Eagles Release Mat McBriar, Sign P Donnie Jones

The Eagles signed punter Donnie Jones to a one-year contract Monday and released Mat McBriar.

Jones, formerly of the Texans, is a two-time All-Pro selection.

“Donnie Jones is a guy that we have admired over the last several years,” said Eagles general manager Howie Roseman. “He has one of the strongest legs in the entire NFL and we’re excited we had a chance to sign him. We watched a lot of tape on him and he’s coming off a very good season with Houston. We feel he’ll add a good element to our special teams units.”

The nine-year veteran ranks fifth in NFL history in both gross (45.6) and net punting average (39.0). In 2008 he became one of seven players in NFL history to record a 50.0 gross average in a single season.

McBriar was coming off a nerve injury in his foot when he signed on with the Eagles last season. He played in 13 games in 2012 and averaged 46.5 yards per punt. As Sheil points out, Football Outsiders had the Eagles ranked as the worst punt/punt coverage unit in the league last year.

According to Adam Caplan, McBriar was due a $50,000 roster bonus at 4 p.m. Monday.

“Mat was nothing but a consummate professional for us in 2012,” said Roseman. “He battled back from a tough injury situation to punt very well last year. We just decided to go in a different direction with Donnie and we wish Mat and his family all the best as he continues his NFL career.”

The Eagles are making a noticeable run on former Texans.


 

Special Teams Fails the Eagles (Again)

With the game tied at 17 in the fourth quarter and the Eagles facing a fourth down from their own 29, Mat McBriar jogged on to the field and set up to punt.

The Eagles had 13 minutes and 52 seconds to decide what the conversation would be in this city Monday morning. Would people be talking about a 4-5 team that was just one game back of the Giants in the loss column? Or a 3-6 team that had lost five in a row and would be searching for a new coach in the coming weeks?

Bobby April’s special-teams unit provided the answer.

McBriar’s punt went 49 yards to the Dallas 22, where Dwayne Harris fielded it. He made a move to his left and was gone, down the far sideline for a 78-yard touchdown. No missed tackles. That would have required someone to be close enough to get a hand on him.

Cowboys 24, Eagles 17.

“I’ve just got to get the guys prepared,” said special-teams coach Bobby April, looking deflated in the locker room after the game. “I feel bad that I let the team down. I let the head coach down. It’s my responsibility to make those plays. Didn’t do it. They beat us, they whooped us. They whooped us in a couple one-on-one deals, and obviously [Cowboys special-teams coach] Joe DeCamillis whooped me.”

Colt Anderson, the Eagles’ best special-teams player, gave credit to Dallas as well.

“They had a nice wall set up,” Anderson said. “We didn’t have anybody out there, and the returner made a couple guys miss. He set it up nicely. It was out the gate. They had a good scheme. Give credit to them.”

Since the beginning of the 2011 season, the Eagles have lost seven games decided by one possession. While Michael Vick, Marty Mornhinweg, Juan Castillo and others have taken plenty of blame, special teams probably hasn’t received its fair share. April’s group has rarely affected the game in a positive way – either in the return game or with the coverage units. This was not a one-week thing. Entering the game, Eagles special-teams were ranked 25th by Football Outsiders.

“We just can’t give up plays like that, and we’ve got to get some plays like that ourselves,” Anderson said.

Aside from coverage, there seemed to be some disagreement about whether McBriar’s punt went where it was supposed to go.

“Yeah, I hit a pretty good ball,” McBriar said. “It was sort of towards where we were trying to get it to. They’re trying to make a play just as we are. Sometimes, it works out that way.”

April didn’t seem to agree completely.

“It was probably a little too deep,” April said. “I’d have to look at the hang/distance ratio. It was a returnable ball. You’d like those things to be high and short, in general. Then the punter can take them out of it. But I’m not blaming Mat. He hit the ball. That could have given us good field position.”

Entering Sunday, opposing offenses had started drives at their own 30.48-yard-line against the Eagles. Only three teams in the NFL were worse. Part of that has to do with turnovers by the offense. And part of it has to do with coverage units that have been shaky all year.

Aside from the punt return, the Eagles had a missed extra point, and Andy Reid was forced to use a timeout when it appeared that the field-goal unit was a player short (King Dunlap).

