Ten Eagles On the Roster Bubble

Danny WatkinsBy 6 p.m. Saturday, the Eagles have to cut 22 players and get their roster down to 53. Many of the bubble guys will get a chance to make one final impression Thursday night, as Chip Kelly acknowledged there’s still “a lot up in the air.”

New offensive scheme, new defensive scheme, new coaching staff and new personnel. Kelly’s moves this weekend will tell us a lot about his roster-building philosophy. Keeping that in mind, here are 10 players whose future with the franchise hangs in the balance as we approach cut-down day.

1. Danny Watkins, OG – The 2011 first-round pick got a fresh start with new offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland, but it doesn’t seem like he’s made a strong impression. Watkins is currently a backup guard and has been passed on the depth chart by veteran Allen Barbre. Kelly wants versatility in his backups, but so far, Watkins has only played guard. As T-Mac reported yesterday, Watkins is due $1.1M in guaranteed money. But with Barbre looking like a keeper and the team needing a backup center, Watkins, who turns 29 in November, could still be out of a spot.

2. Michael Bamiro, OT – The Eagles had to compete with other teams to sign Bamiro earlier this summer. Some reports suggested he would have been a mid-round pick had he entered the draft. The question the Birds have to weigh is whether or not they’d be safe stashing Bamiro on the practice squad. The Eagles have some tackle depth. Barbre can play out there, and Todd Herremans could slide over in a pinch. The team also expects Dennis Kelly to return from back surgery at some point. Bamiro might be a nice option for the bottom of the roster. He would likely be a weekly inactive, but has plenty of upside for down the road.

3. Julian Vandervelde, G/C – It’s been a bumpy journey for the 2011 fifth-round pick. He spent his rookie season on the active roster, was cut last summer, spent a couple days with the Tampa Bay Bucs and then returned to the Eagles. He entered the league as a guard, but has been learning the center position the past two years. If the preseason is any indication, he has a good shot of sticking around as Jason Kelce’s backup. The Eagles’ other options for that spot are Dallas Reynolds and Matt Tennant.

4. Greg Salas, WR - The Eagles didn’t make any moves to add receivers after Jeremy Maclin and Arrelious Benn went down with season-ending ACL injuries. Salas had an excellent camp and flashed during the first two preseason games. He could be competing with Russell Shepard for the fifth receiver spot. Or the Eagles could decide to keep them both.

5. Russell Shepard, WR – He showed some good YAC ability during last week’s game, catching two balls for 38 yards. With Shepard, there is once again the practice squad question. There’s no doubt that the Eagles like his talent, but he went undrafted and could probably use some seasoning before he’s ready to contribute. Special teams is a factor here too. Shepard looks like a willing contributor and made a nice tackle in coverage against Carolina.

6. Clay Harbor, TE/WR - Kelly has been trying to find a spot for the fourth-year tight end. He’s been getting reps at wide receiver and has played there each of the last two preseason games. The truth is, when then Eagles spread it out in Kelly’s offense, there’s often not much of a difference between a wide receiver and a tight end. Kelly prides himself on being prepared for every situation. Harbor’s versatility could be enough to make him stick.

7. Chris McCoy, OLB – The CFL product started off the preseason well, but was not good last week against the Jaguars. The Eagles are somewhat thin at the position. Kelly said ideally, the team would keep four outside linebackers. They’ve got Connor Barwin, Trent Cole and Brandon Graham as virtual locks. This one will likely come down to who else is available. McCoy could be an initial keeper, but if the Eagles see an outside linebacker they like cut from another team, he could be released.

8. Casey Matthews, ILB – Kelly said he’d like to keep four inside linebackers also. The starters are in place with DeMeco Ryans and Mychal Kendricks. Matthews, Jake Knott and Emmanuel Acho are competing for spots. Knott is probably the favorite among that group. What we wrote about McCoy could apply here too. The Eagles could add an inside linebacker from another team’s cut list. But Matthews’ special-teams production (14 tackles last year) could help him earn a spot.

9. Clifton Geathers/Damion Square, DL – I cheated a bit here and included these two together. And really, they could both end up making it. The plan for the Eagles on gamedays seems to be to rotate six players on the defensive line. Right now, the five most likely are: Fletcher Cox, Isaac Sopoaga, Cedric Thornton, Bennie Logan and Vinny Curry. The sixth could be either Geathers or Square, with the other as a potential inactive. Square drew praise early in the preseason, but did not play well last week. Geathers had his best performance against Jacksonville. Both have played nose tackle, along with defensive end.

10. Kurt Coleman, S – The fourth-year player’s chances of making the roster increased when the Eagles released Kenny Phillips. But he’s still no lock to make it. Coleman hasn’t rotated in with the starters much, and the decision on whether to keep him or not will likely depend on if Kelly is comfortable keeping five safeties. Patrick Chung, Nate Allen and rookie Earl Wolff seem like locks. Colt Anderson has an excellent shot of sticking because of his special-teams ability. That means Coleman could be the odd man out.

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Eagles-Jaguars Game Review: The Offense

If you missed the defense, click here.

Below is the position-by-position game review of the offense.

