, Roseman provided an interesting response.
“We look at a guy like Vinny Curry, and you talk about a guy who can rush the passer,” Roseman said. “If he stood up, he can set the edge. He can do some of the things that the outside linebacker does.”
Curry bulked up in the offseason and has been practicing all summer at defensive end.
“And then when you talk about a Casey Matthews possibly if you got in a bind in a game, he could play outside,” Roseman said. “When Chip talked about the versatility of the back of the roster, we didn’t want to duplicate a lot of skills. So that’s what made some of the choices at the back of the roster, maybe some guys who played well in the preseason but maybe they were duplicating the skills that some of the guys we had. Did it make sense to keep them or try to find guys that did some different things?”
The guess here is that the Eagles will be looking for outside linebacker help from other teams.
2. I mentioned Cole above. Roseman might have offered a hint about how the veteran will be used in the regular season.
“A lot of times, what you see in preseason is working on not only the things they do well, but also the weaknesses to get a sense of what guys can really do,” he said. “As you know, things change during the regular season.”
According to Pro Football Focus, Cole was on the field for 41 passing downs in the preseason, and he dropped back into coverage 39 percent of the time. Given that he didn’t exactly look comfortable doing so, perhaps Roseman is suggesting Cole will be more of a pass-rusher in the regular season. We’ll find out shortly.
3. As for the roster overall, expect the team to be active in the next few days.
“We’ll continue to look for ways to upgrade this team,” Roseman said. “So, as we sit here, it’s a constant evaluation. It’s a constant evaluation of the back of the roster. If we have opportunities to continue to add some young players that we think will help our team, if we get that opportunity, we’re gonna look at it.
“We’re prepared. We have a draft board set up. We’ve spent an inordinate amount of time on guys that we thought would be on the bubble. And so we’ve just gotta see who’s really out there.”
4. One area to keep an eye on is cornerback. The Eagles went heavy with six: Cary Williams, Bradley Fletcher, Brandon Boykin, Curtis Marsh, Brandon Hughes and Jordan Poyer.
“You want to put your coach in position to win games here in the early part of the year,” Roseman said. “You’ve got a couple guys who are coming back from some injuries and haven’t played in a little bit. And then you talked about Poyer. And Poyer was affected by not having the offseason. You saw that he kept coming on, not only in games, but in practice. He’s instinctive, he’s tough, he’s physical, he’s got size to him. So we just felt like he was a guy we wanted to grow with and have here. Obviously, you look at the numbers there and you see six corners and there’s some uncertainty just because you’ve got to have availability at that spot.”
Marsh and Hughes both suffered hand injuries in the preseason, but Roseman said they’re “not long-term injuries at all.” He indicated that the team expects both guys back “shortly.”
5. The Eagles have nine players on the roster left from the 2010 and 2011 drafts: Curtis Marsh, Casey Matthews, Alex Henery, Julian Vandervelde, Jason Kelce, Brandon Graham, Nate Allen, Riley Cooper and Kurt Coleman.
The projected starters from that group are Kelce, possibly Allen and Cooper, who is only filling in because Jeremy Maclin went down.
Asked if those two drafts set the franchise back, Roseman said: “I think that’s probably a fair question. When you have drafts that don’t work out, you’ve gotta find those players somewhere else. Like I said when we started this, the big part taking from that is that we are forced to look and figure out the ways to do things and the way we have done things over a long period of time, and then where our team was and evolve from that. And I think that’s the positive to be taken out of it.”
6. The Eagles provided a bit of a surprise at wide receiver, cutting Russell Shepard and Greg Salas, while keeping Jeff Maehl.
“Tough decisions at the wide receiver spot,” Roseman said. “When we traded for Jeff, we knew that he was a guy who could play inside or out. He was a safety in high school when Coach recruited him. And so you knew that he would bring something to special teams as well.