There have been mistakes and negative plays all year, but Sunday’s return was the biggest. And now, the conversation shifts to what this team, and this coaching staff, will look like in 2013.

Follow Sheil Kapadia on Twitter and e-mail him at skapadia@phillymag.com.
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Roseman Talks McBriar Move, Dawkins Tribute

Howie Roseman shed some light on the decision to cut Chas Henry and sign veteran punter Mat McBriar.

The Eagles general manager revealed that they brought McBriar in Tuesday for a workout and noticed notable improvement in his kicks from the preseason. The 33-year-old McBriar is coming off an injury to his non-kicking foot.

“We did see a difference,” Roseman told the team’s website. “He seems healthier and he’s booming the ball now.”

Roseman said they decided to make the move because they are seeking more consistency.

While the Eagles are adding a two-time Pro Bowler to the roster, there is some concern how the move will affect kicker Alex Henery. Special teams coach Bobby April has suggested  that Henery was not at his sharpest early because he bounced between different holders this preseason.

“Working with two holders is never really great because there’s adaptions and adjustments that you have to make sort of on the fly,” said April after the Cleveland game. “You can develop a couple of deals, not that it was anybody’s fault,  Chas’  or  Mat’s. It’s just the fact that they were different holders and he’s the guy adjusting to them.”

One theory is that Henry won a close competition with McBriar because he was the better holder.

“Chas is a heck of a holder but Mat was a successful holder for the Cowboys for a long time,” said Roseman. “We have confidence in his ability to do that. We have a full week leading up to the Giants game to get him more experience, and obviously he had some experience with Alex during training camp.”

Roseman also was asked about the tribute to Brian Dawkins coming up on Sunday night.

“It’s so exciting to honor Dawk and to see him come this game, playing the Super Bowl champs, on our home turf,” said Roseman. “You’re talking about one of, if not the greatest, player in Eagles history. Hall-of-Fame player. Someone that when we scout players, we’re looking for someone that can be that kind of guy: that kind of leader, that kind of player.”

Dawkins’ No. 20 jersey will officially be retired during a 6 o’clock press conference prior to the game Sunday in the HeadHouse Plaza lobby area at Lincoln Financial Field. Ticket holders are invited to attend, though space is extremely limited and those in attendance will not be permitted to return outside the gates once the press conference is complete. Dawkins will be honored on the field and will address the fans during a halftime ceremony as well.

Eagles Release Henry, Add McBriar

Three weeks into the season, the Eagles have cut ties with punter Chas Henry and added veteran Mat McBriar.

Henry beat McBriar out at training camp. He started the season out with what special-teams coach Bobby April called “by far” the best game of his career against the Browns, but Henry turned in a dud in Week 2 against the Ravens.

“He doesn’t drop the ball consistently,” April said last week. “He’s got a little bit of a technical flaw where he has a habit of either throwing his little finger in or his thumb out. It causes the drop of the ball not to be correct. It’s something he knows that he constantly works on. It’s just something in there that he’s got to get out of.”

Henry had a better game against the Cardinals, but apparently, the coaching staff feels McBriar is a better option going forward.

McBriar spent eight seasons with the Cowboys and was a two-time Pro Bowler, last earning the honor in 2010. He had offseason surgery to remove a cyst in his left leg that had caused him trouble with his plant foot.

In addition to punting, he’ll be counted on to hold for Alex Henery on field goals, something which seemed to be a bit of a concern in the preseason.

“I think it’s always big,” April said earlier this month.

“I feel pretty confident that he [Henry] was a little bit better holder. Not much, not much, but he had a little more nimbleness and dexterity with the ball. He was a little bit better setting it down and he got it down a little quicker. He gave Alex a little more opportunity to see it longer. It was a factor for sure. Mat is a good holder, but I just think that Chas is just a little bit better.”

The Eagles also made a practice-squad move, signing long snapper Kyle Nelson and releasing wide receiver Jeremy Ebert. Jon Dorenbos suffered a high-ankle sprain during Sunday’s loss to the Cardinals, and his status going forward is unknown.

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

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.

10 Things To Watch: Eagles vs. Patriots

Philadelphia Eagles linebacker DeMeco Ryans.In no particular order, here’s what I’ll be keeping an eye on tonight when the Eagles take on the Patriots in their second preseason game.

