Players Choose: Which Eagle Will Have a Big Year?

Philadelphia Eagles DE Phillip HuntThis afternoon, I posed a simple question to players in the Eagles locker room: Based on what you’ve seen, which teammate do you think is poised to have a really good year?

Selection was based simply on who was available. But it just so happened to be four defensive players and four offensive players. Their responses are below.

Jason Avant: “I would say Darryl Tapp. Tapp or [Phillip] Hunt. One of those guys, because I’ve seen them working all offseason. I know their work ethic, and I know their work ethic apart from here, so one of those guys.”

Jason Kelce: “I think there’s been a lot of guys that have had a really good training camp. On the defensive side, obviously a couple of the rookies have shown some good stuff. Mychal Kendricks has been outstanding. Fletcher Cox has done an outstanding job. Offensively, Damaris Johnson has looked good. Bryce Brown’s looked outstanding. The problem is he’s behind one of the best running backs in the league, so how many opporutnities he’s going to get is uncertain at this point. Obviously, Nick Foles has done an outstanding job, so there’s been a lot of guys who, coming into it, guys didn’t really know what they were going to do, but have surprised.”

Jamar Chaney:Phillip Hunt is one. I would say Phillip Hunt and probably Clay Harbor. With both of them, Clay and Phillip, [Brent] Celek was down in training camp. With Phillip, Babin was down, so they got a lot of reps, a lot of playing time in preseason games and did pretty well, especially Phillip. To get all those reps, to be as talented as they are already, isn’t going to do anything but make the transition easier coming into this year for both of those guys. Phillip had a heck of a preseason, and Clay had a heck of a preseason too. He had a couple touchdown passes. With a lot of teams using two tight ends, I’m pretty sure with just how fast Clay is, it’d be a great complement to Celek, the big tight end, and Clay, the fast tight end.”

Nate Allen: “I think Mychal Kendricks. He’s coming along real well. He’s excited about his first season and I think is going to be a heck of a player.”

Brandon Graham: “Fletch [Fletcher Cox]. For him to come in at d-tackle and to get it right away, it’s big. And I feel like he’s going to have a great year.”

[Right away?]

“Right away. First game of the season, y’all going to see Fletch everywhere.”

Evan Mathis: “There’s a lot of guys here who are ready to have a really good year. [Michael] Vick has been a great quarterback in this league, and I think one thing about him is he’s continued to grow and make progress every single day, every single year, so I expect a big year out of him.”

Cullen Jenkins: “If I had to pick one, I’d say Phillip Hunt. He’s had a pretty good preseason. He’s been out here working. He’s focused and determined, and I’m pretty anxious to see what he’s going to do.”

Danny Watkins: Probably, I’d say [Jason] Kelce. Looking back at where me and him started last year, he’s so far ahead with his football IQ, and I’m trying to learn from him. I think he’s going to do awesome this year. I’m excited for him.

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

Reid Says Trade Phones Are ‘Very Active’

It’s that time of  year when teams are actively molding their rosters in search of that perfect blend of potency and balance. The Eagles just so happen to have an excess of talent at a couple key positions. It is a perfect case of supply and demand, and the calls are coming in fast and furious.

“They’re very active. Howie [Roseman] is constantly on the phone,” said Andy Reid. “That’s how it works.”

Clubs have until Friday at 9 p.m. to trim their rosters down to 53. The Eagles, given their defensive line situation primarily, will have to get creative to figure out how it will all come together. The object is to keep the best players. But can you have 20 percent of your roster made up of D-linemen?

“I would tell you that there will be some tough decisions. That means the quality is up and the talent is up,” said Reid. “I would tell you I think Howie has done a phenomenal job bringing people in here, both the pro and the college department, creating this intense competition for some spots here that is healthy and good for your football team.”

Darryl Tapp‘s name has come up quite a bit in trade speculation. He is making a base of $2.6 million this season and is a free agent in 2013. There are teams that could use a productive veteran at defensive end, and there might be some appeal to getting value and a little financial relief in return if you’re stacked up at that position like the Eagles are.

“I don’t know how I would feel about it. I’ve been through that situation before, being traded,” said Tapp, who was dealt from Seattle to Philadelphia for Chris Clemons and a fourth-rounder. “It’s different because I really enjoy being here, the coaching staff and the group of guys I’m with. We’ll see what happens when it happens.”

Tapp added, “A lot of guys here would do a very good job and probably start on a lot of different teams.”

With some intriguing prospects behind LeSean McCoy in Bryce Brown, Dion Lewis and Chris Polk, the Eagles could theoretically get something in return for one of their reserve running backs. And the sudden fight for the remaining quarterback spot gives the Eagles a couple potential options. Both Trent Edwards and Mike Kafka both might be able to fetch you at least a little something on the open market.

“The phones are ringing, so everybody’s talking all the time here. That’s the best way I can put it,” said Reid, when asked specifically about the quarterbacks. “Every position you’re talking about things; that’s just how it works right now. But to pick a specific position, I can’t do that. But just know that there are calls that are being made, and calls taken.”

Follow Tim on Twitter and email him at tmcmanus@phillymag.com.

Ten Eagles On the Roster Bubble

Philadelphia Eagles running back Chris Polk.The Eagles have until 9 p.m. Friday to cut their roster down to 53.

That means 22 players currently on the squad will be told not to show up next week.

Keeping that in mind, here are 10 players who are sitting squarely on the roster bubble.

Chris Polk – He’s had an OK preseason, carrying 13 times for 51 yards (3.9 YPC) and catching five balls for 42 yards. Polk has shown his versatility and is probably the Eagles’ best back in pass protection, but there might not be a spot for him. At this point, LeSean McCoy, Dion Lewis and Bryce Brown are clearly ahead of him. Polk’s best chance at a roster spot is if the Eagles decide to keep a fourth running back.