“And then when you talk about the roster, I think it’s an evolving process too. How it looks today, to tell you that it’s gonna look like that in Week 10, we’re gonna be constantly on the lookout. We’re trying to build this team, and we’re trying to get players that we think can be here for a long time. We’re open to things that we think could make us better.”
Translation: Maehl might not be here in a few days. The Eagles could add a back-of-the-roster wide receiver from another team.
7. While there was plenty of talk about the 2010 and 2011 drafts, Roseman did suggest that he thinks the Eagles found some good core players in 2012, specifically on the defensive side of the ball.
“When you talk about Fletcher Cox and Mychal Kendricks, I don’t see any reason why those guys shouldn’t be big-time players in this league,” he said. “Between what’s in their body, physically, you’re talking about guys who have the traits to do it. And then they work really hard. And then there’s nothing I’ve seen out here or on the field during games that says they shouldn’t take this step from first- or second-year guys to really be core members of our defense for a long time.”
8. The Eagles have three undrafted free agents from this class on the roster: offensive lineman Matt Tobin, defensive lineman Damion Square and linebacker Jake Knott.
Roseman said it was evident as soon as the pads went on that Square was a violent technician who had a good chance to stick.
He also praised Tobin’s versatility.
“He’s probably a four-position backup if you put him on gameday active,” Roseman said. “And I’m not so sure that he couldn’t play center too.”
He added that Knott would have definitely been drafted if not for the shoulder problems.
“You go through the draft-day decisions and Jake was a guy that we were really considering taking in all three of those seventh-round picks,” Roseman said. “We feel very fortunate to get him. His character and football intelligence, he’s a good player.”
9. The Eagles went with Emil Igwenagu over Clay Harbor for the final tight end spot. The reason?
“We were looking for different skill sets in the back of the roster,” Roseman said. “So some of the conversations we had about the fourth outside linebacker applies at this moment to the tight end spot. And we didn’t feel like there was another guy on the roster who was as good as a point of attack blocker. He’s a physical guy. We also felt like those other three guys were good receiving threats.”
10. Roseman made a good point about why it’s tough to trade near the cut-down deadline.
“The problem is it’s very rare to find someone to offer you a player and to not think that player’s gonna get cut,” he said. “When you’re in March and April, you know that there’s a long time so people are gonna hang on to them and maybe they’re telling the truth: ‘Hey, I’ll hang on to him if I don’t get what I’m looking for.’ But this time of the year, everyone’s basically calling each other’s bluff.”
If you missed the offense, click here.
Now for the position-by-position look at what the Eagles’ defense looks like after initial cuts to 53.
Defensive line (7): Fletcher Cox, Isaac Sopoaga, Cedric Thornton, Bennie Logan, Clifton Geathers, Damion Square, Vinny Curry.
Chip Kelly has indicated that the plan will likely be to keep six defensive linemen active on gamedays and rotate them in. Cox (RDE), Sopoaga (NT) and Thornton (LDE) figure to be the starters. If Logan performs like he did in the preseason, he’ll be pushing for major snaps from the get-go.
Curry might have been the Eagles’ best defensive player in the preseason, but no one in the organization has indicated that he will have a major role in his second season. This is just a situation where we have to wait and see what happens in Week 1. That will tell us what the coaches really think of Curry.
Either Square or Geathers will likely be a gameday inactive. Square, an undrafted free agent, beat out seventh-round pick David King. Both Square and Geathers took snaps at defensive end and nose tackle in the spring.
Outside linebacker (3): Connor Barwin, Trent Cole, Brandon Graham.
Assuming he’s healthy and well-conditioned, Barwin’s not going to get many snaps off this season. He’s the only true 3-4 outside linebacker on the roster.
If the preseason was any indication, Cole will start at ROLB, and Graham will rotate in. The Eagles got rid of every other outside linebacker on the roster, including Chris McCoy, whom many (present company included) thought had a good shot to make it.
Howie Roseman was asked about depth here and said Curry could play outside linebacker in a pinch. He mentioned Casey Matthews’ name too. Obviously, those are not ideal options, so don’t be surprised if the Eagles add a player here in the coming days.
