Roster Analysis: Evaluating the Eagles’ Defense

Jordan PoyerIf you missed the offense, click here.

Now for the position-by-position look at what the Eagles’ defense looks like after initial cuts to 53.

Defensive line (7): Fletcher Cox, Isaac Sopoaga, Cedric Thornton, Bennie Logan, Clifton Geathers, Damion Square, Vinny Curry.

Chip Kelly has indicated that the plan will likely be to keep six defensive linemen active on gamedays and rotate them in. Cox (RDE), Sopoaga (NT) and Thornton (LDE) figure to be the starters. If Logan performs like he did in the preseason, he’ll be pushing for major snaps from the get-go.

Curry might have been the Eagles’ best defensive player in the preseason, but no one in the organization has indicated that he will have a major role in his second season. This is just a situation where we have to wait and see what happens in Week 1. That will tell us what the coaches really think of Curry.

Either Square or Geathers will likely be a gameday inactive. Square, an undrafted free agent, beat out seventh-round pick David King. Both Square and Geathers took snaps at defensive end and nose tackle in the spring.

Outside linebacker (3): Connor Barwin, Trent Cole, Brandon Graham.

Assuming he’s healthy and well-conditioned, Barwin’s not going to get many snaps off this season. He’s the only true 3-4 outside linebacker on the roster.

If the preseason was any indication, Cole will start at ROLB, and Graham will rotate in. The Eagles got rid of every other outside linebacker on the roster, including Chris McCoy, whom many (present company included) thought had a good shot to make it.

Howie Roseman was asked about depth here and said Curry could play outside linebacker in a pinch. He mentioned Casey Matthews’ name too. Obviously, those are not ideal options, so don’t be surprised if the Eagles add a player here in the coming days.

Inside linebacker (5): DeMeco Ryans, Mychal Kendricks, Jake Knott, Emmanuel Acho, Casey Matthews.

Ryans and Kendricks are the unquestioned starters and will rarely come off the field.

It will be interesting to see who’s active on gamedays from this group. Acho might be the best backup option should Ryans or Kendricks go down. Matthews didn’t seem to show much progress defensively in the preseason, but he had 14 special-teams tackles a year ago, second on the team.

And Knott is a bit of a wild card. The coaching staff and organization seem to love the undrafted free agent out of Iowa State. But they’ll have to determine if he’s ready to dress on gamedays from the get-go.

Cornerback (6): Cary Williams, Bradley Fletcher, Brandon Boykin, Curtis Marsh, Brandon Hughes, Jordan Poyer.

I guess the Eagles were going for strength in numbers. The secondary is a giant question mark, but the team currently has 11 defensive backs on the roster.

Williams and Fletcher figure to start, with Boykin serving as the nickel. Marsh and Hughes both have hand injuries, but Roseman indicated neither is expected to be out for a considerable amount of time.

Poyer missed much of the spring because of NCAA rules, but came on late in camp, and the Eagles didn’t want to give up on the seventh-round pick.

Don’t be surprised if the team shakes things up here if other cornerback options become available.

Safeties (5): Patrick Chung, Nate Allen, Earl Wolff, Colt Anderson, Kurt Coleman.

Chung has one starting spot locked down. The other will be occupied by either Allen or Wolff.

Anderson is an ace special-teamer and will be active on gamedays. Chip Kelly raved about Coleman after the final preseason game.

Once again, not an ideal set of options, but the Eagles will try to piece something together at safety with these five guys.

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Eagles-Jaguars Game Review: The Defense

Below is a position-by-position review of what we saw from the Eagles’ defense Saturday night against Jacksonville after having reviewed the game.

Note: Snap counts are courtesy of Pro Football Focus.

DEFENSIVE LINE

* After the first game, we, along with others, expressed some concern about Fletcher Cox. That seems like a long time ago, doesn’t it? Cox was really good against the Jaguars. He pressured Chad Henne on a second-down throw in the first and was very active against the run, bringing Maurice Jones-Drew down after a pair of 2-yard runs. Maybe most importantly, he made a play that reminded everyone of his elite athleticism.

In the third quarter, Henne scrambled and tried to get to the right sideline for a first down on 3rd-and-5, but Cox wasn’t having it.

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Granted, Henne is not Robert Griffin III, but those are the kinds of plays we saw during Cox’s outstanding rookie season.

* Really not seeing a lot from Isaac Sopoaga. I know that’s a “dirty work” position and Sopoaga’s a veteran, but he doesn’t seem to be causing much disruption on the interior. We’ll get a better look with the All-22 during the regular season, but I still think Bennie Logan could take over the starting nose tackle spot early in the season.

* Not a good showing by undrafted rookie Damion Square. He lined up at nose tackle, but somehow ended up on the other side of Logan (RDE) on the 63-yard Jordan Todman run. That helped open up the huge cutback lane.

* Clifton Geathers was on the receiving end of a cut block on that play, but overall, he was pretty active. Good penetration to disrupt Denard Robinson’s 1-yard run in the first. And Geathers pressured Henne in the second, forcing him to scramble for a 1-yard run. He’s on the roster bubble. I think he’s got a good shot of sticking around though.

* Cedric Thornton did well as a pass-rusher. He got decent pressure on Henne on third down in the first, then beat the right guard badly to sack Henne on first down of the next series.

* What else does Vinny Curry have to do to earn more playing time? He’s been the Eagles’ most active defender this preseason. Curry’s ability to get off the ball quicker than everyone else on the field has been fun to watch. Great penetration, bursting through the backfield on Todman’s third-quarter run that lost a yard. Later in the series, Curry rushed from LDE, got the better of the right guard and hit Henne as he was releasing the ball in the red zone. Great first step on the very next play, hitting Henne again. He then had a sack and also forced a fumble in the third. It’s going to be interesting to see how many snaps Curry gets once the season starts.

OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS

* On passing downs, Trent Cole rushed the QB 11 times and dropped into coverage seven times, per PFF. He came from RDE in the second and hit Henne on a third-down pass. Cole was OK against the run, missing a tackle on an 8-yard Jones-Drew run, but stopping Todman after a 1-yard gain. Didn’t notice him much in coverage. Only thing left to do now is wait and see how he fits in a couple weeks.

* This was Connor Barwin’s best performance of the preseason, as his versatility was on full display. The Birds’ starting left outside linebacker lined up over the slot receiver, dropped back into coverage and made a tremendous interception in the second. Later, he stood up in the A-Gap, ran a twist with Thornton, attacked the center and came up with a sack. Barwin had a nice rush and got his hands on Henne on the first-quarter touchdown pass. He’s had a nice summer.

* Brandon Graham had a couple nice moments. He set the edge and forced Robinson inside on a 1-yard run in the first. And he came off the edge in the red zone in the third, forcing Henne to step up into a Curry sack. Still don’t know how he’s going to be used in the regular season.

* I fully expect the Eagles to add an outside linebacker after other teams make cuts. Chris McCoy has a chance to stick. Everette Brown has had a quiet summer, but flashed a bit in the fourth quarter vs. Jacksonville. Don’t think he’s going to make it though.

INSIDE LINEBACKERS

* Mychal Kendricks was very active for the second straight game. He dropped Jones-Drew for no gain on the first play and later had good coverage on the running back on a third-down incompletion. Kendricks had a sack in the second, which was mostly due to miscommunication by the Jaguars’ offense. Henne was looking to throw, but his receivers were run-blocking. On the next play, Kendricks got in the passing lane, leaped and batted down a pass at the line of scrimmage.

The second-year player was not perfect. He was taken to the ground by the fullback on Jones-Drew’s 7-yard run on 3rd-and-1. But overall, a fine performance.

* DeMeco Ryans has had a quiet preseason, but that was the case last year, and he was great when the games started counting. Ryans was crushed by the fullback on Todman’s 14-yard run on 4th-and-1. But again, don’t see any need to panic.

* The Eagles let Jamar Chaney go yesterday. Undrafted free agent Jake Knott has a good chance to stick. If the Eagles keep four inside linebackers, the final spot will come down to Casey Matthews, Emmanuel Acho or a player who’s currently not on the roster.

CORNERBACKS

* Cary Williams played pretty well. He gave up an early 20-yard completion, but later broke up a couple passes, including one on third down in the second. Per PFF, Williams allowed one completion on four targets.

* Bradley Fletcher’s numbers were not as good. The Jaguars took advantage of the huge cushion he was giving receivers with a couple screens and a comeback route. Fletcher gave up a back-shoulder throw to Justin Blackmon for 21 yards. It was tough to tell whether he or Patrick Chung was at fault on the first touchdown. And Fletcher struggled to get off the receiver’s block on Todman’s 14-yard run to his side in the second. He’ll probably still start the season at left corner, but if Fletcher struggles, Brandon Boykin could replace him.

* Boykin started the game as the inside nickel corner and then moved outside. He was called for pass interference in the red zone and allowed a 13-yard completion on 3rd-and-14. Boykin later broke up a third-down pass. Likely to start the season as the nickel corner.

* Brandon Hughes and Curtis Marsh have fractured hands. Eddie Whitley suffered a knee injury and was waived. The Eagles are thin at corner with only Jordan Poyer and Trevard Lindley behind the first three guys. Poyer nearly came away with a couple interceptions, but had a holding penalty.

SAFETIES

* Always a tough position to evaluate off of TV tape. We’ll get an idea of what the coaches thought of the film when we see who’s practicing with the first team this week. On Saturday, Chung manned one starting position, while Nate Allen and Earl Wolff rotated at the other one.

* On the 63-yard run, Chung got blocked, allowing the big cutback. And Wolff admitted to taking a horrible angle. With Kenny Phillips out of the picture, the Eagles are likely to go with Chung, Allen, Wolff and Colt Anderson on the roster. Kurt Coleman and David Sims are fighting for spots.

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Curry: ‘I’m Just Trying To Get On the Field’

0V3J8914Vinny Curry was asked what he has learned about himself since being drafted by the Eagles last April.

“Patience,” he said, drawing laughs. ”I used to not have any patience at all. Going through last year to now I really learned a lot about myself, just patience and how much of a team player I am. It’s more than yourself.”

The second-round pick has not had an ideal start to his NFL career. A victim of politics, he spent the majority of his rookie season as a spectator. He did not appear in a game until November 26 — one day before Jason Babin was released from the team. A disgruntled Jim Washburn was axed the next week, and Curry finished out the string playing for a new defensive line coach (Tommy Brasher) on a bad Eagles team during the final, ugly days of the Andy Reid reign.

Out went the old coaching staff and in came Chip Kelly, who hired Billy Davis to overhaul the defense. The 4-3 pass rusher would have to find a way to adapt and survive in a 3-4. So he bulked up about 15 pounds to about 280 this offseason to try and make it as a 3-4 end. While he has had a strong showing this preseason, the starting  jobs currently belong to Fletcher Cox and Cedric Thornton.

“All that starting stuff — for me personally, I’m just trying to get on the field. That’s it,” said Curry. “The rest is going to take care of itself.”

Curry has proven effective when he has gotten a shot. He was on the field for 25 snaps against the Patriots — 16 of which were pass-rushing opportunities — and registered a sack and a pair of quarterback hits, per Pro Football Focus, showing off a lightning-quick first step in the process. Against the Panthers he was on the field for 17 plays and only rushed the passer 11 times, and again came up with a pair of QB hits.