Chad Hall – Amazingly, he’s still eligible for the practice squad. Hall was active for seven games last year and eight in 2010. He can do a lot of different things – run the ball, catch the ball, return kicks, return punts – but the question is whether he does any of them at a high enough level to warrant a roster spot. Hall has 14 catches for 135 yards and 12 carries for 42 yards in his career. It seems that undrafted free agent Damaris Johnson has a similar skill set, and the rookie is definitely going to make the team, which could make Hall expendable. Then again, with Riley Cooper likely to miss time early in the season, the Eagles could look to keep six receivers, and no one’s snatched that final spot just yet.

Marvin McNutt – Speaking of which… McNutt also has a chance for that last wide receiver spot. Taken in the sixth round of April’s draft, he has not shown much in the preseason, with just one catch for 13 yards. Based on what we’ve seen so far, McNutt is not going to contribute as a rookie. But if the Eagles like his potential, they could hang onto McNutt. The practice squad is also an option for him.

Darryl Tapp – The veteran is not going quietly. He’s had a strong preseason, beating Browns left tackle Joe Thomas for a sack and forced fumble on Friday night. Keep in mind that Tapp is only 27-years-old. He’s in the final year of his contract and is scheduled to make $2.575M. Perhaps another team would offer up a late-round pick for his services. If not, the Eagles could go heavy on the defensive line and hang onto Tapp.

Antonio Dixon – His chances of making the team increased when Andy Reid announced earlier this week that Mike Patterson might miss the entire season. Back in 2010, Dixon was one of the Eagles’ best defensive players, consistently making plays in the run game. But the Eagles hired Jim Washburn last offseason, and Dixon hasn’t been much of a factor since. He played four games in 2011 before suffering a season-ending triceps injury. The writing may have been on the wall this offseason when the Eagles re-signed Derek Landri, re-structured Cullen Jenkins’ contract and drafted Fletcher Cox in the first round. Those three players are clearly ahead of Dixon, and Cedric Thornton probably is also. If the Eagles keep five defensive tackles, he’s on. If not, he’s probably off.

Keenan Clayton – For much of the summer, we’ve been writing about how he’s battling with Akeem Jordan for a roster spot. Well, for now, Jordan is a starter, taking over the WILL spot from Brian Rolle. The Eagles like Clayton’s cover skills, as they kept him on the field as the lone linebacker in dime packages at the end of last season. Juan Castillo hinted yesterday that the Eagles could use their linebackers in specialized roles again this season. I don’t see Clayton knocking another linebacker, like Rolle or Casey Matthews, off the roster. Rolle appears fit for a backup spot, and the guess here is the coaches think Matthews has more upside than Clayton. If they keep seven linebackers, Clayton hangs on. If not, he’s likely out.

Brandon Hughes – He was active for 13 games last year and played 91 snaps on defense (per PFF), most of which came as a starter against the Patriots. The Eagles have decisions to make at the backup cornerback spots. Second-year player Curtis Marsh is a lock, and we know rookie Brandon Boykin will make the team. But beyond that, it gets interesting. We know Joselio Hanson can only play inside. And if Boykin beats Hanson out for the first-team nickel spot, Hanson probably doesn’t make the team. That would increase Hughes’ chances. Two things working in Hughes’ favor: He can play outside, and among defensive backs, he was the Eagles’ most productive special teams player in 2011.

Jaiquawn Jarrett – His status was one of the team’s biggest mysteries when camp started in Lehigh in late July. And in many ways, it remains that way as we approach final cuts. Jarrett had his moments at camp. There were glimpses of the player the Eagles described when they drafted him in the second round of the 2011 draft. But in a starting role against the Steelers in the first preseason game, he suffered miscue after miscue. The truth is, even if Jarrett lasts through the initial cut-down deadline, he shouldn’t get too comfortable. The Eagles could add a safety or two after other teams get down to 53.

Oshiomogho Atogwe – He’s been around all summer, but it’s difficult to get a feel on how Atogwe fits in. He battled hamstring, knee and toe injuries last season and is 31-years-old. Atogwe has missed the last two preseason games because of hamstring trouble. At practice, he’s running with the second team. With the Eagles lacking safety depth, Atogwe could make the team by default. But if he can’t get healthy, the Eagles could just let him go.

Julian Vandervelde – Offensive line depth is a concern. Vandervelde, a fifth-round pick in 2011, probably has the inside track on a spot, but he’s no lock. If the Eagles only keep one interior lineman active on gamedays, that player needs to be able to play guard and center. Vandervelde has been learning center on the fly this summer, but in the last preseason game, he botched one snap, resulting in a fumble, and let another go early, before Trent Edwards was ready for it. With Mike Gibson on IR, Vandervelde is competing with Steve Vallos and Dallas Reynolds for now. But the Eagles could add offensive line help from elsewhere once teams make cuts.

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

Eagles Wake-Up Call: Trade an Option For Birds

Philadelphia Eagles head coach Andy ReidAndy Reid used the word stingy.

He was asked whether the Eagles could keep six defensive ends, and the head coach wanted to make clear that he’s not too fond of letting capable pass-rushers walk for nothing.

“There’s a chance,” Reid said. “I’m stingy when it comes to defensive linemen, so we’ve got to work the numbers and just see how all that pans out. There will be some tough decisions all the way around there.”

There are 11 defensive linemen who can make legit cases for roster spots right now. In my mind, eight of them are pretty much locks: Jason Babin, Trent Cole, Cullen Jenkins, Fletcher Cox, Vinny Curry, Brandon Graham, Phillip Hunt and Derek Landri.

I’d probably put Cedric Thornton in that category too, but some of you may disagree.

The two I’ve left off are Antonio Dixon and Darryl Tapp. With Reid saying Sunday that Mike Patterson might not play at all this season, Dixon’s chances of making the roster probably increased just a bit. The veteran defensive tackle doesn’t offer much as a pass-rusher, but can be a run-stuffer inside.

Tapp, meanwhile, has had a very good preseason and beat five-time Pro Bowler Joe Thomas for a sack and forced fumble Friday night in Cleveland.

So Reid and Howie Roseman are left with three options:

1. Keep all 11 defensive linemen. It’s a big number, but not totally insane.
2. Cut Dixon, Tapp or Thornton. The most likely of the group would probably be Dixon.
3. Trade a defensive lineman.

