The Eagles got down to 53 players on Saturday. They didn't make any moves that were major surprises, but there were some unexpected developments. Overall, I like what they did and think the team has assembled a very strong roster. As always, the key is to stay healthy. No team can go to the bench a lot and expect to have a very successful season.
There were a lot of questions about the running back position. LeSean McCoy and Darren Sproles give the Eagles a terrific one-two punch, but behind them there was a lot of mystery. Chris Polk was hurt most of the summer. Matthew Tucker played pretty well. Rookie Henry Josey finished second in the NFL in preseason rushing yards with 225. He looked great in the games. Kenjon Barner has only been here for a couple of weeks, but played well and showed his versatility.
The expectation was that the Eagles would keep four backs. The only question was which four. Instead, they went with three and kept Polk. First, that tells you they think very highly of Polk. Kelly faced him at Oregon and then coached him last year. In an interview, Kelly made mention of Polk as a key special teams player, which is crucial for players at the bottom of the roster. They need to stand out on special teams.
Tucker was re-signed to the practice squad after spending most of last season on it. Many people wonder why Josey was cut. What you see in the preseason doesn't always translate to the regular season. Last summer, Jaguars running back Jordan Todman finished second in the NFL in preseason rushing. He ran for 223 yards and averaged 7.7 yards per carry. During the regular season, he ran for 256 yards and averaged 3.4 yards per carry. Josey showed a lot of potential as a runner, but he needs work as a receiver, blocker and special teams performer. His running would also need some work against good starting defenders. He was signed to Jacksonville's practice squad.
Trey Burton is one of two undrafted rookies to make the team. The Eagles don't necessarily need four tight ends, but Burton earned a roster spot. He showed a lot of potential this summer. Burton is a terrific athlete and natural pass catcher. He showed the ability to go low and get the ball or to extend up high and make the catch. Burton looked comfortable working the middle of the field. He has the speed to get down the seam and cause problems for the defense. Blocking is the one area where he needs a lot of work. Burton must get bigger and stronger. He is a willing blocker, but is small for a tight end.
The Eagles decided to keep six wide receivers and went with Jeff Maehl for the final spot. Maehl has value as a backup receiver. He can play in the slot or outside. He is a solid blocker. Maehl is also a good special teams player. While Damaris Johnson had a very active summer, he's just not a good fit for this offense. He is a tough little dude and it's great to see him catch on in Houston.
The choices on the offensive line were pretty obvious. It is interesting that line depth was a big concern just six weeks ago, but the backup offensive line was dominant this summer. The Eagles led the NFL in total yards this preseason. The backup line was on the field for most of that time. They were absolutely great. Left guard Matt Tobin and left tackle Andrew Gardner really stood out. Give line coach Jeff Stoutland a lot of credit for working so well with that unit.
I knew the Eagles would keep seven defensive linemen. The only question I had was whether they would try to go with eight and keep Damion Square around. The coaches love him. Square had a solid summer, but the backups brought in this time around just played better. Beau Allen earned the backup nose tackle job. He stood out all preseason long. Brandon Bair will likely be the primary backup at end. He really opened some eyes and had a great summer. Vinny Curry continues to be outstanding as a pass rusher and situational player. Rookie Taylor Hart showed good potential. It would have been great to see Square remain in Philly, but he was claimed by Kansas City.
Tommy Lawlor, goeagles99 on the Discussion Boards, is an amateur football scout and devoted Eagles fan. He is the Editor of IgglesBlitz.com and was a contributor to the Eagles Almanac.
The only surprise at outside linebacker came in the form of Travis Long's injury. I feel so bad for that young man. He tore an ACL as a senior and it kept him from being drafted. He was with the Eagles' practice squad last year and looked to have earned a roster spot this year. Then he tore his other ACL in the Jets game. Brutal. The only good news is that he has almost a full year until Training Camp 2015. Hopefully he will be ready to go.
There was some mystery at inside linebacker. The Eagles have outstanding starters in DeMeco Ryans and Mychal Kendricks. Najee Goode emerged as the top backup. Casey Matthews' history of good special teams play earned him the fourth spot. Matthews is versatile in the sense that he can play inside or outside. He's also got the experience factor. Matthews has played in 48 NFL games, including some starts.
Some people were surprised that the Eagles only kept four safeties. I figured that is exactly what they would do. Rookie Ed Reynolds II showed promise this summer, but that's not good enough for a roster spot. He needed to win the job. Reynolds is another guy who is ideal for the practice squad. He has NFL potential, but needs a lot of practice reps.
Cornerback is another position that went as expected. The Eagles kept the big three from last year along with the two big additions - free agent Nolan Carroll II and rookie Jaylen Watkins. The depth at corner is much better than it was last season. On cutdown weekend last year, the Eagles claimed Shaun Prater. Two weeks later, they signed Roc Carmichael. The team was desperate for defensive back help. This year, the Eagles like their starters and backups in the secondary. It really is amazing what a difference a year makes.
The big special teams move was cutting Alex Henery and keeping rookie Cody Parkey as the placekicker. I was fine with Henery until he had the bad misses in consecutive preseason games. That set off some alarm bells for me, and apparently the Eagles as well. Parkey had only a few days to prepare for the Jets game, but it sure seems like he and Dave Fipp worked well together. Parkey hit field goals of 53 and 54 yards. He had good depth on his kickoffs. The thing that impressed me is that he showed natural leg strength. He hit the ball hard and it stayed straight. When David Akers used to have long kicks, he would hit the ball so hard that it seemed to have a lot of movement, which made it tougher to control. The ball just exploded off Parkey's foot. You could tell instantly that the kicks were good.
There is risk in going with an unknown, unproven kicker like Parkey, but he passed the first test with flying colors. I think this is a smart gamble by head coach Chip Kelly and general manager Howie Roseman. If Parkey works out well, he could solve the kicking situation for a long time. I'd rather go that route than sign a veteran kicker who was just cut by someone else.
The Eagles' offense is absolutely loaded. I love that part of the roster. The defense is a work in progress, but it is a group on the rise. There are several good players, but will someone step up and become the person whom opposing offenses fear and have to account for on every play? Special teams sure feels better, but I'm still curious about how the return game will shake out.
Kelly and Roseman have done a terrific job of building this roster in the last 18 or so months. Eagles fans should be optimistic as the team heads into the 2014 season.