The Eagles unveiled their 53-man roster on Saturday. It isn't set in stone, though. The Eagles are a team in the midst of change. General manager Howie Roseman and the personnel staff are trying to find the right players for the new systems of Chip Kelly, Pat Shurmur and Bill Davis. The top 48 or so spots are solid, but the bottom of the roster is subject to change.
This is a fluid process. The Eagles chose 53 players from their own roster. Now, they are in the process of seeing which players were let go by other teams. They need to identify if any of those players is an upgrade compared to who is on the current roster.
One thing you need to keep in mind is that there are a few veterans on the street who would be an immediate upgrade, but those players are generally descending (due to age and/or health). Kelly has said he wants to win now, but he also understands the need for young talent on a team that is undergoing so much change. It just wouldn't make good sense to load up on players who are 30 or older. It is better to take a chance on young players who could become long-term solutions for the team. This doesn't mean you say no to all older players. You simply must be choosy about which ones you add.
Let's talk about some of the moves the Eagles made. One of the biggest surprises was the Eagles waiving linebacker Chris McCoy. He had some big games in the preseason. McCoy did flash pass-rush ability and coverage skills. His weakness was playing the run. McCoy didn't hold the point of attack consistently enough on run plays that came right at him. He struggled to shed blocks at times. These are things that can be worked on.
The Eagles have only three outside linebackers after cutting McCoy. That feels light for a 3-4 team so it wouldn't surprise me to see a player added. Roseman did say that Vinny Curry could help out there if needed.
The Eagles had to make tough decisions on the offensive line. Michael Bamiro was signed this summer after the NCAA told him his college career was over. Bamiro played at Stony Brook, a small college that has a run-heavy offense. He looked lost in the preseason opener, but made great strides in the next couple of weeks. The problem is that he's too raw for a roster spot right now. You couldn't play him in a game. His pass blocking needs a lot of work. Matt Tobin was an undrafted player from Iowa who came in and would have to be described as an overachiever. He's not as big or naturally gifted as Bamiro, but Tobin played well. He spent time at guard and tackle. Due to injuries, he got a lot of time at left tackle. He could play there in an emergency situation. Tobin is tough and physical. He also has a bit of Jon Runyan in his game. He will run downfield and find someone to block. Tobin wants to get his shots in. I'm glad Tobin's hard work and steady play was rewarded with a roster spot. It's good that Bamiro landed on the practice squad.
Another player who made great strides this summer is Julian Vandervelde. The Eagles put him at center last summer and he was completely lost. His snaps were erratic. His blocking was too, largely because the bad snaps affected his confidence. Vandervelde had snap issues back in the spring, but worked his way through them and had a good summer. He struggled a bit in the preseason opener anchoring against bigger defenders, but did much better in the last three games.
Allen Barbre is the biggest surprise of them all. He played lights out, at both left tackle and guard. Coach Jeff Stoutland did great work with Vandervelde, Tobin, Barbre and the whole offensive line. If you watch the tape, these players will impress you.
Emil Igwenagu won a roster spot over Clay Harbor. Igwenagu is more versatile. While Harbor played tight end and wide receiver, Igwenagu can be a fullback, H-back, tight end or slot receiver. Harbor is a solid blocker, but Roseman said Igwenagu was the best out of all the tight ends. He is also a better special teams player.
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.
Wide receiver turned out to be an interesting decision. The argument for most was whether the Eagles would go with Greg Salas or Russell Shepard. Or maybe both. Instead, they cut both and kept Jeff Maehl. The explanation is that he can play the slot or outside and is a good special teams contributor. He also is a good blocker. Salas had a great summer, but just never showed enough speed to be someone you could see playing outside. Shepard has good potential, but just needs time to develop. Maehl was here for a limited time, but did impress in that period.
The Eagles may have surprised some by keeping five inside linebackers. I thought all five players deserved to make the team so I'm glad they went that way. There's no need to say much about DeMeco Ryans and Mychal Kendricks. They are the starters and everyone is comfortable with them. The backups spots were wide open as of the spring. Jamar Chaney showed that he didn't fit the 3-4 and got cut. Casey Matthews played well. I know some fans are still down on him from the past, but this is a different player. He's more physical than ever. For the first time, he's aggressively taking on blockers and playing the inside run. Matthews is underrated in coverage. He's also good on special teams.
Rookie Jake Knott really stood out, but he's got one bad habit. He runs around blockers too much. You shouldn't do this at all, but you cannot do it most of the time. Knott got away with it in college, but won't in the NFL. By moving around the blocker, you often take yourself out of the play. You must engage the blocker, shed him and get to the ball. When Knott doesn't have blockers coming at him, he is really good. He tackles well. He goes full speed. Knott just has a knack for being around the ball and making things happen. This was true at Iowa State and here with the Eagles. He's got a bright future.
The Eagles claimed linebacker Najee Goode off waivers from Tampa Bay on Monday. He has a thick, squatty build at 6-feet, 245 pounds. He is a physical player. He’ll take on blocks. Tampa had him blow up fullbacks on iso runs. In the preseason finale, Goode broke up one pass and then a few plays later made a pick and returned it for a touchdown.
The secondary is a work in progress. The Eagles kept five safeties. I figured they would do this. Patrick Chung and Nate Allen project to being the starters as of now. Rookie Earl Wolff had a solid showing this summer, but didn't force his way into the lineup. Colt Anderson remains one of the best special teams players in the NFL. Kurt Coleman does whatever is asked of him and goes all out on every snap. He's played strong safety, free safety and even some cornerback in the Jets game. He plays on special teams. Coleman lacks the size and speed to be a good starting safety, but he has value as a role player.
Cornerback is a mystery spot for me. The Eagles kept six players. I like the top three guys. Cary Williams, Bradley Fletcher and Brandon Boykin can be a solid trio. After that, things are wide open. Curtis Marsh and Brandon Hughes got hurt and that took away their chance to show what they could do in the new scheme. They each played some, but not enough. Hughes has been a solid backup the last couple of years. I don't know what the new staff thinks of him. Marsh is a player they had high hopes for because of his size, but he was inconsistent this summer and placed on Injured Reserve with his hand injury. Shaun Prater was claimed off waivers from the Bengals. Cincinnati drafted him last year and played him both in the slot and outside before he got injured. He is 5-foot-10, 190 pounds, but plays bigger than he is.
The Eagles could look to upgrade here or they might feel that giving these guys a chance to play is the way to go. Players might have made the initial cut, but they must practice well and play well to keep their spot. The pressure will be on backups all year long. They can't afford to have bad weeks without risking the team looking for replacements. That's just life in the NFL.
Rookie Jordan Poyer is the final player in the group. He started slow, but got much better each week. I figured he was headed for the practice squad, but apparently he played well enough that the coaches wanted him kept around. He is versatile. Poyer can play in the slot or outside. He is a gunner on special teams and also a punt returner. He can do a lot of things. He needs to do them well to keep his job. The Eagles definitely like him as a player for the future.
This isn't a perfect roster, but I like it. Chip Kelly focused on versatile guys and players who could contribute in some way. No one got a free pass as purely a player for the future. There is a lot of youth in the group. Six draft picks and three undrafted players made it. That's nine rookies on the 53-man roster. Kelly talks about "winning now," but he's not sacrificing the future. He is choosing young players whom he feels can help him win now. The best example of this is choosing Tobin over Bamiro. Tobin might be just a rookie, but he can contribute in 2013 if injuries pop up and he needs to play.