The most likely trade chip would probably be Tapp. He’s a quality veteran who can help a team immediately. Tapp is due $2.575M this season and is a free agent after 2012. Perhaps he can get you a player (the Eagles could use offensive line depth or safety help) or a third-day draft pick.

“You get calls, yes you do,” Reid said, when asked if teams were contacting the Eagles about their defensive linemen. “You talk, not just about that position. Personnel directors, GMs, they are constantly on the phone, talking trades or talking about players, so yeah, that does take place.”

A bit vague, but you get the point. Teams are deciding on roster cuts this time of year, and they would all like to get something in return when a quality player just doesn’t fit into their plans. There’s one more week in the preseason, and rosters need to be trimmed to 53 by Friday at 9 p.m.

A couple years ago (2010), the Eagles made four trades between Aug. 30 and Sept. 4. They sent fullback Charles Scott to the Cardinals. They acquired offensive lineman Reggie Wells from Arizona. They dealt Stacy Andrews to Seattle. And they sent Tracy White to the Patriots.

Nothing major, but four deals that helped them shape their roster. We’ll find out in the next 10 days if they go a similar route this season.

WHAT YOU MISSED

The Eagles have a new starting WILL linebacker. Akeem Jordan takes over for Brian Rolle – for now. Here’s a take on what that means and what could be in store going forward.

Speaking of starting jobs, King Dunlap has beaten out Demetress Bell for the left tackle gig.

Cornerback Cliff Harris was cut Sunday morning.

And I mentioned this above, but Mike Patterson might not play at all this season, Reid said.

If you missed any of the reviews from the Browns game, here are linebackers, defensive linemen, defensive backs and the offense.

WHAT THEY’RE SAYING

This might be it for Terrell Owens (I know, we’ve said that before). The veteran wide receiver was cut by the Seahawks.

The Bills apparently weren’t thrilled with Vince Young as they acquired Tarvaris Jackson from the Seahawks. That could very well mean the end of Young’s short stint in Buffalo.

And finally, Michael Vick said at Flight Night that he’s not worried about his ribs or being labeled injury-prone. Here were his comments, per Geoff Mosher of CSNPhilly.com:

“I’m not really concerned,” he said. “I felt like I had a great training camp. I felt like I was into a rhythm. I felt like I would have played a lot of the preseason if I had been out there. I could’ve been productive.

“At the same time, I had the rib. You’ve got to be able to go out there when you’re needed and be at your best. I think I’ll be ready Sept. 9.”

COMING UP

Marty Mornhinweg and Juan Castillo will chat with reporters before the Eagles’ afternoon practice. And the Birds will have to get their roster down to 75 (currently at 79) by 4 p.m.

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

DL Review: Tapp Makes His Case

Philadelphia Eagles defensive end Darryl TappHere’s a review of how the Eagles defensive line performed against the Browns after having re-watched Friday night’s game. Click here for the linebacker review and here for the review of the offense.

Cullen Jenkins – Once again, he started at left defensive end. The reason for that is to make the Eagles better against the run on early downs, but Jenkins hasn’t given them much as a pass rusher from that spot in the preseason. On obvious passing downs, he moved inside to right defensive tackle.

Fletcher Cox – Played left defensive tackle with the first team, but had a quiet night. Can’t say I was focused in on him, but Cox was not credited with a tackle.

Derek Landri – He certainly made the most of his limited snaps. Landri got in the backfield and tripped Montario Hardesty up for a 4-yard loss. Good hustle to bring Hardesty down after a 2-yard gain later in first. Good penetration on another run play inside the 5, drawing a holding penalty. And of course, there was the sack and forced fumble in the red zone on the first possession. The guard let him go because Cleveland was running a screen, but Landri was still able to get to Brandon Weeden.

Trent Cole – He put the finishing touches on Hardesty for a 4-yard loss in the first and recovered the Weeden fumble after the Landri sack. You know exactly what you’re getting from Cole on every snap – whether it’s at training camp, the preseason or the playoffs.

Phillip Hunt – If we’re handing out an award for best defensive lineman in the preseason, I think Hunt probably gets it. Good pressure on Weeden from left defensive end, before the QB stepped up and completed a pass to Mohamed Massaquoi in the first. Hunt came unblocked from RDE and hit Weeden, forcing an incompletion in the red zone in the second. Impressive job by him and Brandon Graham, sandwiching Colt McCoy for a sack in the second. Oh, and did you notice who made the tackle at the 14 on kickoff coverage late in the first quarter? It was Hunt.

Darryl Tapp – Browns left tackle Joe Thomas has made five Pro Bowls and been named first-team All-Pro three times. Tapp beat him cleanly, sacking Weeden and stripping the football in the first. He also recovered a Hardesty fumble in the first. I still have a difficult time seeing the Eagles just cut him. The guess here is a trade, or they keep him and go heavy on the defensive line.

Brandon Graham – On the first two series’, Graham was not part of the defensive line rotation with the starters. But when he got in the game, he played well. He was unblocked, but still did a good job to not bite on play-action, pressuring Weeden in the first. Graham went right past tackle Mitchell Schwartz to sack Weeden on 3rd-and-1. He got pretty good pressure off the edge in the red zone, forcing Weeden to step up. He was unblocked on third down in the second and forced Weeden to roll to his right and throw incomplete. Graham got good pressure on a 2nd-and-6 completion in the second. And he and Hunt combined for the sack I mentioned above. So far, good signs all around for Graham this preseason.

Antonio Dixon – Still don’t see much from him as a pass rusher. It looked like Dixon clogged the initial hole on the play where Hardesty cut back and fumbled. Dixon was called for an offsides penalty on third down in the first. That happened quite a bit at Lehigh. He’s on the bubble.

Cedric Thornton – Thornton was in on the hit with Ryan Rau where Hardesty fumbled in the first. He was called for unnecessary roughness on one play, but drew a holding penalty on the next. There was a big hole between Thornton and Dixon on Hardesty’s 6-yard run in the second. He stopped Brandon Jackson for no gain in the second with the Browns backed up inside their own 5. He’s making the team.