Inside linebacker (5): DeMeco Ryans, Mychal Kendricks, Jake Knott, Emmanuel Acho, Casey Matthews.
Ryans and Kendricks are the unquestioned starters and will rarely come off the field.
It will be interesting to see who’s active on gamedays from this group. Acho might be the best backup option should Ryans or Kendricks go down. Matthews didn’t seem to show much progress defensively in the preseason, but he had 14 special-teams tackles a year ago, second on the team.
And Knott is a bit of a wild card. The coaching staff and organization seem to love the undrafted free agent out of Iowa State. But they’ll have to determine if he’s ready to dress on gamedays from the get-go.
Cornerback (6): Cary Williams, Bradley Fletcher, Brandon Boykin, Curtis Marsh, Brandon Hughes, Jordan Poyer.
I guess the Eagles were going for strength in numbers. The secondary is a giant question mark, but the team currently has 11 defensive backs on the roster.
Williams and Fletcher figure to start, with Boykin serving as the nickel. Marsh and Hughes both have hand injuries, but Roseman indicated neither is expected to be out for a considerable amount of time.
Poyer missed much of the spring because of NCAA rules, but came on late in camp, and the Eagles didn’t want to give up on the seventh-round pick.
Don’t be surprised if the team shakes things up here if other cornerback options become available.
Safeties (5): Patrick Chung, Nate Allen, Earl Wolff, Colt Anderson, Kurt Coleman.
Chung has one starting spot locked down. The other will be occupied by either Allen or Wolff.
Anderson is an ace special-teamer and will be active on gamedays. Chip Kelly raved about Coleman after the final preseason game.
Once again, not an ideal set of options, but the Eagles will try to piece something together at safety with these five guys.
By 6 p.m. Saturday, the Eagles have to cut 22 players and get their roster down to 53. Many of the bubble guys will get a chance to make one final impression Thursday night, as Chip Kelly acknowledged there’s still “a lot up in the air.”
New offensive scheme, new defensive scheme, new coaching staff and new personnel. Kelly’s moves this weekend will tell us a lot about his roster-building philosophy. Keeping that in mind, here are 10 players whose future with the franchise hangs in the balance as we approach cut-down day.
1. Danny Watkins, OG – The 2011 first-round pick got a fresh start with new offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland, but it doesn’t seem like he’s made a strong impression. Watkins is currently a backup guard and has been passed on the depth chart by veteran Allen Barbre. Kelly wants versatility in his backups, but so far, Watkins has only played guard. As T-Mac reported yesterday, Watkins is due $1.1M in guaranteed money. But with Barbre looking like a keeper and the team needing a backup center, Watkins, who turns 29 in November, could still be out of a spot.
2. Michael Bamiro, OT – The Eagles had to compete with other teams to sign Bamiro earlier this summer. Some reports suggested he would have been a mid-round pick had he entered the draft. The question the Birds have to weigh is whether or not they’d be safe stashing Bamiro on the practice squad. The Eagles have some tackle depth. Barbre can play out there, and Todd Herremans could slide over in a pinch. The team also expects Dennis Kelly to return from back surgery at some point. Bamiro might be a nice option for the bottom of the roster. He would likely be a weekly inactive, but has plenty of upside for down the road.
3. Julian Vandervelde, G/C – It’s been a bumpy journey for the 2011 fifth-round pick. He spent his rookie season on the active roster, was cut last summer, spent a couple days with the Tampa Bay Bucs and then returned to the Eagles. He entered the league as a guard, but has been learning the center position the past two years. If the preseason is any indication, he has a good shot of sticking around as Jason Kelce’s backup. The Eagles’ other options for that spot are Dallas Reynolds and Matt Tennant.