QUARTERBACKS

* It was an uneven performance for Michael Vick. He went 15-for-23 for 184 yards, a touchdown and an interception. He also ran seven times for 53 yards. Vick did a nice job escaping pressure and finding Jason Avant down the sideline for 20 yards on the first play. He threw an absolute laser to Riley Cooper for the 9-yard TD. But he did leave plays on the field, like when he overthrew Brent Celek on the wheel route. And as Derek Sarley pointed out, he was too hesitant when he had receivers open. Vick can make up for breakdowns in protection, and he can hurt teams with his legs. But the number one factor that will determine his success in this offense is decision-making. We’ll find out where he’s at with that aspect when the Eagles take on the Redskins at FedEx Field two weeks from tonight.

* Hard to argue with the numbers for Nick Foles: 10-for-11 for 112 yards. Foles misfired on his first pass, a screen to Damaris Johnson, and then connected on his next 10. Most of them were underneath throws; only one traveled more than 10 yards from the line of scrimmage, per Pro Football Focus. But he averaged 10.2 yards per attempt as guys picked up yards after the catch. Foles moved the team and looked comfortable running the offense against Jacksonville’s backups.

RUNNING BACKS

* LeSean McCoy only played 18 snaps and carried five times for 9 yards. But he had a nice 15-yard run in the first, breaking Jason Babin’s tackle behind the line of scrimmage. He’ll rest now until Week 1.

* Bryce Brown continues to dazzle and frustrate at the same time. Eleven carries for 92 yards and a touchdown, including impressive gains of 7, 11 and 23. But he had the big fumble trying to get into the end zone in the second half.

This will come down to coaching. It’s up to Chip KellyDuce Staley and company to find a way to get Brown to secure the ball better. The talent is there. He’s got a unique blend of size and speed. But opposing defenses will be looking to punch the ball out every time he’s in the game. I still think Brown will get it down at some point. But it’s something to watch every time he’s on the field. As a blocker, Brown did a poor job with his blitz pickup on 3rd-and-8 in the first. Needs to get better in that area.

* The numbers for Chris Polk – six carries for 23 yards – weren’t great, but thought he ran well. He dragged defenders with him on a 4-yard pickup in the third and then gained 12 around the right end. Polk ran over a defensive back at the goal line on his touchdown. Normally reliable in blitz pickup, he whiffed on a play where Vick escaped and picked up 10 yards with his legs.

WIDE RECEIVERS

* DeSean Jackson continues to look comfortable in this offense. He finished with three catches for 48 yards on four targets. Jackson has six catches on nine targets this preseason and is averaging 20.5 yards per catch without a drop. A career year for No. 10 is in play.

* Avant was his usual self, keeping his feet in bounds for a 20-yard completion. He had the amazing one-handed grab on the ball that was tipped at the line of scrimmage. Overall, three catches for 36 yards on four targets. He also showed up as a blocker, doing a nice job on Polk’s runs of 12 and 11 yards, respectively.

* Cooper came down with the touchdown and made nice blocks on a screen to Avant and an 11-yard pickup by Brown. He also did a good job on Brown’s 23-yard run. Cooper figures to play a lot of snaps even if he’s not a big factor in the passing game.

* Johnson fumbled the one return but bounced back with a 61-yarder. As a receiver, he had two catches for 24 yards on three targets. On one play, he went up in traffic between defenders and snagged a 10-yarder from Foles.

* Russell Shepard got more involved, catching two balls for 38 yards. He showed good YAC ability, taking a screen 29 yards. Shepard’s firmly on the roster bubble.

TIGHT ENDS

* Brent Celek had four catches for 54 yards on seven targets, but he could have had an even bigger game. Vick overthrew him on the wheel route and also on another player early on. Celek made a nice grab for 26 yards on third down, ran hard for yards after the catch and blocked well on a bubble screen to Avant in the second.

* Zach Ertz lined up in the slot, found a soft spot in the zone and made a 13-yard grab in the first. He couldn’t hang on for what would have been a tough catch off play-action in the first as a defender delivered a forearm to his head. Up and down as a blocker. Poor job on McCoy’s 4-yard loss in the second. But excellent job on the screen to Shepard.

* James Casey was quiet again with one catch for 3 yards. He set up as a lead blocker, but whiffed on McCoy’s 15-yard run. Good block on the Shepard bubble screen in the fourth.

OFFENSIVE LINE

* Jason Peters looked great in pass protection. For the entire game, with one exception, he did not let his defender get close enough to even breathe on Vick. Even on the one play where he allowed a pressure, Vick held on to the ball for awhile before throwing it away. He was OK in the run game, but not his usual dominant self. Peters was slow to get to the linebacker on a second-quarter run that lost 4 yards. He couldn’t quite get to the linebacker on a Polk 4-yard run. Overall, though, encouraging performance from No. 71.

* Evan Mathis’ performance was shakier than usual. He had trouble with Tyson Alualu on third down during the first series and was later called for holding on 3rd-and-8, negating an 18-yard completion to Celek. Mathis got beat by Jeremy Mincey in the first and then again by Sen’Derrick Marks, who put a big hit on Vick. As we showed earlier in the week, he and Jason Kelce had an issue with a stunt and gave up a sack. Mathis was better in the run game. He threw a defender to the ground on Brown’s 5-yard run in the second. Nothing to panic about, but he did not play particularly well.