Vinny Curry – The rookie came in at right defensive end in the second and was in on four tackles. He brought Jackson down after a 4-yard gain in the second. He and Rau stopped Adonis Thomas for no gain in the third. And Curry stopped Thomas for no gain on another play. He was caught way upfield on a 9-yard run right at him and also called for an offsides penalty. Barring an injury to one of the guys ahead of him, it looks like Curry will probably be one of the gameday inactives once the season starts.

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

Reid Reluctant To Part With Defensive Linemen

You can feel Andy Reid’s grip growing tighter. The closer it gets to cut-down day, the harder he clasps onto his collection of talent along the defensive front.

“You know how I feel about that. If I can keep them all, I will,” said Reid. “As many as you can keep. I think that’s an important position. Put a lot of responsibility on them. We’ll have to see how the numbers turn out, but I don’t like giving up good defensive linemen.”

The Eagles need to get their roster number from 90 to 53 by August 31. There are currently 11 defensive linemen that have done enough to earn a roster spot (and that’s assuming Mike Patterson starts the season on PUP). For a refresher, they are: Trent Cole, Jason Babin, Cullen Jenkins, Fletcher Cox, Derek Landri, Brandon Graham, Darryl Tapp, Phillip Hunt, Vinny Curry, Cedric Thornton and  Antonio Dixon. That’s over 20 percent of the roster.

It’s a particularly tricky situation at defensive end, where you have six legitimate contenders to go with Jenkins, who has been working with the first team at left end while Babin continues to work back from a calf injury.

“I’m used to playing D-tackle,” said Jenkins. “End is something I need more learning reps at. So they’re just trying to work me in, get me more learning reps.”

Those reps are affecting the current rotation. On Friday against the Browns, Jenkins played opposite Cole with the first team, followed by the pairing of Hunt and Tapp. Hunt had a half-sack and two quarterback hits, and continues to show explosiveness off the ball. Tapp was a menace himself. He blew up a running play with six minutes left in the opening quarter and forced a Montario Hardesty fumble, which he recovered.

Graham got no snaps with the first unit but certainly made his presence felt when he got the call. The former first-round pick was credited with 1.5 sacks, two tackles for a loss and a pair of quarterback hits. He and Hunt combined for a simultaneous blast on Colt McCoy  at the end of the first half, dropping the QB for a 10-yard loss. Even though they are pitted against one another in a sense, Graham seemed to thoroughly enjoy teaming up with Hunt for the takedown.

“That sandwich is better,” said Graham. “We talked about it just before the play. We said, ‘Man, I’ll meet you at the quarterback,’ and we actually did.”

Graham said the coaching staff may simply be getting Jenkins ready to play defensive end in short-yardage situations, but acknowledged that he is fueled by the competition.

“I don’t know what coach is going to do, but I know that I’m going to show them that I can get in there too,” said Graham. “It motivates me a lot. That’s why every time I get plays I go as hard as I can and let them know, to build that trust. I haven’t been playing so I understand the trust might not be there because I haven’t been in the game and he don’t know what I can do, but I took this preseason to gain the confidence of Coach Wash.”

The idea of Tapp being moved in a trade has been thrown around. He is set to earn around $2.6 million this season and is a free agent next year. Graham, who signed a five-year, $22 million contract in 2010, is making a base of around $1 million.

Would they deal one of their ends to gain strength in another spot? There’s an argument for holding on – and tightly – to all of them.

“Depth is something you want at defensive line, especially in this system,” said Jenkins. “You want to have guys you can rotate in and out and have fresh guys on the field. That’s something that you expect to have, that you need to have.”

Take 3: Projecting the Eagles’ 53-Man Roster

Philadelphia Eagles defensive end Darryl TappEight days from now, the Eagles will have to trim their roster to 53 players.

The official date and time is Friday, Aug. 31 at 9 p.m.

That means this is the final trial run for me and McManus. Next week, we’ll have to submit our final projections. Here’s what I’ve got as of Thursday morning. T-Mac will reveal his projections on Friday.

And to switch things up. I’ve provided my confidence level for each group. Nothing scientific here – just a 1-10 ranking, with 1 signifying I am completely guessing here and 10 meaning Mark it down. These are locks.

Quarterbacks (3): Michael Vick, Mike Kafka, Nick Foles.
Confidence level: 9

This one is pretty much set in stone. While quarterback is a question mark – with Vick suffering injuries in each of the Eagles’ first two preseason games – these will be the three guys on the 53-man roster. If Trent Edwards was going to be given a real shot, I think it would have happened by now.

The question is: Can Foles beat out Kafka for the backup job? As I wrote yesterday, it seems quite possible. But as Paul Domowitch of the Daily News pointed out today, the Eagles could keep all three quarterbacks active on gamedays and not designate a backup. I can just see it now: Andy Reid answering a hypothetical question about who would potentially go in for an injured Vick with, “Well, we’ll just see there.”

I took a look, and last year, the Eagles had three quarterbacks active in eight of 16 games. Some of that had to do with injuries to Vick and Vince Young though.

Running backs (4): LeSean McCoy, Dion Lewis, Bryce Brown, Stanley Havili.
Confidence level: 9

Havili made a move in the last preseason game with a nice 14-yard run, a decent lead block on McCoy’s touchdown and an outstanding special-teams tackle. The Eagles could still add a fullback once teams cut down their rosters, but Havili has the edge for now.

Brown flashed big-time vs. the Patriots with a 27-yard run up the middle. He’s shown upside, and the Eagles won’t be willing to let other teams have a shot at him. Brown can play special teams as a rookie, hone his skills and work to be a contributor down the road.

Lewis is still the favorite to spell McCoy or fill in if he gets injured. He knows the offense and has looked capable in blitz pick-up during the preseason.

I’m not seeing a spot for Polk. Brown has a clear edge over him as a runner at this point. The Eagles have some roster flexibility, and if they really like Polk, they could probably find a way to keep him. He could land on IR or the practice squad (only if another team doesn’t sign him).