4. Greg Salas, WR - The Eagles didn’t make any moves to add receivers after Jeremy Maclin and Arrelious Benn went down with season-ending ACL injuries. Salas had an excellent camp and flashed during the first two preseason games. He could be competing with Russell Shepard for the fifth receiver spot. Or the Eagles could decide to keep them both.
5. Russell Shepard, WR – He showed some good YAC ability during last week’s game, catching two balls for 38 yards. With Shepard, there is once again the practice squad question. There’s no doubt that the Eagles like his talent, but he went undrafted and could probably use some seasoning before he’s ready to contribute. Special teams is a factor here too. Shepard looks like a willing contributor and made a nice tackle in coverage against Carolina.
6. Clay Harbor, TE/WR - Kelly has been trying to find a spot for the fourth-year tight end. He’s been getting reps at wide receiver and has played there each of the last two preseason games. The truth is, when then Eagles spread it out in Kelly’s offense, there’s often not much of a difference between a wide receiver and a tight end. Kelly prides himself on being prepared for every situation. Harbor’s versatility could be enough to make him stick.
7. Chris McCoy, OLB – The CFL product started off the preseason well, but was not good last week against the Jaguars. The Eagles are somewhat thin at the position. Kelly said ideally, the team would keep four outside linebackers. They’ve got Connor Barwin, Trent Cole and Brandon Graham as virtual locks. This one will likely come down to who else is available. McCoy could be an initial keeper, but if the Eagles see an outside linebacker they like cut from another team, he could be released.
8. Casey Matthews, ILB – Kelly said he’d like to keep four inside linebackers also. The starters are in place with DeMeco Ryans and Mychal Kendricks. Matthews, Jake Knott and Emmanuel Acho are competing for spots. Knott is probably the favorite among that group. What we wrote about McCoy could apply here too. The Eagles could add an inside linebacker from another team’s cut list. But Matthews’ special-teams production (14 tackles last year) could help him earn a spot.
9. Clifton Geathers/Damion Square, DL – I cheated a bit here and included these two together. And really, they could both end up making it. The plan for the Eagles on gamedays seems to be to rotate six players on the defensive line. Right now, the five most likely are: Fletcher Cox, Isaac Sopoaga, Cedric Thornton, Bennie Logan and Vinny Curry. The sixth could be either Geathers or Square, with the other as a potential inactive. Square drew praise early in the preseason, but did not play well last week. Geathers had his best performance against Jacksonville. Both have played nose tackle, along with defensive end.
10. Kurt Coleman, S – The fourth-year player’s chances of making the roster increased when the Eagles released Kenny Phillips. But he’s still no lock to make it. Coleman hasn’t rotated in with the starters much, and the decision on whether to keep him or not will likely depend on if Kelly is comfortable keeping five safeties. Patrick Chung, Nate Allen and rookie Earl Wolff seem like locks. Colt Anderson has an excellent shot of sticking because of his special-teams ability. That means Coleman could be the odd man out.
Eagles linebacker Jason Phillips went down today with a torn ACL in his right knee and will miss the 2013 season.
The 27-year-old was added as a free agent this offseason, in large part for his special-teams prowess. Phillips led the Carolina Panthers last year with 16 special-teams tackles. Today’s injury occurred during a kickoff coverage drill.
Phillips figured to add depth behind DeMeco Ryans and Mychal Kendricks, but the Eagles will now have to look elsewhere for that.
The options on the roster are: Jamar Chaney, Casey Matthews, Emmanuel Acho and Jake Knott.
Matthews had 14 special-teams tackles last year and played for Kelly at Oregon. Chaney has experience (23 starts), but he’s squarely on the roster bubble.
Acho was acquired from the Browns in the Dion Lewis trade. He’s mixed in with the twos a little bit this week.
And Knott is a sleeper to watch. An undrafted free agent out of Iowa State, he has a legitimate shot of making the team with a strong camp and preseason.
Update: The Eagles have placed Phillips on injured reserve and added outside linebacker Travis Long. Long (6-4, 245) is an undrafted free agent out of Washington State.