1. DeMeco Ryans – By most accounts, he’s not quite there yet. The leadership stuff has not been overblown. Ryans seems to be adored by coaches and respected by teammates. But the question is: How effective of a player is he at this point in his career? Despite failing to notch a tackle in the first game, Ryans was frequently around the football. Expecting him to go to the Pro Bowl is probably asking for a bit much, but the Birds need Ryans to be a quality, three-down player. He’ll look to continue to increase his comfort level tonight.

2. Nick Foles – The rookie needed just six completions to capture the imagination of fans in the first preseason game. With Mike Kafka sidelined because of a fractured left hand, Foles will be the first man up after Michael Vick is finished. A couple weeks ago, I would have said that Kafka was definitely the backup, and Foles would be watching and learning in his first season. Now? I’m not so sure. What happens if the rookie carves up the Patriots and then impresses again against the Browns on Friday? There seems to be at least a chance that he could steal the backup spot away.

3. Danny Watkins – I wrote about him in detail yesterday. While much of the focus is on the left tackle situation, the Eagles need Watkins to make a leap in his second season as the starter at right guard. Teammates and coaches seem to think things are clicking for Watkins after he had the benefit of a full offseason. He was only on the field for six plays in the first game, but will get a chance to show how he’s progressed in extended action tonight.

4. King Dunlap/Demetress Bell – Will the game of musical chairs at left tackle continue next week? Or will Dunlap hold onto the job? Bell has been running with the second team, and Dunlap will get the start vs. New England. Both players are in the spotlight, and one of them will often be charged with blocking the other teams’ best pass-rushers once the regular season starts. As long as Vick is in the game tonight, plugging a tight end or running back on that left side might not be a bad idea.

5. Looking for a fullback – The Eagles have a few options at fullback: Stanley Havili, Emil Igwenagu or a player to be named later (meaning the Birds sign a player who is currently on another team’s roster, but eventually gets cut). It’d be nice to see the current guys get some reps as lead blockers and receivers – two of the most important parts of playing the position in this offense.

And while it’s unlikely, just maybe we’ll see Chris Polk get a shot there. Marty Mornhinweg admitted last week that the team has at least discussed the idea of the rookie playing fullback.

6. Mychal Kendricks – The rookie linebacker will likely get matched up against tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez (unless, of course, they don’t play). The Eagles were very good at covering opposing tight ends last year, and Kendricks looks like the favorite to play alongside Ryans in the nickel package. In the first game, despite a couple miscues, Kendricks showed flashes of being the athletic, play-making linebacker the Eagles have been searching for. Coaches, and fans, will want to see more of that tonight.

7. Nnamdi Asomugha – I’m not sure how much we’re going to see of the veteran cornerback, who suffered a lip laceration and sore neck last week. He said Saturday that it’s important for him to play tonight, but I got the sense that he’s going to be smart about this. If Asomugha feels any discomfort early on (or even in pre-game warmups), look for the Birds to play it safe and hold him out.

8. Jaiquawn Jarrett – He’s fighting desperately for a roster spot. Jarrett was one of the worst (if not, the worst) players on the field in the Eagles’ first preseason game. Poor angles, blown assignments, missed tackles. You name it, and we saw it from the second-year safety. He doesn’t need to be perfect, but he needs to show the coaches something for them to stick with him once September rolls around.

9. Michael Vick – It would be ideal for him to get through the game without any type of injury scare – that’s first and foremost. From a performance standpoint, Vick can’t really prove anything one way or another until the regular season starts. But the first-team offense would like to do a little better than last week’s back-to-back three-and-outs. Vick has admitted that he didn’t really understand the quarterback position until last year, and by all accounts, he’s been 100 percent invested this offseason. Reid, Mornhinweg and the fans would like to start to see some of the results from that hard work.

10. The punting battle – Granted, not the most exciting thing to watch, but the Eagles want the punting game to be a weapon that helps the defense this season. Neither Mat McBriar nor Chas Henry did much to distinguish themselves in the first game.

“I need more,” Andy Reid said last week. “I have to see more. I didn’t see anything that just jumped out to me.”

And don’t forget to watch how McBriar looks as a holder for Alex Henery, something he’ll be responsible for if he ends up winning the job.