Wide receivers (6): DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, Jason Avant, Riley Cooper, Damaris Johnson, Marvin McNutt.
Confidence level: 6

The first four names above are locks. After that, there’s some indecision.

I still am confident that Johnson makes it, but he’s dropped passes in each of the first two preseason games and fumbled a punt against New England. The Eagles need him to be reliable on special teams.

McNutt is a bit of a wild card. He’s shown nothing as a receiver in the first two preseason games, and it doesn’t look like he’d be able to contribute if the Eagles needed him offensively.

Then again, that sixth wide receiver is likely to be inactive on gamedays. If the Eagles saw enough potential in McNutt to draft him in April, the guess here is that they’ll hold on to him for now.

As for Chad Hall, friend of the blog Sam Lynch pointed out over at Iggles Blitz that he’s still practice-squad eligible. If Cooper isn’t ready to go in Week 1 (recovering from surgery for a fractured collarbone), perhaps Hall would get the nod over McNutt. But I don’t think he gives you enough as a fourth wide receiver to justify that spot.

Tight ends (2): Brent Celek, Clay Harbor.
Confidence level: 10

I don’t see it going any other way. The Eagles have no need for a third tight end, and neither Brett Brackett nor Chase Ford has stood out this summer.

Harbor, on the other hand, had a great camp, caught all six balls thrown his way Monday night and got in the end zone twice. He could see a bump in playing time in the regular season.

Offensive linemen (9): King Dunlap, Evan Mathis, Jason Kelce, Danny Watkins, Todd Herremans, Demetress Bell, Julian Vandervelde, Dennis Kelly, Steve Vallos.
Confidence level: 4

Pretty much every day at training camp, Bo Wulf of PhiladelphiaEagles.com would come up to me and make some type of Steve Vallos reference. “Look at that snap!” or “Great block by Vallos!” he’d say. Why? Because Wulf and Vallos share a bond as Wake Forest Demon Deacons, and apparently Bo has a lot of school pride.

Dallas Reynolds is still listed as the second-team center, but Vallos played there on Monday night and has started eight NFL games in his career. Right now, he gets the nod.

Given everything else that’s happened this preseason, the issue of offensive line depth has been largely ignored. I’m convinced the Eagles are going to make some moves here after teams cut their rosters to 53. We’ll get a look at Kelly Friday night, but if Bell isn’t good enough to start, chances are he’s not going to be reliable as a backup either.

Depth at guard and center is a major concern, especially considering that Kelce is taking on more responsibility this year with line calls. Reynolds and Mike Gibson are still in the mix, but my guess is those spots get filled with guys not currently on the roster.

By the way, if I had to wager right now on who the left tackle would be Week 1, my money’s on Dunlap.

Defensive linemen (11): Trent Cole, Jason Babin, Cullen Jenkins, Fletcher Cox, Derek Landri, Brandon Graham, Darryl Tapp, Phillip Hunt, Vinny Curry, Cedric Thornton, Antonio Dixon.
Confidence level: 6

I strongly considered bumping Tapp and Dixon this week. Hunt is really coming on, and with Jenkins seeing snaps outside, Tapp is probably expendable. Dixon, meanwhile, just looks like a bad fit for Jim Washburn’s style and is showing very little as a pass rusher.

The problem? I didn’t really see anyone else on the roster worth keeping over either one of those guys. If the Eagles can get some kind of conditional pick in a trade for either Tapp or Dixon, I think they pull the trigger. If not, beef up the defensive line and cover yourself in case of injury. What are the odds all the defensive linemen in the rotation stay healthy from until Week 3 or 4? Not high.

Mike Patterson on PUP looks likely at this point. Reuben Frank of CSN Philly is reporting that Patterson’s already been ruled out for Week 1.

As for the rotation, the way things are currently constructed, Curry and either Dixon or Thornton would likely be inactive on gameday to start the season.

Linebackers (6): DeMeco Ryans, Mychal Kendricks, Brian Rolle, Jamar Chaney, Casey Matthews, Akeem Jordan.
Confidence level: 7

Good sign for the Eagles linebackers: The way Kendricks is playing, it seems likely that he and Ryans will stay on the field in nickel situations to start the season. That should lead to less shuffling of personnel and less confusion, specifically when opposing offenses go no-huddle.

As we’ve discussed, Jordan and Keenan Clayton are battling for the final spot. Jordan gets the nod because of special teams. If the Eagles really like Clayton (and there’s not a lot of evidence to suggest they do), he could make the team as a seventh linebacker, and they could keep one fewer defensive lineman.

Cornerbacks (5): Nnamdi Asomugha, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Curtis Marsh, Brandon Boykin, Joselio Hanson.
Confidence level: 5

This is a tough one. Boykin is pushing Hanson for that nickel job. But can he do enough in the next eight days to snatch it away? Important game for him coming up on Friday.

If Boykin wins the job, I see no need to keep Hanson, considering he’s not a factor on the outside.

Brandon Hughes has a shot to sneak on if the Eagles want experience on the outside. As for Cliff Harris, not sure if he’s healthy. Don’t think he played at all vs. the Patriots. Unless the Eagles want to give him the 53rd spot and concede that he won’t play as a rookie, but could contribute down the line, I think he’ll be cut.

Safeties (4): Nate Allen, Kurt Coleman, Oshiomogho Atogwe, Jaiquawn Jarrett.
Confidence level: 5

This is another area where the Eagles very well could add a player off another team’s roster before the season starts.

I kept Jarrett off last week, but now Tom Nelson has a high ankle sprain, so the former second-round pick gets back on by default. Atogwe, meanwhile, didn’t play in Monday’s preseason game because of a hamstring injury. I have no clue at this point how effective he’d be if he had to go into a game. But again, not seeing other options here right now. Colt Anderson is not practicing yet and is still recovering from a torn ACL.

At the end of last season, I thought Coleman would have to hold off competition to remain a starter, but that hasn’t been the case. He and Allen, who played well vs. the Patriots, are clearly the first-team safeties.

Specialists (3): Alex Henery, Mat McBriar, Jon Dorenbos.
Confidence level: 8

Both McBriar and Chas Henry punted better Monday night. Still think it’s McBriar’s job to lose though.