The 25-year-old did not see much action early on versus Carolina. Davis explained why when he met with reporters this week.

“Some of it is situational,” he said. “Some of it is what we’re being presented with.  How much three‑wide receiver packages are we being presented with?  How many bigger tight end packages are we being presented with?”

In other words, Curry has a better chance of seeing the field when the offense is showing pass. That makes sense. The Marshall product is still getting accustomed to some of the two-gap principles associated with Davis’ base defense. He is being deployed predominantly as an inside pass-rusher for now.

“I think everybody knows when Vinny got drafted here he’s a very, very good pass rusher,” said Kelly following the Patriots game. “So it’s a matter of now seeing him do the other things.  We know Vinny can pass rush…But you have to be able to, for all those guys, what are they like in the run game?  What are they like in all situations?”

Saturday presents Curry with an opportunity to show the coaching staff  that he can be counted on no matter the situation.

Is he in the mix to start?

“Absolutely.  Absolutely,” said Davis. “Again, nothing has been determined yet as far as starters, and we’re continuing to evaluate all of them.  And Vinny is absolutely in the mix.”

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Eagles-Jaguars Cheat Sheet: 10 Things To Watch

James CaseyHere are 10 things we’ll be tracking Saturday night when the Eagles take on the Jaguars:

1. Vick, tempo and the first-team offense

Over the past several weeks, we’ve debated just how much of his offense Chip Kelly is really unveiling during the preseason. I’m of the belief that when Week 1 rolls around, and the Eagles take the field against the Redskins, they’re going to be moving at a faster pace than we’ve seen so far.

If Saturday night is treated as a dress rehearsal, we could see Michael Vick and the first-team offense really push tempo for at least one drive. Against New England, the Eagles huddled and slowed it down with Vick. Last week, they went no-huddle and moved a little quicker. Look for the progression to continue against Jacksonville with the first-team offense expected to play at least the first half.

2. No. 71 gets back on the field

The last time Jason Peters played in a game was Jan. 1, 2012. The Eagles were closing out their season against the Redskins, finishing with a 34-10 win and an 8-8 record. Obviously, quite a lot has changed with this franchise since that game over 19 months ago.

Peters suffered a pair of Achilles’ injuries last offseason and dealt with a hamstring strain this summer. But the Eagles’ left tackle appears motivated and determined to prove he still has a few good years left at the age of 31.

Conditioning is a factor to watch with Peters. Because of the hamstring, he was somewhat limited, but still got in cardio work on the bike and the elliptical. Under normal circumstances, he would need some time to get re-adjusted to playing a full game. But that’s even more-so the case with the Eagles moving to an up-tempo offense. Peters said he’ll play three quarters. Kelly said it might be only two. Either way, his conditioning will be something to watch in this one and early in the season.

3. Lane Johnson in pass protection

Through the first two games, Johnson has looked like a beast in the run game and solid in pass protection. But there have been a few issues with the latter.

Against Jacksonville, the rookie will likely get matched up against Jason Babin. If there’s anything we know about the ex-Eagle, it’s that he could not care less about stopping the run and will be focused on getting after the quarterback on every snap. Saturday night will be a good chance to see how Johnson measures up in pass protection.

4. Looking for backup O-Linemen

The Eagles’ starters are set, and Allen Barbre seems to have solidified his hold on a backup spot. Dennis Kelly recently had back surgery, but the guess here is he’ll make the team out of the gate as well.

Beyond that, there are spots up for grabs – anywhere between one and three. Former first-round pick Danny Watkins played against the Patriots, but missed the Panthers game because of a concussion. He is squarely on the roster bubble entering Game 3. The Eagles will need to find a backup center. Julian Vandervelde appears to be the favorite, but he’ll have to hold off Dallas Reynolds and Matt Tennant.

Others looking to make an impression include tackle Michael Bamiro and undrafted free agent Matt Tobin.

5. James Casey in the passing game

The “move” tight end caught 111 balls in one season at Rice. One of the reasons he chose the Eagles as a free agent was because he was looking forward to more opportunities as a receiver.

But in the first two preseason games, Casey has been targeted just twice, coming up with one catch for 7 yards. We’ll see if he gets a couple more chances against Jacksonville.

6. Remembering Bryce Brown

T-Mac and I were talking about some under-the-radar players yesterday, and Brown’s name came up. The second-year running back has had a solid, but quiet, summer. He looked good against New England, but didn’t play against Carolina because of a quad injury. By all accounts, the Eagles are going to run the football a lot, or at least call plays that include a run option. LeSean McCoy is still the man, and Chris Polk has improved, but Brown’s going to be featured quite a bit as the No. 2 guy.

7. Sorting out the D-Line picture

Billy Davis has to settle on who he wants to start with the first-team defensive line alongside Fletcher Cox. So far, it’s been Isaac Sopoaga and Cedric Thornton. But Kelly and Davis have made it clear that the backups are pushing those two.

Bennie Logan has been impressive and has the versatility to play nose tackle or defensive end in a 3-4. Vinny Curry has been the Eagles’ most active defensive lineman. And Damion Square has had some nice moments as well.

Veteran Clifton Geathers has been somewhat quiet and is on the roster bubble.

8. Defining Boykin’s role

Davis has talked constantly about playing his best 11. But the Eagles’ new defensive coordinator sounded hesitant earlier this week when asked about starting Brandon Boykin on the outside and then moving him to the slot in nickel situations. Once again, the second-year player will likely start out as the nickel corner and then play outside with the second unit against the Jaguars.

The likelihood is still that the Eagles start Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher on the outside in Week 1. But Boykin will get one final chance to convince Davis that he deserves an opportunity.

9. Waiting on backup LBs

We know DeMeco Ryans and Mychal Kendricks will start on the inside, but the Eagles lack depth behind them. Undrafted free agent Jake Knott was good against New England, but the coaches would like to see more out of the rookie in the event that he has to step in due to injury.