* The same goes for Jason Kelce. On the first play play, he had trouble with defensive tackle Roy Miller. On another play, Jason Babin looped inside from the left edge, and Kelce was slow to pick him up. He also had two errant snaps. One was high and ruined the timing of a zone read/bubble packaged play the Eagles had on. Vick had to throw the ball away. The other was low and fumbled by Vick. Kelce was mostly good in the run game, getting to the linebacker on McCoy’s 15-yard run and again on Brown’s 23-yard run. Still think he’ll have a good year, but not a clean performance.

* Todd Herremans has been shaky in two of three preseason games. On the second play, he had trouble with Miller and Vick ended up getting sacked. Herremans did a poor job picking up a blitzing linebacker on 3rd-and-8 in the first. Marks beat him badly on the Vick interception. Herremans, too, was better in the run game. Nice blocks on McCoy’s 15-yard run, Brown’s 7-yard run and Brown’s 23-yarder. We pointed out earlier that he and Johnson had a miscue that resulted in a 5-yard loss for McCoy. Worth keeping an eye on him early in the season, and also worth noting that Herremans was dealing with knee inflammation.

* Lane Johnson had some issues early on with Babin, getting beat on a spin move and then around the edge in the first quarter. But I thought he settled down and eventually played fine. In fact, Babin tried the same spin move in the second, and Johnson stoned him as Vick found Celek for 26 yards. Will get better as the season goes on, but Johnson should be pretty good from the start.

* A couple notes on the backups. Julian Vandervelde continues to take second-team reps at center. If he and Allen Barbre make the team, Danny Watkins could be on the outside looking in. Also, Michael Bamiro has a good chance of sticking.

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Eagles Wake-Up Call: 5 Players To Focus On

0V3J7988The third and most important preseason game is almost upon us. Saturday’s game in Jacksonville will be the final tune-up for the starting units before the season opener against the Redskins. It also represents some players’ last chance to impress the coaches before the roster gets trimmed to 75 on Tuesday. (The number goes all the way down to 53 by Aug. 31.)

Here are five Eagles that we’ll be paying close attention to:

Kenny Phillips

Phillips took part in the team walkthrough on Thursday and said he “likes his chances” of playing Saturday in Jacksonville. The veteran safety has been slowed by a quad strain recently. The bigger issue for him is his history of knee issues.

“At the end of the day they kind of leave it in my hands,” said Phillips. “As much as I want to go out there and play I have to be smart. We still have one more preseason game left (beyond Saturday) so if I don’t have a chance to play this week I definitely have next week.

“The biggest thing is they want me to be healthy so when I am out there I can put some good things on tape. I’m definitely pressing the issue because I definitely want to get out there and show them exactly what I [can] do.”

Given the state of the safety position, the Eagles would love Phillips to show them something. But it has to happen soon.

Trent Cole/Brandon Graham

The Eagles are lacking experience at the outside linebacker position in a pretty big way. Connor Barwin has played the position but the two other key contributors — Cole and Graham — are green. The other potential option at OLB — Chris McCoy — has not played a regular-season snap at this level.

Can they get by with what they have, or do they need to go onto the open market?

“You know, they’re learning,” said Chip Kelly. “I think Connor Barwin has great experience at that position because he’s played here before and I’ve been really impressed with Trent and Brandon as they come along, but you always want more depth no matter what position you’re at.  You’d like to have another guy or two there that you can count on.  But there’s want‑to‑haves and need‑to‑haves, and again, it depends on what’s available.”

Danny Watkins

Watkins has returned to action following a concussion and is expected to play against the Jaguars. In the preseason opener versus the Patriots, he played right guard with the second team.

Todd Herremans missed some time this week with knee inflammation. Allen Barbre apparently worked with the first unit in his absence instead of Watkins, and could get the start against the Jags if Herremans can’t go.

Is Watkins in the team’s plans? The guess here is that he makes it, but I don’t know that it’s a sure thing. Curious to see how he looks Saturday.

Russell Shepard

Shepard enjoyed a strong camp (particularly early) but only has one grab for four yards (on six targets) in preseason play. He might be right on the bubble. Do the Eagles carry both Greg Salas and Shepard? Just one? If so, can Shepard win the job?

Perhaps Saturday’s game will help influence management’s decision.

WHAT YOU MISSED

Kelly says time of possession “is how much time can the other team waste.”

Vick ranked No. 1 in the team’s offseason program.

Another great play breakdown by Sheil, this one on the Eagles’ latest triple option. 

Vick says he “will be a threat” to run in the Eagles’ offense.

Jason Peters is bullish on this offense.

WHAT THEY’RE SAYING

ESPN.com has DeSean Jackson ranked as the 16th best player in the NFC East.

When he has the ball in his hands, he’s a threat to go the distance from anywhere on the field. The issue with Jackson the past few years has been an inability to consistently get open, and it’s fair to assume the inconsistent quarterback play the Eagles have had in recent seasons has factored in as well. Jackson hasn’t had a 60-catch season since 2009 or a 1,000-yard season since 2010, and he’s only scored six touchdowns, total, the past two years. But the ability is clearly there to do big things. And if Kelly can find a way to get Jackson the ball, there’s still a chance to see that potential translate into a big-numbers wide receiver year the likes of which we’ve been anticipating from Jackson since he arrived in the league.

Les Bowen notes that Lane Johnson hasn’t looked very “raw” despite having that label coming out of college.