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

DL Review: Hunt Shines Once Again

Philadelphia Eagles DE Phillip HuntHere’s a player-by-player breakdown of how the Eagles defensive linemen performed Monday night after having re-watched the game. Check out the linebacker review here, and look for write-ups of the rest of the positional groups on Tuesday and Wednesday. By the way, yes, I’m aware that Tom Brady and other starters did not play.

Cullen Jenkins – To read more about the dust-up with Andy Reid, click here and here. Most of Jenkins’ snaps came at the left defensive end spot for Jason Babin, and he wasn’t particularly effective. Jenkins had one tackle, and I didn’t notice him getting much pressure on the quarterback. On third downs, he often shifted inside to right defensive tackle, and Phillip Hunt took over on the outside. Reid said he likes Jenkins’ size against the run at defensive end, but I’m not sure we’re going to see him out there a lot when Babin gets healthy.

Fletcher Cox – The rookie got the start at left defensive tackle, alongside Derek Landri. As you’d expect, he was up and down, but has flashed the athleticism we saw in college.

Against the run, Cox stopped Shane Vereen after a 3-yard gain on a play where the Patriots were whistled for holding. Cox (2 tackles, 2 solo) later wrapped up Vereen, but not until the running back picked up 5 yards. He had a chance to bring down Brandon Bolden near the line of scrimmage, but couldn’t make the play, and the running back picked up 7. Cox did a nice job bringing Stevan Ridley down after a 2-yard run in the third.

As a pass rusher, Cox beat a double team and pressured Ryan Mallett, but was whistled for a costly roughing the passer penalty that negated a Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie interception. It looked like Cox tried to hold up, but it’s the kind of call we see flagged all the time. He did a good job to hit Brian Hoyer, throwing off the timing of a screen in the second. The only time Cox lined up outside was when the Eagles showed the look where the tackles shift out and the defensive ends stand up between them to rush the passer.

Derek Landri – Pretty quiet game for Landri (2 tackles, 1 solo), who ran with the first team. He got into the backfield a couple times but couldn’t get to the ballcarrier. Landri dropped Bolden after a 1-yard gain late in the first half.

Trent Cole – He had some good moments (3 tackles, 1 solo), even though Cole did not notch a sack. He hit Mallett as the QB got rid of the ball for an 8-yard gain in the first. He beat left tackle Nate Solder, pressuring Mallett and forcing him to rush his throw on an incompletion in the first. Cole would have had a third-down sack if not for Nnamdi Asomugha’s holding penalty. He knocked Solder to the ground with a bull-rush and forced Mallett out of the pocket in the red zone in the second. And Cole showed his trademark hustle, bringing Ridley down after a 2-yard gain in the third.

Phillip Hunt – He’s been outstanding in the first two preseason games. Hunt (4 tackles, 2 solo) played with the first team on third down, taking over at left defensive end as Jenkins moved inside and Landri came off the field. He got a hand in Mallett’s face on an early incompletion. He stopped Danny Woodhead after a 2-yard gain on 3rd-and-15 and hit Mallett, forcing an incompletion in the second. Hunt twisted inside from the LDE spot and hit Mallett on third down, but not before the QB completed a pass to Deion Branch for 20 yards.

Great hustle play: Hunt lined up as a rush linebacker, got all the way to the Patriots’ 35 (the line of scrimmage was the 28), then ran back after a completed screen, tackling Vereen at the 8. He beat Marcus Cannon around the edge and stripped Hoyer in the second. Later, he forced Hoyer out of the pocket, but the QB still completed a third-down pass to Donte’ Stallworth late in the first half. In the third, Hunt even lined up at right defensive tackle on one play.

Hunt will be on the roster, and the way he’s playing, he’ll have to be active on gamedays.

Brandon Graham – He played left defensive end with the second unit and was OK. Graham caused disruption, getting into the backfield on a Vereen run that was stopped after 2 yards. As a pass-rusher, he was matched up one-on-one against Cannon, but couldn’t get any pressure on Mallett on the second-quarter touchdown throw. On a different play, Graham got good pressure off the edge in the red zone, helping to force a rushed Hoyer throw and incompletion. He also got some pressure off the edge, forcing Hoyer to step up into a Thornton sack late in the second. And Graham was called for offsides in the first half too.

Overall, an ok performance. He will be on the roster and penciled into the defensive rotation.

Cedric Thornton – He continues to play himself onto the roster. Thornton (4 tackles, 2 solo) played left defensive tackle with the second group and forced Vereen to cut back on a 3-yard run in the first. He burst through the backfield and dropped Bolden for a loss of 1 in the second. And Thornton stopped Ridley for no gain in the third. As a pass rusher, he broke through up the middle against an initial double team and sacked Hoyer.

Antonio Dixon – Just not seeing it with him. Dixon had a pair of tackles (0 solo), but he’s not a factor as a pass rusher. I might have to leave him off my 53-man roster projection this week.

Darryl Tapp – Playing right defensive end with the second group, the veteran picked up a pair of personal foul penalties in the first half. Early on, center Ryan Wendell and Thornton had their hands in each others’ facemasks after the whistle. Wendell was on top of Thornton, and Tapp came over to shove him, drawing a peanlty. Later, he was called for a pretty obvious roughing the passer penalty. He also recovered the Hoyer fumble in the second after Hunt stripped the quarterback. Tapp sits squarely on the roster bubble.

Vinny Curry – The second-round pick didn’t enter the game until the final drive of the third quarter, playing right defensive end. I’d expect him to get more playing time in the last two preseason games.

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

Eagles Wake-Up Call: Why Jenkins Is Being Used At DE

Philadelphia Eagles defensive lineman Cullen Jenkins.The Eagles have a couple weeks before they have to trim their roster down to 53 players.

As we’ve discussed at length here on Birds 24/7, when that deadline arrives, Andy Reid and company will have difficult decisions to make on their defensive line.