Others like Casey Matthews, Jamar Chaney and Emmanuel Acho are on the bubble. This is another area where the Eagles could add a player or two after other teams make their cuts.

10. Can Allen hold on?

The Eagles seem to have one safety position nailed down with Patrick Chung. The free agent from the Patriots played well against Carolina and already seems to have established himself as the best tackler in the Eagles’ secondary.

But the other spot remains a mystery. This is an area where we likely won’t know who’s going to start until the days leading up to the Redskins game. Nate Allen will run with the first team to begin the game vs. Jacksonville. But Kenny Phillips (if healthy) or Earl Wolff could also rotate in.

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Davis Updates Starter Battles On Defense

Billy Davis indicated today that he’ll make his final evaluations on starters after Saturday night’s preseason game against the Jaguars.

Keeping that in mind, here’s a position-by-position look at which spots are up for grabs, along with comments from Davis.

DEFENSIVE LINE

The starters up front have been Isaac Sopoaga at nose tackle, Cedric Thornton at LDE and Fletcher Cox at RDE. Cox is a mainstay, but the other two are being pushed.

Bennie Logan has played very well through two games and has the versatility to line up at the nose or defensive end.

“Bennie has had two good games,” Davis said. “Like all of them, they’re pushing and we’ll see with this game. …This is a real big determining factor, this will help see where Bennie is. He’s taken each step, he’s done everything we’ve asked him to do and has played very solid in the two preseason games he’s played.”

Undrafted free agent Damion Square has also shown flashes. And 2012 second-round pick Vinny Curry has been perhaps the Eagles’ best defensive player in the preseason.

Asked if Curry’s still in the mix to start, Davis said: “Absolutely. Nothing has been determined yet in terms of starters, and we are continuing to evaluate all of them, and Vinny’s absolutely in the mix.”

Both Davis and Chip Kelly have indicated that the Eagles will likely rotate six defensive linemen in the regular season. That de-emphasizes the importance of starters, but in the past, the first-team guys have still played the most snaps.

The other thing to note here is that the Eagles will be in their sub packages probably 50 percent of the time. That means, in most cases, two defensive linemen on the field, playing as interior pass-rushers.

OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS

We can pencil Connor Barwin in at one starting spot, and by all accounts, Trent Cole will man the right side.

That means Brandon Graham starting the season as a rotational player.

Asked about the progress Cole and Graham have made with their position switches from the first game to the second game, Davis said: “They’ve done a nice job. We keep putting them in drop situations. Again, we’re evaluating what the package can do and who can do it and we’ve tried to put them in as many drop scenarios as we can. And they’re really working hard at it, they look good. They’re much more comfortable moving backwards.”

“You can see that they’re really getting the feel for the little nuances of how to play the ‘I’m dropping, no I’m rushing’ game with quarterbacks. And it’s really coming along well.”

The truth is, we won’t really know what Davis thinks of Graham and Cole until Week 1 of the regular season when the games count.

* Note: Nothing to add on inside linebackers. It’ll be DeMeco Ryans and Mychal Kendricks starting.

CORNERBACKS

Davis went in a couple different directions when asked about Brandon Boykin. The sense I got, though, is that he prefers to have Boykin focus on playing inside, with Bradley Fletcher and Cary Williams on the outside.

Davis said Boykin is “pushing the other two” but when asked about the possibility of starting the second-year player on the outside and then moving him inside when the Eagles are in nickel, he sounded a bit hesitant.

“I do think that’s challenging… especially in the same series,” Davis said. “When you start the season, to start at corner and to start at nickel, it becomes more challenging. It is something usually the older veterans can pull off, guys that have played a lot of nickel or played a lot of outside corner. Early on, it’s a little more challenging.

“If you can make it easier without deteriorating from the best 11 on the field, then you can have a guy do one, not both. If there’s clear separation, then you try to get a guy to do both.”

SAFETIES

Patrick Chung seems to have nailed down one starting spot. Nate Allen will get the nod at the other spot on Saturday night. But Davis said he’ll likely rotate other guys in during the first half.

The one player Davis has gotten a lot of questions about is Kenny Phillips. Phillips has had trouble staying healthy and is currently dealing with a quad injury. It’s unclear whether he’ll be on the field Saturday night.

“Anybody that goes through the injury process, doesn’t get into the games or even into the practices, it does make it harder to evaluate when you get less looks at a guy,” Davis said. “I think that just goes without saying.”

Davis added that the Eagles have tape on Phillips, but obviously that was in a different scheme.

If Allen is a disaster against the Jaguars, Davis could shake up the starting lineup before Week 1. But if Allen at least looks competent, he’ll likely get the nod to start the season.

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McManus: Projecting the Eagles’ 53-Man Roster

Chip KellyYes, I defeated Sheil in the 53-man projection contest last year. Yes, it was as easy as it looked.

I’ve been called many things since then — champion, Nostradamus, King 53, the Joe Lunardi of football — but honestly, I’d really prefer it if you just call me Tim.

Kapadia is back for more. He took a shot at the 2013 roster last week. My turn this week. Teams must trim their rosters down to 53 by 6 p.m. on Aug. 31. On Aug. 30, we’ll release our final versions, matching our projections up vs. the Eagles’.

Kapadia has already written his concession speech.

Without further ado, let’s get to the award-winning projections.

Quarterbacks (3): Michael Vick, Nick Foles, Matt Barkley.

Vick looks to have pulled ahead in the quarterback competition. Chip Kelly has preached the importance of having two capable quarterbacks at this level. That is particularly true when your chosen signal-caller has not played a full 16-game season since 2006. No reason to think Foles will be moved if he does not win the job. Kelly may very well need him. Barkley will be learning from the sideline unless Plan A and Plan B fail.