“If he was, he’s not anymore,” left guard Evan Mathis said yesterday…

Johnson heard all the “raw” talk, and was acutely aware that he lacked an extensive offensive-line background.

“You’re going into a new environment, there’s going to be new tests, but once you get into the fire, it’s not as bad as what it seems,” he said.

COMING UP

Travel day for the Eagles. We’ll be checking in live from Jacksonville.

Eagles-Patriots Game Review: The Offense

Lane JohnsonWe went over a couple specific offensive concepts on Saturday, and you can click here for a breakdown of the defense.

But below is a position-by-position look at how the offense performed, after having reviewed the game.

QUARTERBACKS

* Michael Vick was sharp on the Eagles’ first two possessions, completing four of five passes for 94 yards and a touchdown. He showed great patience in the pocket, finding Jason Avant for 22 yards over the middle on the first possession, a big-time throw with three defenders closing in. And his 47-yard bomb to DeSean Jackson was a beauty. It’s worth noting that pass came against a blitz from New England. The ball traveled 48 yards in the air and landed right in Jackson’s hands. Later, Vick delivered a strike to Riley Cooper on a rollout to his right. The Eagles slowed things down to start the game, and I don’t recall seeing Vick run a true zone read. But don’t be surprised if we see him go no-huddle next week vs. Carolina.

Nick Foles played well also, although the style of play was different when he was in the game. The Eagles pushed tempo and went with a more controlled attack. While Vick chucked it down the field, none of Foles’ six attempts traveled more than 10 yards from the line of scrimmage. He showed good command in the no-huddle though and completed five of six passes for 43 yards. The Patriots brought a five-man blitz on third down in the second, and Foles got rid of the ball quickly, finding Bryce Brown for 8 yards and a first down. He also did a great job with the play-fake before rolling to his left and finding Avant for a gain of 12. Foles will get the start Thursday vs. Carolina.

* Up-and down performance for Matt Barkley. He underthrew Russell Shepard deep on his first pass attempt and made too many throws that left receivers vulnerable to big hits. There were at least two throws that could have been picked off. Barkley made the right decision on a zone read. The DE crashed inside, and he took off for 8 yards. He seemed to settle down later in the game, finding Clay Harbor for a couple of big gains and leading the Eagles on a touchdown drive.

RUNNING BACKS

* The coaches decided to start Chris Polk since he played well in camp. He carried four times for 7 yards, and none of his attempts picked up more than 4 yards. Polk is the Eagles’ best blocking back, and that showed on the 47-yard touchdown to Jackson. He did an excellent job picking up blitzing linebacker Jerod Mayo.

Chris Polk

polk2

You can see Vick has a clean pocket to deliver.

* I thought Bryce Brown really played well. Five carries for 22 yards and two catches for 19 yards. Brown hasn’t flashed good hands at practice, but he got matched up against a linebacker and had a nice 8-yard catch and run on 3rd-and-5. He picked up 11 on another reception. There were a couple occasions where it looked like he might have missed his blocking assignments. One was when Foles faced an unblocked defender and scrambled for 11 yards. Brown also had the 8-yard touchdown run.

* Felix Jones did not look good. Eight carries for 31 yards. He also had a drop, and it looked like he missed a blitz pickup assignment.

* Matthew Tucker only had 33 yards on 10 carries, but he caught the 2-point conversion. Has a chance to stick if Jones doesn’t improve.

WIDE RECEIVERS

* Not much to add that hasn’t already been mentioned on DeSean Jackson. Vick said he went deep because the Patriots had a single high safety. I’m curious about what his route would have been had the coverage been different.

* Great job by Jason Avant not only going up for the 22-yard catch in between three defenders, but also getting down quickly and avoiding a big hit.

* Riley Cooper got the start opposite Jackson and came down with a 19-yard grab in the second.

* Russell Shepard led the team with six targets, but didn’t get much of a chance to make plays. He had just one grab for 4 yards. Nice effort on the deep ball from Barkley that was underthrown.

* Ifeanyi Momah simply does not look like he’s ready. Poor job as a blocker when Barkley took off on the zone read in the second. Momah then had a false start on the very next play. He got laid out down the right sideline in the third. And Momah was shoved out of bounds by the defender on the next play. Practice squad seems likely for 2013.

* Very nice 62-yard punt return by Damaris Johnson.

* I probably haven’t shown Greg Salas enough love up to this point. I thought Kelly said it best after the game: Salas just keeps showing up. Great individual effort on the touchdown in the fourth. Salas got no blocking on the quick screen, but avoided three defenders and scampered into the end zone. He also made a sensational 35-yard grab on the final drive. He’s got a chance to stick.

TIGHT ENDS

* Per Pro Football Focus, 14 of Zach Ertz’s 22 snaps were pass plays. And Ertz went out into his route on 13 of those 14. He was in the slot on the first two plays from scrimmage. Two catches for 10 yards on three targets. Did not look good as a blocker. Ertz was slow to get to Brandon Spikes on an early Polk run.

Did you see Brent Celek in the backfield on the Eagles’ first play? He fumbled after making a grab in the second. At this point, looks like a much better blocker than Ertz.

* Still not sure if there’s a spot here for Clay Harbor, but he made a couple nice grabs – a 22-yarder and a 20-yarder from Barkley in the second half.