One player whose role could go a long way in determining who stays and who goes is Cullen Jenkins. The Birds signed Jenkins last summer, and he immediately provided the push up the middle they were looking for, notching 5.5 sacks and 24 quarterback hurries.

But this summer, Jenkins is getting plenty of looks outside at defensive end, mostly in place of Babin, who is recovering from a left calf strain.

“He gives you a little bit in the run game,” Reid said. “Just a big body, and he is athletic enough where he can still pass rush from out there. He just gives you another big body, a 300-pound guy out there that can move like he does.”

When I put out my most recent 53-man roster, I had the Eagles keeping six defensive ends, including Darryl Tapp. My reasoning was simple: With pass-rushing specialists like Jason Babin and Phillip Hunt, Tapp provides the Eagles with a more well-rounded defensive end, who can spell Cole effectively and not be a liability in the run game.

However, it looks like the Eagles view Jenkins as someone who can fill that role. If the coaches like what they see out of Jenkins at defensive end, Tapp very well could become more expendable.

WHAT YOU MISSED

Michael Vick and Brent Celek chimed in on what’s gone wrong with Kevin Kolb. And Kolb fired back at Raiders DT Tommy Kelly, who said the QB was playing scared.

Nnamdi Asomugha explained why it’s important for him to play Monday night, and Reid detailed his plans for the starters vs. the Patriots.

Brandon Boykin and Mychal Kendricks will be tested against New England.

WHAT THEY’RE SAYING

The Giants’ defense abused Mark Sanchez and the Jets in a 26-3 victory. Eli Manning went 7-for-14 for 62 yards. Running back Ahmad Bradshaw left the game with a hand injury, but X-Rays were negative, according to ESPN New York.

“I had a cyst on it before,” Bradshaw said. “It’s nothing serious. It’s just a precaution.”

“I’ve had it for a while,” he added. “We didn’t know what to do with it. It’s still there and then on one of the runs I hit it on someone’s helmet and it just popped. There was a little pain in it. It feels good. We’re just being precautious about it.”

Meanwhile, Redskins outside linebacker Brian Orakpo injured the same pectoral muscle he tore last season, according to Grant Paulsen of 106.7 The Fan. The extent of the injury is unknown. Orakpo had nine sacks and three forced fumbles last season.

And finally, Cowboys cornerback Brandon Carr, who the team signed this offseason as a free agent, had a pair of interceptions against the Chargers.

COMING UP

The Eagles travel to Massachusetts today in advance of Monday night’s game against the Patriots.

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

Kapadia’s Take: Projecting the 53-Man Roster

The battle continues.

Yesterday, T-Mac provided us with a good laugh with his latest 53-man roster projection.

Now it’s my turn. I’ve got some changes from last week. Here goes nothing.

Quarterbacks (3): Michael Vick, Mike Kafka, Nick Foles.

It took exactly six preseason snaps for Vick to have his first injury scare. While he suffered just a thumb contusion, Vick said he initially thought he broke his thumb when he banged it against Jason Kelce’s helmet against the Steelers.

Here’s a stat for you: 24.1 percent of Vick’s pass attempts last year traveled more than 15 yards downfield. That was the sixth-highest percentage in the league among quarterbacks.

As I’ve written before, the Eagles’ passing game relies on big plays downfield. That’s why I have serious concerns about Kafka being able to come in and execute without Marty Mornhinweg and Andy Reid having to make significant adjustments to the offense. With Kafka sidelined, Foles will get a chance to make his mark. And while Trent Edwards hasn’t shown much in practice, maybe we shouldn’t count him out completely just yet.

Running backs (4): LeSean McCoy, Dion Lewis, Bryce Brown, Stanley Havili.

I still think Brown has the edge over Chris Polk, but there’s no way the Eagles can put Brown in a pass-blocking situation in a regular-season game right now. He has a long way to go in that department, and it’s just too risky. Keeping Brown is a long-term decision. He may not even touch the ball as a rookie, but can contribute on special teams, pick up the offense and look to do more down the road.

I feel pretty confident that the Eagles are going to keep a fullback. And right now, Havili has the edge over Emil Igwenagu. It’d be nice to see the Birds get each guy involved a little more Monday night so that we can see what they’re capable of in game situations. I asked Clay Harbor earlier this week if he anticipates playing more fullback in 2012, and he said flat-out no, noting that the team has really been impressed with Havili.

Wide receivers (6): DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, Jason Avant, Riley Cooper, Damaris Johnson, Marvin McNutt.

As Tim noted, my Damaris Johnson love has probably spiraled out of control. But why slow the train down now? I think he’s a lock to make the team, and if the season started today, he’d be their fourth wide receiver on gamedays.

Not much to say about Jackson, Maclin or Avant. On Twitter, a few of you have asked me why they’re keeping Cooper. It’s pretty simple. He averaged 80 yards receiving in three starts last year and was an effective special-teams player. That’s pretty much what you want out of a backup wide receiver Assuming he’s ready to go in the first week or two of the season, following surgery on his collarbone, Cooper’s making the 53-man roster.

McNutt is a bit of a wild card. He had his moments during camp, but doesn’t look like someone who’s ready to contribute as a rookie. There’s a chance the Eagles could go with five wide receivers or one of the unheralded guys bumps McNutt off the roster, but I think he takes one of the final spots and is a weekly inactive.

As for Chad Hall, I’m not sure what he gives this team that Johnson does not. He’s off.

Tight ends (2): Brent Celek, Clay Harbor.

I may be the only person in town who thinks Harbor can be an effective player for this offense.

His snaps increased from 28.6 percent as a rookie to 33.6 percent last year. We’ve spent a lot of time talking about how rookies had a difficult time last year because of the shortened offseason. But that applies to players going from Year 1 to Year 2 also. Especially someone like Harbor who was learning how to block on the fly.

He was up and down in that aspect, but has shown the ability to be a good blocker. As a receiver, he had a high catch rate (68.4 percent), catching 13 of the 19 balls thrown his way. And while everyone was up in arms about Harbor’s drops during the spring, he had just one drop last season, according to Pro Football Focus.