Believe it or not, Dennis Dixon still has some practice squad eligibility remaining. Dixon, a member of Baltimore’s practice squad last season, played the scout team role of Colin Kapernick in preparation for the Ravens’ Super Bowl matchup against the Niners. With RGIII in the division, he could be a useful asset on the practice squad here in Philly.

Running backs (3): LeSean McCoy, Bryce Brown, Chris Polk.

Could very well be a potent 1-2-3 punch.

The Eagles will be running the ball quite a bit this season (and will be running a ton of plays, period) so I’m sure Kelly is not opposed to keeping a fourth back for depth and insurance purposes. But Felix Jones has not impressed. Same can be said about the rookie Matthew Tucker. The move may be to put Tucker (or another back) on the practice squad and roll with three on the 53-man for now.

Wide receivers (6): DeSean Jackson, Riley Cooper, Jason Avant, Damaris Johnson, Greg Salas, Russell Shepard.

The first four are locked in. What Kelly decides to do beyond that four is where it gets interesting.

Salas has been the next best receiver in camp but might not have the same upside as Shepard, who has shown a strong work ethic, good hands and little flashes that keep him in the conversation. Not sure he lasts on the practice squad. Clay Harbor has been working some at receiver. If he sticks, is there room for he, Shepard and Salas? Maybe not, but for now I’m projecting that they all make the cut.

Ifeanyi Momah isn’t ready for the show.

Tight ends (4): Brent Celek, Zach Ertz, James Casey, Clay Harbor.

Kelly has already shown a four-tight end set. We’re almost at the point where we have to ask: Is four even enough for this guy?

We have seen the value of having tight ends split out wide to serve as lead blockers for the oft-used bubble screens. This alone gives Harbor a role. Kelly likes tight ends, he’ll use tight ends, and, the guess here is he keeps at least four of them.

Derek Carrier and  Will Shaw are the other two tight ends on the roster at the moment. Neither have really stood out.

Offensive linemen (9): Jason Peters, Evan Mathis, Jason Kelce, Todd Herremans, Lane Johnson, Allen Barbre, Danny Watkins, Dennis Kelly, Julian Vandervelde.

Barbre has made the most of his opportunity in camp, and has moved into a position where he could be a primary backup both at tackle and guard. Kelly (back surgery) is hopeful he can return to the practice field around the start of the regular season. We’ll see.

Vandervelde could back up Kelce at center.

Watkins has been sidelined with a concussion since August 12. I wouldn’t be shocked if he doesn’t make the team. If the Eagles go in a different direction, Matt Tennant is an option. Rookie tackle Michael Bamiro (6-8, 340)  is an interesting prospect, but he’s raw. Maybe you can stash him on the practice squad.

Defensive linemen (7): Fletcher Cox, Isaac Sopoaga, Cedric Thornton, Bennie Logan, Damion Square, Vinny Curry, Clifton Geathers.

Square, an undrafted rookie out of Alabama, crashed the party and is in position to make the team. At who’s expense? We’ll say seventh-round pick Joe Kruger. The 21-year-old Kruger is a developmental pick. It’s possible he makes the 53 if the Eagles believe he’ll be plucked off the practice squad. The guess here is they take the chance. Fellow seventh-rounder David King has blended in during camp.

Kruger could make it over Geathers as well, but in terms of pure performance, Geathers gets the nod.

Logan has been impressive so far. Looks like he’ll have a role right out of the gates.

Outside linebackers (4): Trent Cole, Connor Barwin, Brandon Graham, Chris McCoy.

Big challenges ahead for Cole and Graham as they transition to a new role. If they fail, there isn’t much in the way of a backup plan.

McCoy has enjoyed a solid summer and should make the squad.

Inside linebackers (4): DeMeco Ryans, Mychal Kendricks, Jake Knott, Jamar Chaney.

Knott, an undrafted rookie out of Iowa St., has earned himself a job this summer.

The final spot probably comes down to Casey Matthews and Chaney. Flip a coin. I’m going with Chaney, mostly to be different than Sheil.

Cornerbacks (5): Cary Williams, Bradley Fletcher, Brandon Boykin, Brandon Hughes, Jordan Poyer.

Not the strongest crop of corners in the world.

Curtis Marsh is currently sidelined with a broken hand, but could make the team. We’ll give the nod to Hughes, who started in place of the injured Cary Williams against the Patriots.

Poyer has been very quiet this summer, but will make the team based on potential.

Safeties (5): Patrick Chung, Nate Allen, Earl Wolff, Colt Anderson, Kurt Coleman.

On paper, the group looks better with Kenny Phillips‘ name mixed in. But as we know, the game is not played on paper. Phillips has not done much to distinguish himself since arriving in Philly. Though he missed Thursday’s game with a quad injury, the knees are the real concern. Maybe he has been holding back in the name of keeping himself healthy for the regular season. Now is the time to prove himself if he wants to stick with the Eagles.

Specialists (3): Alex Henery, Donnie Jones, Jon Dorenbos.

Nobody is really talking about this, but Henery has not been very accurate during camp. He is missing rather frequently on the NovaCare practice fields. His one attempt in the first two preseason games was no good. Not sounding the alarm, but worth keeping an eye on.

Dorenbos is back from a concussion. Long live James Winchester.

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Eagles-Panthers Game Review: The Defense

Below is a position-by-position review of what stood out from the Eagles’ defense against the Panthers, after having reviewed the game. If you missed the offense, click here.

* Note: Snap counts are courtesy of Pro Football Focus.