OFFENSIVE LINE

* Really liked what I saw from Lane Johnson as a run-blocker. This was the second play of the game. Johnson is matched up with outside linebacker Rob Ninkovich.

johnson1

johnson2

Couldn’t get a good shot of Johnson taking Ninkovich to the ground, but that’s exactly what he did. And afterwards, Johnson used Ninkovich to prop himself up.

johnson3

Later, he showed off his great athleticism, starting off on a double-team with Celek, before peeling off and looking for a defensive back to hit downfield. Johnson had some issues in pass protection, but an encouraging start for the rookie.

* Given his resume, there’s probably no need to panic, but Todd Herremans did not play well. He whiffed on his block, pulling to the left side on a Polk run that picked up just 1 yard. And Herremans got beaten badly by Tommy Kelly on the Foles sack/fumble. The bright spot for Herremans was his block on Brown’s TD run.

* As for the rest of the starters, Jason Kelce looked good, especially on Brown’s TD run. Evan Mathis was solid as usual. And Allen Barbre was up and down. No one’s going to confuse him for Jason Peters, and he had some issues in pass protection, but was OK overall.

* In terms of the backups, Danny Watkins had a few good moments. He did a nice job on Barkley’s deep attempt to Sheppard. And later, he switched off his man against a stunt on a Barkley incompletion. Watkins was called for holding in the third. Matt Kopa had issues. And Julian Vandervelde played center with the second team. He got overpowered at times and was called for holding, but otherwise was OK. Looked better than he did last preseason.

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Taking Stock Of the Eagles’ WR Situation

DeSean JacksonWith Jeremy Maclin out for the year and Riley Cooper taking an indefinite leave of absence, the Eagles’ WR group has gone from one of the deeper units on the team to a question mark.

The team could add a player or two in the coming weeks, but given that it’s Aug. 4, there aren’t a lot of attractive options out there. Keeping that in mind, let’s take stock of where the current wide receivers on the roster stand.

DeSean Jackson – After a bit of a bumpy start with Chip Kelly in the spring, Jackson looks locked in, constantly beating Eagles’ defensive backs downfield and hauling in bombs from both Michael Vick and Nick Foles during practice sessions.

“I think he’s an explosive player,” Kelly said. “I think he’s very difficult to cover in one‑on‑one situations.  We’re trying to figure out as we get through what his comfort level is, what routes he feels really good with. I think we’re starting to get a feel for him. Quarterback’s getting a feel for him. Our coaching staff is getting a feel for him. I’m excited about what his future holds with us.”

It’s true that Kelly wants his quarterbacks to get rid of the ball quickly, and the Eagles look like they’ll run plenty of bubble screens to the wideouts. But they have not been shy about chucking it downfield either. When Jackson’s at his best, he’s one of the premier vertical threats in the game. That fact is not lost on Kelly.

Damaris Johnson – With Cooper gone, he took the majority of first-team reps opposite Jackson on Friday. In a small sample size (25.4 percent of the offensive snaps, per Pro Football Focus), Johnson caught 19 balls on 28 targets for 256 yards as a rookie.

But would Mr. “Big people beat up little people” really want to play two starting wide receivers that measure in at 5-10 and 5-8, respectively?

“In the ideal world, no,” Kelly said. “I think I would love everybody to be MegaTron [Calvin Johnson]. If we had five of them, that would be a great situation. Again, that’s why I don’t know.  If we get to September 9 and those are our two best guys, we’re going to play with what we have.”

Johnson has had a good camp and seems to have solidified his grasp on a roster spot, but as Jimmy Kempski has detailed over at Philly.com, the size factor is an issue.

Jason Avant – You know what you’re getting with Avant. Reliable, tough, great hands. But his skills translate as a slot receiver only. Avant’s not posing much of a threat to opposing cornerbacks on the outside. A few weeks ago, I thought he could be a surprise cut. But that seems highly unlikely now.

Arrelious Benn – As the old saying goes, you can’t make the club in the tub.

When the Eagles acquired Benn from the Bucs, he said: “If I’m being honest with you, I don’t like my career. I’ve got to stay healthy. I haven’t stayed healthy. I’ve had a problem with injuries. When I was healthy and out there, I made plays. I was consistent. But the big thing for me is to stay healthy. It’s no secret for me, I know that. I’m going to be honest with myself. Just come in here and do what I’ve got to do.”

Benn has battled a knee injury during the first week of camp and has missed practice time. The truth is, if healthy, he’s got a great opportunity to resurrect what has been a disappointing career. He has size and is a good blocker. On the surface, Benn would be a nice complement to Jackson on the outside. But given how much Kelly values practice time, he faces an uphill battle if he can’t stay healthy.

No option is off the table right now with Benn. He could be starting Week 1. He could be off the team.

Russell Shepard – I had him as my deep sleeper even before camp started, and Shepard has not disappointed this summer. He’s shown great hands, consistency and the ability to line up in a variety of places. Shepard’s performance in the preseason will go a long way in determining his standing on the roster, but based on what we’ve seen so far, Kelly is going to have a really difficult time cutting him.

Ifeanyi Momah – Standing on the sidelines, I overhear a lot of fan conversations during camp practices. And the one guy whose name constantly comes up is Momah.

At 6-7, 239, with 4.40 speed, he’s got the attention of the Eagles’ faithful.