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

Eagles Release New Depth Chart

The Eagles released a new depth chart today, in advance of Monday’s preseason game against the Patriots. Here are some notes:

OFFENSE

* As expected, King Dunlap is the first-team left tackle. Look for him to start there in place of Demetress Bell, who is on the second team.

* Stanley Havili is the first-team fullback, with Emil Igwenagu backing him up.

* The running backs, in order behind LeSean McCoy, are Dion Lewis, Bryce Brown and Chris Polk. McCoy and Lewis are locks to make the team. Brown and Polk are fighting for spots, although at least one of them will be on the 53-man roster.

* The best example of Don’t put too much stock into the depth chart is the wide receiver position. Riley Cooper and Jason Avant are listed behind Jeremy Maclin and DeSean Jackson, respectively. Marvin McNutt, Chad Hall and Elvis Akpla are with the third team. And Damaris Johnson is a fourth-stringer. Johnson, however, has been running with the ones when Maclin’s been injured. With Cooper hurt, he’s really the No. 4 wide receiver right now.

* Along with Bell, your second-team offensive line is Julian Vandervelde (LG), Dallas Reynolds (C), Mike Gibson (RG) and Dennis Kelly (RT).

* At tight end, in order behind Brent Celek, it’s Clay Harbor, Brett Brackett and Chase Ford.

* Behind Michael Vick, in order, are Mike Kafka, Nick Foles and Trent Edwards. Kafka, of course, is recovering from a fractured left hand, and Foles is expected to run with the twos Monday night.

DEFENSE

* Derek Landri is still listed at first-team defensive tackle, alongside Cullen Jenkins. I have a hunch we might see Fletcher Cox take that spot in the next week or two. Andy Reid said today he did not have much of an update on Mike Patterson’s status. Patterson has missed all of training camp and is recovering from offseason brain surgery.

* Jaiquawn Jarrett is still listed as the second-team safety, alongside Oshiomogho Atogwe, although Tom Nelson mixed in with Jarrett earlier this week.

* Phillip Hunt is listed behind Brandon Graham on the third team, even though Hunt has been practicing as a starter in place of Jason Babin at left defensive end.

* Nothing new at linebacker, although we’ll see if Mychal Kendricks continues to line up alongside DeMeco Ryans in nickel. That may depend on whether Jamar Chaney plays.

* Cliff Harris and Kevin Thomas, who was acquired in the Colts trade, are listed with the fourth team at cornerback.

SPECIALISTS

* Mat McBriar is the first-team punter and holder.

* Johnson is the No. 1 punt returner, and Brandon Boykin is the No. 1 kick returner.

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

10 Things To Watch: Eagles vs. Steelers

Philadelphia Eagles undrafted free agent Damaris Johnson.Football in Philadelphia makes its long-awaited return tonight as the Eagles host the Steelers at Lincoln Financial Field.

Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m., and the game will be broadcast locally on 6-ABC.

Tim and I will be there, and we’ll be hosting a live chat right here, so be sure to join us.

Meanwhile, here’s a cheat-sheet for you: 10 things to keep an eye on this evening.

1. Andy Reid – It’s been the toughest week of the coach’s career. As recently as last week, talk in this town centered around whether Reid would be coaching for his job in 2012. Since his son, Garrett, died Sunday morning, Reid and his family have been overwhelmed by support from the fans, the league and others.

I’ve noticed it too – talk-show callers, online commenters and so on. Those who are usually Reid’s harshest critics are now squarely in his corner. Eagles fans have had ups and downs with the coach over the last 13 years, but it’s clear that those in attendance at the Linc are going to do whatever they can tonight to support him. It should be a special moment when Reid first walks onto the field, or when his face is first shown on the big screen.

2. The return game – The Eagles got nothing from their punt and kickoff return units last year, as DeSean Jackson and Dion Lewis struggled to make things happen. To start the preseason, Damaris Johnson and Brandon Boykin will get a chance to lock down the punt and kickoff return jobs, respectively. Johnson, an undrafted free agent out of Tulsa, has a real shot to make the team with a strong preseason. Boykin will make the team regardless, but the Eagles want to see him stand out on kickoff returns. Remember, returns are difficult to simulate in practice without live hitting on special teams, so the preseason really is important here.