DEFENSIVE LINE

* Bennie Logan looks like a player. He manhandled the left guard and got a big hit on Cam Newton in the first. Later, he dropped Tauren Poole after a 2-yard run in the second. Logan used his 34-inch arms to bat down a Newton pass at the line of scrimmage in the second. And he tackled Poole after a gain of 4 on the very next play. If the coaches think he’s big enough, Logan could get bumped up to nose tackle and replace Isaac Sopoaga with the first team pretty soon.

* Cedric Thornton had some good moments. He showed excellent strength against right tackle Byron Bell, pressuring Newton out of the pocket and forcing him to throw the ball away in the first. The Panthers decided to just not block Thornton later in the quarter, and he burst through the backfield, tackling DeAngelo Williams for a 5-yard loss.

* Fletcher Cox looked better than he did vs. New England. He wasn’t the first man to break through, but hustled to chase Newton out of the pocket and into a throw-away on the first possession. Later in the series, Cox showed his athleticism, rushing from the LDT spot, chasing Newton out of the pocket and hitting him.

* Vinny Curry showed up again. He burst through the backfield and dropped Poole for a 2-yard loss in the third, got in the backfield again on the next series, got pressure up the middle as a pass-rusher and tackled Kenjon Barner after a 1-yard run. Maybe this will be the week he moves up the depth chart?

OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS

* The jury’s still out on Trent Cole. Billy Davis hopes his scheme will create one-on-one rushing opportunities for his outside linebackers against tight ends and running backs. That was the case in the second when Cole got the better of TE Richie Brockel and forced Newton to scramble. Later, Cole had a good bull-rush on third down, pushing the left tackle back into Newton. He blew up the fullback and dropped Williams for no gain in the second. Per PFF, Cole was on the field for 15 passing plays. He rushed the QB on seven of them and dropped back on eight. Apparently, Davis is still evaluating that part of his skill set.

* Brandon Graham got into the game in the second quarter. Really don’t know how many snaps he’s going to get once the real games start. But he was productive in this one. Graham and Logan combined to drop Poole after a 4-yard run in the second. He beat tackle Garry Williams off the edge, drawing a holding penalty and forcing a Newton incompletion on third down late in the second. Graham got off his block and dropped Poole after a 2-yard run in the third. He shed a block and dropped Barner for a loss late in the third and had a nice pass-rush on the very next play. Graham played LOLB with the second unit. He only dropped back three times on 14 pass plays, per PFF.

* The Eagles have mostly been going with four down linemen in nickel looks, but I think that’s a case of Davis not wanting to show his hand in the preseason. On a 3rd-and-20 play in the first, we got a glimpse of how I believe he’ll use Connor Barwin in nickel situations.

Here, you can see him standing up next to the nose tackle, threatening the A-Gap between the center and left guard before the ball is snapped.

barwin1a

Mychal Kendricks is also lurking as a potential blitzer.

But when the ball is snapped, both players retreat into coverage, and the Eagles only rush three.

barwin1b

With eight players in coverage, Newton had nowhere to go, forced a throw and was nearly picked off by Brandon Boykin.

When the regular season starts, look for a lot of pre-snap movement from Barwin in nickel.

INSIDE LINEBACKERS

* The standout player here was clearly Mychal Kendricks. What was notable was how Davis used him on passing downs. Per PFF, Kendricks was on the field for 16 passing downs, and on five of those, he blitzed. Keep in mind, he only played the first half. To put that into perspective, Kendricks blitzed a total of 37 times all of last year, or 2.3 times per game. He blitzed five or more times just once in 16 regular-season games.

Clearly, Davis wants to be creative in how he uses one of his more talented defensive players. As a junior at Cal, Kendricks had seven sacks. In the first quarter here, he blitzed the B-Gap (between the guard and tackle), side-stepped Williams and forced Newton out of the pocket on third down. Later, Kendricks blitzed the A-Gap and hit Newton. He was good even when he wasn’t rushing the passer. Kendricks brought Newton down one-on-one in the open field in the second. He also shot into the backfield and dropped Williams for a 1-yard loss. Excellent all-around game for the second-year player.

CORNERBACKS

* This is always a tough position to judge without the benefit of the All-22, but Cary Williams played exactly like we should have expected him to play, based on last year’s performance. He gives up a lot of catches, but is a sure tackler.

Williams allowed a 16-yard completion to Brandon LaFell on the first play of the game. He later allowed a 10-yard completion to Steve Smith and a 15-yarder on 3rd-and-6. Smith is on the short list of “guys you don’t mess with” in the league. The feisty wide receiver tossed Williams to the ground on an early run play.

Williams was recovering from a hamstring injury, but again, this seems like what you should expect from him. Physical player, not a shut-down corner.

* I have a feeling we’re going to be saying this about Bradley Fletcher all season long: “He gave up the reception, but had really good coverage.” That’s been the story through the first two preseason games. Every time he’s targeted, it seems Fletcher is in the receiver’s pocket. Sometimes, he gives up completions, like the 20-yarder to tight end Greg Olsen. Other times, he makes the play, like forcing an incompletion to Smith in the end zone. Overall, though, I’d say Fletcher’s been solid so far.

* Brandon Boykin played nickel with the first team and then played on the outside in the second half. He dropped an interception in the first and gave up completions of 14 and 21 yards while on the outside. But Boykin came back with a couple really nice plays. He forced an incompletion on a back-shoulder throw in the end zone in the third, nearly coming up with a pick. And he had excellent coverage on the next play too. Boykin also turned in a great kick return, giving the Eagles’ offense field position at its own 43 in the second half. He’s clearly the most athletic corner on the team.

SAFETY

* Another position that’s difficult to evaluate off of TV tape. But we have to mention Patrick Chung, who played really well. Nice job reading the screen and bringing Williams down after a 3-yard gain in the first. On the very next play, Chung came up in run support and dropped Williams after a 3-yard gain. He also made a tackle after a 1-yard run in the first half. Per PFF, Chung has not missed a tackle through two preseason games.