The key with Momah is finding a way to capitalize on those measurables. He hasn’t played in a game in nearly two years, and the speed, specifically, has not shown up on the practice field. I can’t remember having seen Momah run past defenders during any team drills.

Having said that, he had probably his best practice on Friday, making a nice adjustment on a deep ball for a touchdown near the end of practice.

Momah would add an element (size) the other receivers on the roster don’t possess. But he’ll have to prove to the coaches over the next several weeks that he’s worthy of a roster spot.

***

Dave Ball, Nick Miller, Greg Salas and Will Murphy are the other receivers in camp, but they are all longshots to make the roster.

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Russell Shepard Riding High After Vick Endorsement

Michael Vick singled out Russell Shepard on Saturday, saying that out of all the young receivers on the roster, he is the one that has stood out the most.

Little did Vick know how much that would mean to the undrafted rookie out of LSU. Shepard played quarterback through high school. Guess who he tried to emulate on the field?

“My whole persona and way I played the football game was to be like Michael Vick,” said the Texas native following Sunday’s practice at the Linc.  ”For my idol, my favorite player of all time, my mentor to say some good things about me, words can’t explain the way that makes me feel.”

Shepard was actually recruited as a quarterback out of Cypress Ridge High School by Chip Kelly, but ultimately turned down Oregon to attend LSU. There he was tried out at QB, running back, and even safety, he said, but ultimately settled in at receiver. Still, he only totaled 20 catches over the final two seasons of his collegiate career.

“The receiver position I was very new to, so it took me a year or two to really get acclimated and used to playing it,” he said. “From catching the football to running routes. When I really started to catch my rhythm it was towards the back end of my senior year.”

According to Shepard, most NFL teams were looking at him as a defensive back. Kelly saw him as a receiver.

So far, Shepard looks the part. He has caught most of the balls thrown in his direction and has provided a couple highlights in the early stages of training camp, including a pretty grab on a deep ball from his idol during Saturday’s practice.

It appears that the extra work he is putting in is paying off. Taking his cues from Jason Avant, Shepard stays after practice each day to catch balls out of the jugs machine. He tries to catch an additional 100 balls every day. Though he’ll have to cut it short for a meeting on occasion, he does no less than 50.

Shepard’s prospects of making the team improved when Jeremy Maclin went down with a torn ACL.

“I look at it as, one of our guys went down, a mentor of mine, and I look forward to making him proud,” said the 6-1, 195-pound wideout. “Making him proud is being able to fill in until he comes back, catching footballs, being able to make plays. My thing is, I want to make Jeremy proud, and being able to make plays is the way I’ll do that.”

Shepard has been lining up primarily in the slot, but saw his first action on the outside on Sunday.

He’ll have a chance over the next several weeks to make his case for why the Eagles should keep him around. If he succeeds? Who knows, maybe he’ll be able to catch a pass from Vick in a regular season game.

Does Vick know he grew up idolizing him?

“I don’t know. I’ve never told him. I kind of get a little shy saying stuff life that,” said Shepard. “But at the same time, I told him to check out my quarterback highlights.”

Those highlights can be found below, Mike.

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The Eagles’ Candidates To Replace Maclin

Riley CooperThe Eagles were dealt their first big blow of the summer, losing Jeremy Maclin for the season with a torn ACL injury Saturday.

Entering the final year of his deal, Maclin was committed to proving his worth on the field this offseason.

“I think Jeremy Maclin has emerged as one of the hardest-working guys on our team,” Michael Vick said last month at Maclin’s football camp in West Deptford, N.J. “You watch him in the weight room, he goes in there and he’s just a different person there. So I think that’ll translate over to the field.”

Instead, Maclin faces surgery and a grueling rehab regimen away from his teammates in the months ahead.

In the past three seasons, Maclin has averaged 67 catches, 893 yards and seven touchdowns. So how will the Eagles replace that production in 2013? Here’s a look at their current options on the roster.

Riley Cooper -  He’s shown flashes of ability, but Cooper (6-3, 222) got a chance for extended playing time last season and didn’t put up great numbers. In the seven games where he played at least 70 percent of the Eagles’ offensive snaps (per Pro Football Focus), Cooper managed a total of 19 catches for 206 yards (29.4 per game) and two touchdowns.

Then again, he was operating in an offense that was a complete mess. Cooper has a few things going for him. Most notably, his size and his ability as a blocker, something Chip Kelly values. Cooper is unlikely to match Maclin’s production, but he’s probably the favorite right now to replace him as a starter.

Damaris Johnson – If Kelly is looking for a yards-after-the-catch guy, Johnson is the best option. He played 25.4 percent of the offensive snaps last year, finishing with 19 catches for 256 yards. But Johnson made the most of his limited action, averaging 5.5 yards after the catch, tops on the team, per PFF. He did not drop a ball and forced five missed tackles.

Johnson might be better suited for a slot role, but last year, 16 of his 19 receptions came while playing on the outside. At 5-8, he’s not going to be as physical a blocker as Cooper, and playing Johnson alongside 5-10 DeSean Jackson would give the Eagles one of the smallest pairs of receivers in the NFL.

