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.

Game Review: Evaluating the Eagles’ Offense

Philadelphia Eagles running back Bryce BrownHere’s a player-by-player look at the Eagles’ offense after having re-watched Thursday night’s preseason game against the Steelers. If a player is not listed, it’s probably because he has no chance of making the team, or I didn’t notice anything about him one way or another.

Michael Vick – Third down on the first series was ugly. Vick first had to use a timeout. Then the Steelers showed blitz, but only rushed four. Pittsburgh got some pressure off the edge, but Vick walked right into a sack. He went 3-for-4 for 6 yards and suffered a thumb contusion. The Eagles’ offense went three-and-out twice. Things can only go up from here, right?

Mike Kafka – He played most of the second quarter and went 5-for-9 for 31 yards. Kafka was pressured on the interception, but has to be smarter with the football. While on the move, he made a good throw to Chad Hall for 11 yards on 3rd-and-6. I’ve had my concerns about Kafka being the backup all offseason, but nine preseason passes shouldn’t change anyone’s mind one way or another. He’s still the No. 2 guy – for now.

Nick Foles – One of the few bright spots offensively, Foles went 6-for-10 for 144 yards and a pair of touchdowns. He did a nice job of keeping his eyes downfield on the 70-yard TD to Damaris Johnson. The big arm was on display as the ball traveled about 43 yards in the air, and Foles delivered it on the move. He showed nice touch on the 43-yard touchdown to Mardy Gilyard. He’s still the No. 3 quarterback, but showed why the Eagles like him.

Trent Edwards – He was 12-for-20 for 106 yards and a score. Edwards’ focus right now is on putting good play on tape so that he can try to find another home when the Eagles cut him.

LeSean McCoy – One carry for -2 yards and one catch for -3 yards. Anyone ready to panic? Didn’t think so. A bright spot with McCoy was an excellent blitz pickup on the play where Vick injured his thumb. Not sure he needs to be on the field much this preseason.

Dion Lewis – He looked good, carrying four times for 22 yards. Lewis shook a tackle and picked up 8 yards on his first carry. He had a good, tough run for 3 yards on 2nd-and-2, and also picked up 12 on a second-quarter run. Perhaps more importantly, Lewis picked up the blitz nicely on Kafka’s incomplete throw for Marvin McNutt. And later, he chipped a linebacker and put him on the ground before going out into his route. Lewis suffered a hamstring injury, though. We should know more about the severity on Saturday.

Bryce Brown – The highlight was a 33-yard scamper where Brown broke a pair of tackles and rumbled down the left sideline. He also picked up some YAC on a 16-yard reception from Foles. Good hustle to tackle Al Woods after the Kafka interception. As for the whole blocking thing, Brown pretty much whiffed on a blitz pickup in the third. He’s still in good position to make the team.

Chris Polk – I don’t know if he’s going to make the team, but the Eagles should have Polk spend five minutes each practice showing the rest of the running backs how to pick up the blitz. I counted at least three plays where Polk was charged with protecting the quarterback, and he got the job done every time. He had three carries for 1 yard and three catches for 28 yards.

Stanley Havili – He got on the field in the first half and actually had a nice lead block on a Lewis run that lost 1 yard. Still needs to prove himself in the coming weeks.

Clay Harbor – With Brent Celek sidelined, he got the start and was targeted on the play where Vick sailed the throw and injured his thumb.

Brett Brackett – He had two catches for 9 yards, but also had a pass go right through his hands in the third. Don’t see him making the team.

Demetress Bell – By my count, the Eagles gave him help on three of five pass plays. Linebacker Chris Carter went right around Bell on Vick’s completion to McCoy in the flat. Carter went around him again, forcing Vick to step up on the play where he hit his thumb on Kelce’s helmet. Small sample size, but unimpressive debut for Bell.

Evan Mathis, Jason Kelce, Danny Watkins, Todd Herremans – They all started and were fine. Again, only talking about six plays here.

King Dunlap – He played left tackle with the second team and was fine. The Eagles know what they have in Dunlap.

Julian Vandervelde – Disappointing game for the second-year player. He started out at left guard with the twos. It looked like Vandervelde was slow to pick up a blitzer on Kafka’s incompletion intended for McNutt. Later, the Eagles had him pull to sell the play-fake, but Vandervelde was slow to get to the edge, and Carter forced Kafka to scramble. He was also called for holding on the play. Vandervelde played center in the third and got beat by Alameda Ta’amu, who pressured Foles.

Dallas Reynolds – He started out at center with the twos and then moved to guard. On one play, Reynolds got beat by McLendon, who dropped Lewis for a 1-yard loss.

Mike Gibson – He played right guard with the twos. Very nice block by Gibson, taking a Steelers linebacker to the ground on Lewis’ 3-yard run.

Dennis Kelly – He started out at right tackle but also played some right guard. Kelly was slow to pick up a blitzing linebacker, who got in Kafka’s face and helped cause the interception. Later, he failed to pick up a blitzing linebacker on third down in the second. Kelly looks very much like a project. Don’t expect the rookie to get on the field much in his first season.

DeSean Jackson – He was targeted once and made a 5-yard grab. Great moment between Jackson and Andy Reid at the end of the game.