Follow Sheil Kapadia on Twitter and e-mail him at skapadia@phillymag.com.
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Twitter Mailbag: Is Fletcher Cox Being Used Properly?

0V3J8978Every Thursday we select a few of your Twitter questions and provide the long-form answers they deserve. For a chance to have your question published on Birds 24/7, send it to @Tim_McManus.

From @aerelorn: Thoughts on Fletcher Cox being asked to 2-gap? Is putting your best D player in a position to *not* succeed the right answer?

The answer to the second part of your question is obviously no. You have to cater to your players’ strengths, and both Chip Kelly and Billy Davis have vowed to do just that since the moment they got here.

That said, I found this exchange between Kelly and a reporter interesting.

Is Fletcher Cox a better two-gap guy or one-gap guy?

“I don’t think you could put one or the other because they have to do both.  It’s not like you can take them out because you are going to switch defenses every play.  When we two gap we put this guy in. When we one gap, you put that guy in.  No, you’re giving up too much,” said Kelly.

 ”I know as an offensive coach, I would love to know when that guy’s in the game, it’s two‑gap defense; when that guy’s in the game, it’s one‑gap defense.  They’ve got to be able to play at both.”

When it’s a guy like [Cox], do you cater your defense more?

“To one guy?  No, we don’t cater our defense to one guy, because there are ten other guys you have to worry about.  There are a lot of different things when you go through everything.  We’re going to try to play to the overall team strength.  What are we best at.”

I agree that playing to the strength of the 11 is more important than playing to the strength of one. I also believe that this team will only suffer if Cox — arguably the best player on this defense — is rendered less effective because of the system.  A couple things to keep in mind: 1) While Cox struggled on Friday, it was only one game. It’s totally possible that a man of his talent adapts and thrives in this scheme before long. And 2) the Eagles have said that they are working towards becoming a two-gap 3-4 defense, but will stop short along the way if it makes sense. You can argue that beyond Cox, Vinny Curry, Cedric Thornton, etc. would be best suited playing one-gap. I bet we see more one-gap than two-gap in the first year.

[If you're saying to yourself, "What the hell are they talking about?" read Greg Cosell's piece. He does an excellent job breaking down gap concepts.]

From iMark_Sarnoski: once the starting QB is selected do you think either Vick or Foles will be on the move? Will they keep both in case of injury?

I feel pretty confident that they will keep both. Kelly has repeatedly said that you better have two capable quarterbacks in the NFL, and I think that’s particularly true when one of those QBs is Michael Vick, who has trouble staying healthy for the full 16. I believe that’s part of what this quarterback competition is about — getting both Vick and Nick Foles ready to start, because there is a good chance both will have to at some point this year.

It’s possible that Vick could be moved if he loses the job and becomes disgruntled, but I don’t see that happening.

From @Ngu_Year: who has had a better camp, Damion Square or Cedric Thornton?

Damion Square has stood out more, but it’s tough to compare because Thornton has run much more with the first team.

The good news for the Eagles is that they look to have some good, young talent along the defensive front. Whether you’re talking about Square, Bennie Logan or Curry, they should all have a chance to make an impact.

 ”We’re going to continue to look at those guys just like we look at them every day in practice, and make a determination on who is the best.  But a lot of times with the d‑line, because of how this game is played, we’re going to be playing all six if we keep six on the active roster,” said Kelly.

 ”I think in that position particularly you’ll see that more in the NFL.  People are starting to rotate defensive linemen and keep them fresh just because it’s such a tough position to play.  I know that’s kind of our thought process going in.  So I think you’ll see all of those guys again kind of rolling through.”

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Eagles-Panthers Cheat Sheet: 10 Things To Watch

Greg SalasHere are 10 things we’re tracking during tonight’s Eagles-Panthers game:

1. The quarterbacks

You didn’t think we were going to start somewhere else, did you?

Nick Foles will get the start. He led the Eagles on an up-tempo, efficient touchdown drive last week vs. the Patriots. What do we want to see this week? Foles chuck it downfield. Last week, none of his attempts traveled more than 10 yards from the line of scrimmage. Foles has the arm, but he had issues with mechanics on the deep ball last year. It’d be nice to see him take a shot or two downfield in this one.

As for Vick, the Eagles slowed things down with him in the game last week. The guess here is he’ll be asked to operate the tempo package this time around. Vick looked great vs. New England, but he needs to show he’s capable of making sound decisions in an offense that gives the quarterback options. Hopefully we get a chance to see him in that environment tonight.

2. The progress of the O-Line

Lane Johnson looked like the real deal in the run game last week. The Eagles are looking for steady improvement from their first-round pick in the preseason.

Todd Herremans, meanwhile, did not play well last week. He’s got eight years of experience and 100 starts under his belt, so one quarter of one preseason game is nothing to panic about, but it’d be nice to see him play better vs. Carolina.

And then there are the depth spots. Allen Barbre will likely get the nod at left tackle with the first team tonight. He could end up being the top backup lineman on the roster – at both guard and tackle. The backup center battle continues with Julian Vandervelde, Dallas Reynolds and Matt Tennant.

3. Wide receiver depth

If Greg Salas continues to show up, he’s going to make it hard for the Eagles to cut him. Perhaps he’ll be bumped up the depth chart and get a chance to prove himself against better competition in the first half.

Russell Shepard is also fighting for a roster spot. Matt Barkley had a shot to connect with Shepard deep last week, but underthrew him. The undrafted free agent should see plenty of action in the second half.

4. Finding Zach Ertz

Ertz figures to have a prominent role in the Eagles’ passing game this season, but he looked shaky as a blocker vs. New England. Ertz missed much of the spring because of the NCAA’s graduation rules, but has had a pretty good camp.