I think he’s going to be on the field as much as, if not more, than last season. And the Eagles would be wise to replace Jackson with Harbor in the red zone, where he can help as a blocker and a receiver.

As for Brett Brackett and Chase Ford, I don’t see the Eagles keeping a third tight end.

Offensive linemen (9): Demetress Bell, Evan Mathis, Jason Kelce, Danny Watkins, Todd Herremans, King Dunlap, Julian Vandervelde, Dennis Kelly, Dallas Reynolds.

Last week, I wrote that the starters were pretty much “set in stone.”

Whoops.

Dunlap has replaced Bell at left tackle – for now. I still think the Eagles want Bell to win the job, but they’re not going to put him out there if he looks shaky. Is there a chance Herremans could move over to that side? I’m not ready to rule anything out at this point.

The first preseason game further enforced the notion that the Eagles have giant question marks with O-Line depth. I had been operating under the assumption that Vandervelde would be the first man up should the Eagles suffer an injury at guard or center. It was only one preseason game, but he looks like he’s got a long way to go.

Not too confident on the Reynolds pick either. Mike Gibson or Steve Vallos could potentially steal a spot. This is an area where the Eagles could add someone who gets cut in the coming weeks from another team.

Defensive linemen (11): Trent Cole, Jason Babin, Cullen Jenkins, Fletcher Cox, Derek Landri, Brandon Graham, Darryl Tapp, Phillip Hunt, Vinny Curry, Cedric Thornton, Antonio Dixon.

I’m sticking to my guns here. I realize 11 is a big number, but everything the Eagles do defensively starts with the line. Typically, eight guys play on gameday, although that number could be nine this season if they use someone like Hunt as a situational pass-rusher.

I gave strong consideration to leaving Dixon off. Since last season, he really hasn’t seemed like a good fit for Jim Washburn’s style of play. But cutting him leaves the Eagles thin at defensive tackle. What happens if Cox, Jenkins, Landri or Thornton goes down? They would need to find someone to play significant snaps right away. Of course, a lot depends on Mike Patterson, whose status is up in the air.

I’ve still got six defensive ends making it. In a recent post, I explained why Phillip Hunt isn’t going anywhere. He’s young, under team control for three more seasons and seems to be coming into his own as a pass rusher.

Darryl Tapp is the player to watch. I still think the Eagles value him as a well-rounded defensive end who can effectively spell Cole. There’s a chance the Eagles look to trade Tapp, but for now, he stays on. The other X-Factor is Curry. He could be good enough to play right defensive end with the second group behind Cole. If Curry impresses the next couple of games, Tapp could be left off.

Linebackers (6): DeMeco Ryans, Mychal Kendricks, Brian Rolle, Jamar Chaney, Casey Matthews, Akeem Jordan.

No changes here from last week. Keenan Clayton doesn’t make the cut. While his strength is coverage, Clayton isn’t so good in that aspect that it will earn him a spot. And he really doesn’t give anything at all against the run.

DeMeco Ryans has been the lone linebacker on the field in the Eagles’ dime package, but Kendricks could get a shot there at some point.

Cornerbacks (5): Nnamdi Asomugha, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Curtis Marsh, Brandon Boykin, Joselio Hanson.

Change from last week: Hanson’s in, and Brandon Hughes is out.

Since the Eagles drafted Boykin, I’ve been expecting him to take the nickel corner job from Hanson, but it hasn’t happened yet. And until it does, I’ve decided to keep the veteran on the team. The Eagles’ secondary looked confused on many occasions in 2011. Perhaps that explains why they’re reluctant to go with a rookie in the slot, where he’d be expected to play roughly 50 percent of the snaps.

As for Hughes, the only real scenario where you’d need him would be if both Asomugha and Rodgers-Cromartie were to get injured. Marsh will be the first backup if one of them goes down, and Boykin could also get a shot on the outside. In other words, Hughes is expendable.

Cliff Harris still has a shot. He got off to a strong start, but then suffered an ankle injury. If he impresses the next couple weeks, the Eagles could easily keep him and cut a defensive lineman or even a linebacker.

Still don’t have much of an opinion on Kevin Thomas, the corner the Eagles acquired from the Colts. Someone to keep an eye on Monday night.

Safeties (4): Nate Allen, Kurt Coleman, Oshiomogho Atogwe, Tom Nelson.

I’ve got Jaiquawn Jarrett missing the cut. Let’s review the facts:

* Jarrett couldn’t get onto the field as a rookie. The Eagles even thought Jarrad Page was a better option than him.

* Despite lackluster play from the safety position in 2011, Jarrett showed no signs of competing for a starting spot with Kurt Coleman this offseason.

* The Eagles showed interest in veteran safety Yeremiah Bell and then ended up signing Atogwe after OTAs.

* Jarrett had a chance to make his mark in the first preseason game and turned in a dud.

* Nelson mixed in with Jarrett on the second team earlier this week at practice.

Now that all of that is out of the way, let me say that Jarrett still has a chance to make the roster. I’m sure the coaches want nothing more than to see him bounce back. He’ll be given every opportunity to stick around, considering he was a second-round pick in 2011. But at some point, you just admit the guy can’t play and move on.

My problem with Jarrett is that he looks bad doing the things that are supposed to be his strength. On Thursday night, he took bad angles to the ball and missed tackles. We know that pass coverage is not his strength. And he didn’t stand out on special teams last year. Those are all bad signs.

As for Nelson, consider him more of a place-holder. If Colt Anderson is ready to go, he could take that spot. Or perhaps more likely, the Eagles could sign a safety after teams trim their rosters down. I will say this though: Even though he was active for only four games last season, Nelson had five special-teams tackles and ranked ahead of Jarrett (active for 12 games) in special-teams points that are kept by the team.

In terms of depth, it looks like Atogwe will be the first man in should Allen or Coleman go down. It seems clear that the Eagles probably should have done more with their personnel here in the offseason.

Specialists (3): Alex Henery, Mat McBriar, Jon Dorenbos.

Neither McBriar nor Chas Henery was impressive in the first preseason game. But I still think it’s McBriar’s job to lose.

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

« Older Posts  |  Newer Posts »