Arrelious Benn - The Eagles acquired him from the Bucs this offseason, so Kelly clearly likes Benn’s skill set (All-22 breakdown here). Benn can line up in multiple places, has good size (6-2, 220) and is probably the best blocking wide receiver on the team. But he has not been productive (59 catches) in his first three seasons. Benn has battled injuries in the past and already was dealing with a left knee issue on the first day of camp. If he can stay healthy in the coming weeks, though, he’ll have a chance to compete for playing time.

Ifeanyi Momah – He’s a longshot, but Kelly’s plan is to let the competition play out on the field, so there’s no sense in counting anyone out at this point. The 6-7 wide receiver out of Boston College has a rare blend of size and speed. It’s been nearly two years since he’s played in a real game though. Having him step in and and be a starter right away is probably asking too much. We’ll have a better sense of how Momah’s progressing a few weeks from now.

Zach Ertz/Brent Celek/James Casey – Most observers (present company included) expect the Eagles to use plenty of two tight-end sets. But that doesn’t solve the problem of losing Maclin. Sure, Ertz, Celek and Casey can line up outside on occasion, but that’s not going to happen every play. Even in two tight-end sets, you need two wide receivers on the field. Kelly will mix and match personnel depending on the game-plan and the opponent, but the Eagles still need to find an outside receiver who can line up opposite Jackson.

The others – Jason Avant is a reliable veteran, but he’s a slot receiver and doesn’t pose a threat on the outside. Undrafted free agent Russell Shepard seems best-suited for a slot role too. The other wide receivers on the Eagles’ roster are Greg Salas, Will Murphy, Dave Ball and B.J. Cunningham. They are all longshots to make the roster at this point.

Follow Sheil Kapadia on Twitter and e-mail him at skapadia@phillymag.com.
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Projected Depth Chart: Eagles’ Offense

We went over the defense yesterday.

Here is the projected depth chart for the Eagles’ offense, based on what we saw during spring practices. Explanations below.

 
First Team
Second Team
Third Team
QBMichael Vick/Nick FolesMichael Vick/Nick FolesMatt Barkley
RBLeSean McCoyBryce BrownChris Polk
LTJason PetersDennis KellyEd Wang
LGEvan MathisDanny WatkinsNate Menkin
CJason KelceDallas ReynoldsMatt Tennant
RGTodd HerremansAllen BarbreMatt Kopa
RTLane JohnsonDennis KellyMatt Tobin
TEBrent CelekZach ErtzJames Casey
WRDeSean JacksonDamaris JohnsonGreg Salas
WRJeremy MaclinRiley CooperIfeanyi Momah
WRJason AvantArrelious BennRussell Shepard

Quarterback: You can view it as a cop-out, but really this is the most accurate way to rank them. Vick and Foles split first-team reps at every practice I attended. I know some people charted overall reps, but that can be a bit deceiving. For example, if a quarterback throws a 50-yard touchdown on the first play of a drill, he generally comes off. That’s only one rep, but it’s a successful one. The same thing happens if the quarterback throws an interception.

Expect Vick and Foles to continue the back-and-forth well into the preseason. Chip Kelly wants to see how each guy responds when faced with the possibility of getting crushed by an opposing defensive player. He has plenty of tape to go off of, but Kelly needs to see how each quarterback handles the new concepts he and his coaching staff have implemented.

Barkley appears to be a clear No. 3 at this point, but I’m not ready to rule anything out.

Kelly has said consistently that the competition will play itself out on the field, and the best performer will be named the starter. His track record at Oregon suggests that’s one of his core beliefs and not just lip service.

Settle in. I wouldn’t expect a winner to be announced until close to that Week 1 matchup against the Redskins.

Running back: McCoy and Brown both figure to see plenty of action in this offense.

Behind them, Polk, Felix Jones and undrafted free agent Matthew Tucker will be competing for roster spots. Polk has dropped weight from a year ago and seemed to be ahead of the other two during spring practices.

Jones provides versatility and could have a leg up if he can be effective as a returner and stay healthy.

Since the Eagles don’t have a fullback on the roster, they could potentially keep four running backs.

Wide receiver: This was a tough one. You’ll notice that the depth chart I’m using features “11″ personnel, or one running back, one tight end and three wide receivers.

Avant is a difficult player to evaluate in this scheme. He doesn’t have exceptional size or speed, but he catches anything near him and is the toughest receiver on the roster. Avant is also someone who can set an example for younger players. He’s already taken Sheppard under his wing this offseason.

Benn is not exclusively a slot receiver, even though I put him behind Avant. He was a disappointment in Tampa, but has a versatile skill set. Benn’s chance to prove himself will come in the summer when the pads are on. He’s probably the best blocker among this group.

Cooper and Johnson return from last year’s squad and will have to earn spots. Johnson improved throughout the course of his rookie season and showed the ability to make plays after the catch. He’s also in the mix as a return man. Cooper didn’t do much when given the opportunity to start last year, but he has good measurables and is only 25.

Sheppard looked good during the spring, and Momah’s size (6-foot-7) is intriguing.

This is a crowded position with players with different skill sets. We’ll find out a lot about what Kelly is looking for from his wide receivers after the roster is trimmed down to 53.

Tight end: The depth chart here is a bit misleading. By all accounts, the Eagles are expected to use a lot of two tight-end sets under Kelly. I still think Celek will play the most snaps this season, but he could be on the field with Ertz or Casey quite a bit.