Damaris JohnsonI wrote about him yesterday. Johnson got the start in Jeremy Maclin’s place and finished as the game’s leading receiver with four catches for 85 yards. He put a great move on the linebacker on a crossing pattern for a first down in the second. Johnson also made a great move on the 70-yard TD to get wide open. Earlier, he dropped a good pass from Kafka on a slant. But overall, strong game.

Jason Avant – Played, but was not targeted.

Marvin McNutt – No catches, but nice effort as a downfield blocker on Brown’s 33-yard run.

Chad Hall – Made an 11-yard grab on 3rd-and-6. Not sure what he provides that Johnson doesn’t, other than experience with the offense.

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

Eagles Practice Observations: Who’s Behind Kelce?

Philadelphia Eagles center Jason KelceAs Jason Kelce and Julian Vandervelde walked off the field, the Eagles’ starting center had some advice for the man who could potentially be his backup.

“He was sliding, using his hands, but not using his feet,” Kelce explained, adding that Vandervelde has all the physical tools to be a good center. “At center, you have to move your feet more, rather than really be that physical. …Just a couple times, he went up against our best defensive tackle, or hardest at least for me to block, Derek Landri, he got him a couple times.”

Pretty much every discussion about the 2012 Eagles involves a mention about Michael Vick’s ability to stay healthy and Mike Kafka’s ability to back him up. Some will also throw in LeSean McCoy’s heavy 2011 workload and the competition between Dion Lewis, Bryce Brown and Chris Polk to back him up.

But what about the offensive line? We know Demetress Bell will fill in for Jason Peters. And if Bell is adequate, this unit has a chance to be really good. Depth, however, is a concern. It was on full display today as Evan Mathis missed practice due to illness and Todd Herremans was out with a shoulder injury.

That left rookie fifth-round pick Dennis Kelly protecting Vick’s blind side and practice squad regular Dallas Reynolds lining up at left guard for Mathis. Of course, this was just practice. In the real games, it’s expected that King Dunlap would be the first man up should Herremans or Bell go down. The interior, however, is a different story.

It might not sound like much of a concern, but it’s something that should at least be mentioned. Given Kelce’s added responsibilities this year at the line of scrimmage, the Eagles need someone who knows what he’s doing at the backup spot. The options right now are Vandervelde, Reynolds and veteran Steve Vallos.

Vandervelde, who said there is no official backup center listed right now, is perhaps the most interesting name, considering he was actually taken before Kelce in the fifth round of last year’s draft. But he’s never played center before this offseason. So how comfortable is with the preseason only a week away?

“Medium, on the terror scale, it’s like a yellow,” Vandervelde joked. “It’s a new thing for me. …It’s a lot more cerebral. You would think that the transition from guard to center wouldn’t be that hard, but it’s a whole new world for me. I’m having a lot of fun learning it. I’m having a little different focus everyday.”

Vandervelde believes every interior lineman who makes the 53-man roster will have to be comfortable at guard and center.

“Jason is absolutely integral to our offense right now,” he said. “All of us who are going to be in a position to back him up have got to be ready at a moment’s notice to go in there and take up that spot seamlessly.

“As long as I’m here, I’ve got to be able to play guard and center. It was enough to play guard last year. It’s not going to be enough anymore though.”

More practice observations:

* With the injuries on the defensive line, your first unit looked like this: Brandon Graham, Fletcher Cox, Derek Landri and Darryl Tapp. The second team was Phillip Hunt, Cedric Thornton, Antonio Dixon and Vinny Curry.

* DeSean Jackson dropped nine passes last year. Considering how deep his targets usually are, that’s way too high of a number. Each drop means a missed opportunity for a big play. Today, during one-on-one wide receiver/cornerback drills, he let a Nick Foles pass go right through his hands, and it was picked off by Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie

* The Eagles ran through one of my favorite drills today: running backs and tight ends charged with going one-on-one against blitzing linebackers. On one play, McCoy did a decent job on Brian Rolle, but it wasn’t good enough. The pair lined up again. This time, Rolle clubbed McCoy to the ground, before helping him up and apparently realizing the Eagles need that guy to go anywhere this season. Dion Lewis, meanwhile, had some trouble with Mychal Kendricks.

* During the red-zone portion of practice, Vick ran for a touchdown. In 2011, he ran for one red-zone score all year. In 2010, that number was nine.

* For a few plays, we had a flashback to last year with Casey Matthews in the middle. DeMeco Ryans went on and off the field, but would not say what was bothering him after practice, simply nothing that he was fine.

* With Jamar Chaney also leaving practice with a hamstring injury, there were a couple different nickel combinations: Matthews and Kendricks, along with Rolle and Keenan Clayton.

* Lewis continues to look quick and shifty as a receiver. Today, he made Curtis Marsh look silly on one play.

* Bryce Brown had a big run, scurrying away from Nate Allen in the open field. Running backs coach Ted Williams has talked about Brown’s second gear. That might have been as close to it as we’ve seen so far.

* There was one skirmish/fight. I don’t know who was involved on the defensive side, but Danny Watkins played a role on the offense. He seems to be in the middle of those quite a bit.

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

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