3. Bryce Brown/Chris Polk – I’d be surprised if Dion Lewis didn’t start the season as LeSean McCoy’s backup, but there’s still room for competition. After a stellar high school career, Brown ran into issues at both Tennessee and Kansas State. Consider this: Brown has carried the ball just three times in game action since November 28, 2009. That’s a span of nearly three years. There’s no doubt that the seventh-round pick is anxious to show what he can do, and he told me last week he’s on every special-teams unit right now, trying to find some way to make the team.

Polk, meanwhile, has started to come on. He had a 50-yard run last week and looks comfortable as a blocker and a receiver. There’s a small chance that both Brown and Polk make the team, but more likely, they are fighting for one roster spot.

4. Brandon Graham – The former first-round pick said he’s tired of talking and ready to show what he can do. He’s had a solid training camp, and with Trent Cole and Jason Babin sidelined, Graham will get plenty of reps early on vs. the Steelers. He had three sacks and 13 hurries as a rookie, but battled injuries (and his weight) last season. Graham won’t really prove anything until the real games begin, but tonight is another step in the process.

5. Boykin vs. Hanson – The Eagles know what they have in Joselio Hanson , a player who’s been with the team since 2006. They need to find out if Boykin can wrestle the nickel corner spot away from the veteran. If he can, Hanson will likely be cut. If he can’t, the Eagles will have to keep both corners and make a cut somewhere else. Boykin has looked good at Lehigh, but will need to prove himself in game action in the coming weeks.

6. McBriar vs. Henry – I realize a punter battle isn’t going to get anyone out of their seat, but the Eagles have plenty of room for improvement on special teams. Chas Henry was unimpressive as a rookie, and if Mat McBriar is healthy, he’s the favorite to win this job. On the Eagles’ official depth chart, McBriar iss listed as the No. 1 punter.

7. Demetress Bell – Filling in for Jason Peters will be no easy task. He’s certainly shown athleticism at training camp, but Howard Mudd needs to be comfortable with him by the time Week 1 rolls around. This will be Bell’s first game action. Pay special attention to running plays designed to go to the left side. The Eagles might even try a screen or two to that side to test his athleticism.

8. DeMeco Ryans - For the first part of training camp, he pretty much blended in with the group. But in recent practices, he’s started to show glimpses of the player the Eagles described when they acquired him from the Texans in the offseason. At Lehigh, Ryans has stayed on the field in nickel situations. Keep an eye on how he looks in coverage.

9. Jaiquawn Jarrett – Nate Allen won’t play, meaning Jarrett will get plenty of chances to show that he’s improved this offseason. The 2011 second-round pick  has had a few stand-out moments at training camp, but still needs to show that he’s not a liability in coverage. Oshiomogho Atogwe, who is more of a free safety, could mix in alongside Kurt Coleman as well.

10. Danny Watkins – He’s been a bit of a forgotten man this summer. Optimists point out that the Eagles’ offensive line could be better in 2012, even without Peters. The thinking is that second-year players Jason Kelce and Watkins will improve, and Todd Herremans, who was plugged in at right tackle just before the 2011 season started, will benefit from having played there for a full year. The spotlight for me is on Watkins. He played hesitant for much of his rookie year, and while Watkins had good moments as a run blocker, he struggled in pass protection. The Eagles need the former first-round pick to live up to expectations.

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

Eagles Release Depth Chart

Philadelphia Eagles running back Dion Lewis.The Eagles have released their depth chart for Thursday night’s preseason opener against the Steelers.

Not a lot of surprises, but here are some notes.

OFFENSE

* The quarterbacks are listed as you’d expect behind Michael Vick: Mike Kafka, Nick Foles and Trent Edwards. Edwards’ days on the roster are clearly numbered. Kafka’s your backup. There’s no battle there.

* At running back, Dion Lewis is listed behind LeSean McCoy. Bryce Brown is third, and Chris Polk is fourth. Lewis has had an excellent camp and is the clear favorite to back up McCoy in the regular season. Brown has a good shot to make the roster, but Polk has shown flashes during recent practices. That’s still a competition to keep an eye on.

* Stanley Havili is the first-team fullback, ahead of Emil Igwenagu (second) and Jeremy Stewart (third).