Ertz missed spring practices because of the NCAA graduation rule. And Casey spent several practices on the bike, following arthroscopic knee surgery .

Left tackle/right tackle: Peters has drawn glowing reviews from coaches and teammates, and Johnson has taken over as the starting right tackle.

Kelly looks to be the favorite to be the first backup at both spots (which is why he’s listed twice). He doesn’t appear to have a lot of competition.

Left guard/right guard: Mathis missed time with an ankle injury, but returned last week. Herremans makes the switch to right guard from right tackle.

In terms of depth, Barbre and Watkins are vying for the first backup guard spot.

Center: Kelly has praised Kelce for being in the building rehabbing all offseason. The third-year center is coming off of ACL surgery, but participated in team drills for the first time last week. He’s expected to be fully cleared by training camp.

The backup spot is up for grabs. Reynolds and Tennant are both in the mix.

Follow Sheil Kapadia on Twitter and e-mail him at skapadia@phillymag.com.
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Shepard Moving On After Post-Draft Blunder

Russell Shepard is probably as happy as anyone to be through the draft process and onto an NFL practice field.

Not only did the LSU wide receiver go undrafted in late April, but got off on the wrong foot with the team that eventually scooped him up — the Eagles — by telling a Louisiana radio station that he signed a deal with Philadelphia while the draft was still ongoing. Teams are not permitted to  negotiate a contract until the draft concludes. A league representative told Birds 24/7 that they were looking into the situation to determine the facts. The Eagles had to put out a statement denying Shepard’s claims.

It wasn’t an ideal first impression.

“I just made a mistake,” said Shepard following the first day of rookie minicamp. “It was something that I was speaking too fast. One word changed the whole thing of it. But I learned from it and I am going to grow from it.”

Did he get a talking to from Chip Kelly?

“Actually, no. I didn’t have a conversation with anybody,” said Shepard. “They talked to my agent that next day and they told me what I needed to do. It was just kind of (slaps his wrist), ‘Don’t do it again.’”

An NFL spokesman, when asked if the league had reached a conclusion on the matter, only responded: “There is nothing further we plan to say.”

With that bumpy start in the rear-view the focus turns to what Shepard can offer the Eagles.   The 6-1, 195-pounder went to LSU as a dual-threat quarterback and saw time at multiple positions. He finished his career with 733 rushing yards and 565 receiving yards on 58 catches. Kelly, who recruited Shepard out of high school, is clearly drawn to versatile players.

“It’s amazing because I get to play a little bit of everything in this scheme,” said Shepard. “From slot to outside to running back. An opportunity for me to touch the ball in different ways. It’s a very diverse offense — very cool.”

During  that regrettable radio interview, Shepard also suggested that the Eagles were already getting packages ready for him to take advantage of his skill set. While that seems like a stretch, there is opportunity for guys like Shepard at the dawn of a new era.

“[Kelly] told us that everybody is going to get an opportunity. If you can play football — whether you’re a first-round draft pick or a guy that’s getting a tryout — you’re going to get a chance to play football out here if you can play,” he said. “That was a part of the reason why I came here.”

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NFL Looking Into Russell Shepard Claims

Wide receiver Russell Shepard raised some eyebrows when he told a Louisiana radio station that the Eagles had signed him to a free-agent contract before the draft was over, which would be against the rules. The NFL is checking it out.

“Yes, we are looking into it to determine the facts,” said league spokesman Greg Aiello.

Shepard said Chip Kelly reached out to him at the beginning of the sixth round and explained that the Eagles wanted him, but were short on picks after trading away a seventh-rounder to move up and grab Matt Barkley.

“I actually took myself off the draft board during the draft,” Shepard told the station. “Teams started calling me probably in the middle of the sixth round asking me ‘is it true that you’ve signed with a team already? The draft isn’t even over?’ and I actually got it out of the way before the draft was over.”

The Eagles, through a statement, said Shepard’s account is off the mark.

“Russell Shepard has not signed a contract with the Philadelphia Eagles. However, we did come to terms on a contract with he and his agent after the draft was completed. We anticipate he, like all of the rookie free agents we have agreed to terms with, will take a physical examination upon arriving in Philadelphia prior to next week’s rookie mini-camp and then sign a contract.”

Teams are allowed to contact a player during the draft to express interest. If they are on the clock, they are permitted to discuss financial parameters with a player or his agent. They cannot negotiate a contract until the draft concludes.

Shepard said Kelly recruited him out of high school. As the draft went on, he said he decided that the Eagles would be the best fit for his versatile skill-set.  The 6-1, 195-pounder went to LSU as a dual-threat quarterback and saw time at multiple positions. He finished his career with 733 rushing yards and 565 receiving yards on 58 catches. Sheppard ran a 4.46 at his Pro Day, according to Gil Brandt of NFL.com. Brandt also reported that some teams were looking at him as a defensive back.

Shepard stated that he recently had a conversation with receivers coach Bob Bicknell, who relayed that the team was already getting packages ready for him. He added that there could be an opportunity to run some Wildcat “because they are trying to take some pressure off Mike Vick. They don’t want him to get hit as much. I have an opportunity to make a lot of plays and be very involved in this offense.”

The thought of the coaches already concocting plays for an undrafted free agent seems like a stretch. It is possible his draft-day story is as well.

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