Keep an eye on where he lines up and how he stacks up as a blocker tonight.

5. Fletcher Cox’s progress

The second-year player looked bad early on vs. New England. But 16 snaps in one preseason game is not enough to erase Cox’s outstanding rookie season.

As the Eagles move towards a 3-4, Cox is being asked to two-gap (explanation here) up front. He’ll need to continue to get more comfortable in the new scheme, and Billy Davis will have to make sure he’s putting Cox in position to succeed.

6. Defending a mobile QB

Within their division, the Eagles will face quarterbacks with different skill sets. For example, it could be Robert Griffin III one week and Eli Manning a few weeks later. That means incorporating a defense flexible enough to adapt to different offensive attacks.

Last week, the Eagles faced Tom Brady. This week, it’ll be Cam Newton. Newton ran for 741 yards last year, second among quarterbacks to only RGIII. The Eagles could get a glimpse of the read-option, but it’s not just designed runs they have to worry about. They’ll need to be disciplined with their pass rush as well.

7. Signs from Vinny Curry

The 2012 second-round pick was probably the Eagles’ best defensive player against New England. He looked comfortable in a variety of roles on the defensive line, using his quickness to create disruption behind the line of scrimmage.

Chip Kelly said earlier this week that he knows Curry can rush the passer, but indicated he’s looking for the second-year player to show he has a complete skill set. The Eagles are expected to rotate defensive linemen up front, but if Curry keeps improving, he could be in line for significant playing time once the real games start.

8. The Trent Cole/Brandon Graham transition

It’s been a storyline all offseason and will continue for the next several weeks. Cole, specifically, did not look good early on vs. New England. It’s not just dropping back into coverage. It’s new responsibilities in the run game and using different methods to rush the passer. Cole and Graham will continue to be under the microscope vs. Carolina.

9. Cary Williams’ debut

The Eagles’ new cornerback does not shy away from microphones. That much we know. He said last week that the defense needs to play with more of an edge, disagreeing publicly with the way Kelly handled the joint practices with the Patriots.

On the field, Williams missed most of the spring and has dealt with a hamstring injury this summer. By statistical measures, Williams was mediocre at best last year with the Ravens. He’s expected to start tonight and will get a chance to make headlines for his play, one way or another.

10. Safety? Hello? Anyone?

It’s a question for the Eagles pretty much every summer. Who will step up at safety? Patrick Chung looked like a sure tackler against his former team and is expected to win one of the starting jobs.

But the other one is up for grabs. Nate Allen continued to struggle against New England. And Earl Wolff got a chance to run with the first team earlier this week. The rookie could get a shot in the first half to prove he deserves serious consideration for the starting job.

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

Jeff MaehlIt was just a light walk-through without pads today, so no observations. But here are three practice leftovers.

1. Chip Kelly said the Eagles starters will see increased action Thursday night.

“We’re trying to get our ones more work in both the first and second quarters now,” he said. “We’ll see how that plays itself out. Does that mean it’s gonna be by series or whatever? It depends how many snaps and how long the series’ are.”

Nick Foles will get the start after Michael Vick had his turn last week. Kelly emphasized that he’ll divide playing time up by number of snaps, not by number of drives or quarters.

Jason Peters is unlikely to play, although Kelly said he’s “very close.” LeSean McCoy (knee) and Cary Williams (hamstring) are both expected to be in the lineup, barring setbacks.

Matt Barkley is expected to enter the game in the second or third quarters

2. Kelly talked about the defensive line and confirmed that the Eagles plan on using a rotation up front.

“A lot of times with the D-Line, because of how this game is played, we’re gonna be playing all six if we keep six on the active roster,” Kelly said. “So it’s not like he’s the starter and he’s gonna play and the only time the backup gets in the game is when somebody gets hurt. I think in that position particularly you’ll see that a lot more in the NFL. People are starting to rotate some defensive linemen to keep them fresh just because it’s such a tough position to play.”

Against the Patriots, Bennie Logan and Damion Square impressed the coaches. Vinny Curry also played really well.

“I think everybody knows that when Vinny got drafted here, is that he’s a very, very good pass-rusher,” Kelly said. “So it’s a matter of now seeing him do the other things. We know Vinny can pass-rush. I think he showed that the other night. And that’s part of the evaluation. But you also have to be able to, for all those guys, what are they like in the run game? What are they like in all situations?”

Kelly was asked about Fletcher Cox as well. The 2012 first-round pick was outstanding in the Eagles’ 4-3 front as a rookie. In his first preseason action playing in a 3-4, Cox did not play well. Of course, he was only on the field for 16 snaps.

“We don’t cater our defense to one guy because there’s 10 other guys you have to worry about,” Kelly said, when asked if Cox is better suited for a one-gap scheme. “There’s a lot of different things when you go through everything, we’re gonna try to play to the overall team strength, what are we best at?”

3. New wide receiver Jeff Maehl was at practice today, although he could not participate because Nate Menkin still had to pass his physical with the Texans.

Maehl started his career at Oregon as a safety before moving to the offensive side of the ball. Kelly, who was his offensive coordinator for two years and his head coach for two years, praised Maehl for his toughness.

“I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t in the back of my mind that if I didn’t get an opportunity there [Houston] that maybe Chip would give me one,” Maehl said. “I was a little shocked that it happened this early. But like I said, I’m happy to be here.”

Maehl had a 30-to-45 minute conversation with Kelly this morning, and he was able to watch the offense on the field this afternoon.

Asked if he saw a lot of differences with the Eagles’ offense and Oregon’s, he said: “Not necessarily. The new terminology, new signals. Obviously he’s gotta tone it down a little bit running the quarterback. You’re not going to be able to do that in this league. But I think Chip’s such a smart guy and he loves football so much that he’s going to figure out a way to put us in the best position to make plays out there.”

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