* No surprises at wide receiver. Chad Hall is ahead of undrafted rookie free agent Damaris Johnson, but I think Johnson has a great shot of beating him out for a roster spot.

* Tight end is what you’d expect: Brent Celek, followed by Clay Harbor and Brett Brackett.

* Rookie Dennis Kelly is listed behind Todd Herremans at right tackle, but King Dunlap would be the first tackle off the bench at either spot in the regular season. He’ll likely be the only tackle active on gamedays. And don’t forget, Dunlap played guard last year too.

* Dallas Reynolds is listed as the backup center, but as Julian Vandervelde told me recently, all of the Eagles’ backup interior linemen who make the roster are going to be expected to play both guard and center. We’ll see if Vandervelde plays some center in Thursday night’s game.

DEFENSE

* With Mike Patterson out, Derek Landri is listed as the first-team defensive tackle. That’s consistent with what we’ve seen out here at practice. Fletcher Cox and Antonio Dixon are the second-team defensive tackles. Cedric Thornton is third, although he has a shot to make the roster. Cullen Jenkins is listed as a first-team tackle, although he’s been playing some defensive end with Jason Babin sidelined.

* Brandon Graham and Darryl Tapp are your second-team defensive ends. Vinny Curry and Phillip Hunt are with the third team. Curry is a lock to make the roster. Hunt is battling for a spot.

* DeMeco Ryans, Brian Rolle and Mychal Kendricks are your starting linebackers. The Eagles were in nickel (two linebackers, five defensive backs) about 47 percent of the time last season. At the start of camp, Ryans and Rolle stayed on the field. Then it was Ryans and Jamar Chaney. With Chaney injured, it’s been Ryans and Kendricks.

* Keenan Clayton is third on the depth chart at WILL, behind Rolle and Chaney. Casey Matthews is the backup middle linebacker. Akeem Jordan is behind Kendricks at SAM.

* Slot cornerback is not listed, but Joselio Hanson still has a hold on the No. 1 spot there and will try to fight off rookie Brandon Boykin in the coming weeks.

* The safeties are what you’d expect. Nate Allen and Kurt Coleman are the starters, with Oshiomogho Atogwe and Jaiquawn Jarrett as the backups.

SPECIAL TEAMS

* Mat McBriar is listed as the first-team punter, ahead of Chas Henry. If McBriar is healthy, he is the favorite to win that job.

* Johnson is the first-team punt returner, and Boykin is the first-team kickoff returner. Special teams might be the No. 1 thing to watch on Thursday night. The Eagles need to get more out of their return games in 2012.

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

Cooper To Have Surgery, Out Six Weeks

Philadelphia Eagles head coach Andy ReidEagles wide receiver Riley Cooper will have surgery Monday to fix his fractured left collarbone and will be out for about six weeks, Andy Reid said today.

That timetable would make him ready right around the time the Eagles open the season in Cleveland against the Browns.

“I think it’ll be close,” Reid said, when asked if Cooper would be ready to go for that game.

In the meantime, the Eagles do not plan on adding another wide receiver.

“I’m just going to leave it the way it is,” Reid said. “We’re going to let the young guys get some work in and see what they can do.”

Those young guys include sixth-round pick Marvin McNutt, a 6-3 rookie out of Iowa, who made a couple of nice plays yesterday. Earlier today, I wrote about Cooper’s role, McNutt’s chance and some other thoughts on the wide receivers.

BABIN WAITS ON MRI

Defensive end Jason Babin was going up against right tackle Todd Herremans when he strained his right calf yesterday. The plan was for Babin to get an MRI today, but Eagles players swallow thermometers during training camp so that the medical staff can constantly check their temperatures throughout the course of practice. Babin needs to flush the thermometer out before getting the MRI.

“I think he tweaked it pretty good,” Reid said. “I wouldn’t expect him back here this week. I think he’s going to need some time on that.”

Update: The thermometer is a pill. Zach Berman Tweeted out a photo.

VISA ISSUE FOR McBRIAR

Punter Mat McBriar, an Australian native, has an issue with his Visa that he needs to take care of before he can fully participate in practice, Reid said.

McBriar can work out without the coaches for now and should be good to go by Wednesday.

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