The youth of the Eagles gives you hope that this team, with a strong end to this year and a productive offseason, can contend for years to come. You look at this roster and see few age spots -- defensive end
There is enough experience here, and there is a lot of youth. There is a lot of promise. Here are some players around whom the Eagles can build these final three games, peering into the crystal ball ...
JASON KELCE, C
He's enjoyed a good rookie season and his future is very bright. Kelce's athletic ability, smarts and toughness have been recognized by the coaching staff, which made the decision to go with Kelce over the more-experienced
Kelce needs to improve, of course, and he will. The kid works hard and truly gets it. A good measuring stick for him will be in these next two games -- first against the Jets' sturdy interior defense and the blitz package they offer, and then against Dallas nose tackle Jay Ratliff, who has been Kelce's biggest test of the year.
I would think Kelce will weigh in the range of 295-300 pounds next year, when he has a chance to become one of the best in the NFC at his position. A prediction: The Pro Bowl is in his not-too-distant future.
DANNY WATKINS, OG
As up and down as Watkins has been this year, he has stuck with it and has remained the starter at right guard. You can see the ability he has -- Watkins is strong, aggressive and he finishes his blocks well. The mental game remains Watkins' biggest challenge after he moved from left tackle in college to right guard in the NFL. An offseason in the weight room and in the study room will benefit Watkins tremendously.
BRIAN ROLLE, LB
Good player, instinctive and tough, Rolle has found a home as the team's weakside linebacker. These next few games are critical in his development as the Eagles expand his role and give him more opportunities in coverage and in blitzing downs.
Rolle needs to be more consistent as a tackler and he has to show that he can hold up to the punishment for 16 games, but he's had a strong rookie season here.
NATE ALLEN, S
We have dissected the safety positions over and over this year because the play there has been so difficult to predict. Allen looked like he was coming into his own for a stretch of a few games in mid-season, and then he regressed for a few weeks. Allen bounced back and played well in Miami, hopefully launching him into a solid end to the season.
New York will try to fool Allen all game with its play-action passing and its throws over the top to Santonio Holmes and, in the red zone, Plaxico Burress. This is a terrific game in which to focus on Allen and see how he reacts to the Jets backfield.
My feeling is that Allen is going to be a terrific player in this league. He's come a long way physically since his knee injury, which was only 12 months ago. Look for big things from him the rest of the way this year and in 2012.
KURT COLEMAN, S
Is Coleman big enough to start and play 16 games every season? That's the question with the 2010 seventh-round pick and Coleman has answered positively throughout this year. He has four interceptions and has improved each week as he knows the scheme. There have been too many missed tackles for both safeties, an area they need to improve.
Coleman isn't going away any time soon. Sure, the Eagles want to get a look at
Coleman isn't a big guy, but he plays with a huge heart. That's why he is the starter on this defense.
BRANDON GRAHAM, DE
It was disappointing to hear Graham speak in the locker room about "next year" with three games still to go this season. The hope here is that Graham gets some snaps and shakes off the rust from his knee injury. Whether or not that happens, Graham has a lot of work ahead.
He needs to get stronger physically and he needs to attack the offseason and report to training camp next summer in the best shape of his life. Graham faces a critical 2012 campaign, and don't be surprised if defensive end is again a focus to improve for this football team. Both
Can Graham be a dominating defensive end? He has to be to justify the price the Eagles paid to move up in the first round of the 2010 draft to get him.
CASEY MATTHEWS, LB
With his sack in Miami, Matthews showed a little something with his explosiveness and quickness to the quarterback. Matthews made mistakes in the game playing extended time in the nickel, so he has a lot to work on. At this moment, the fourth-round draft pick has confidence and that's a good thing in what has been a turbulent rookie season for him.
Is he ever going to be a starter here? I don't know. I don't think it's fair to ever underestimate a Matthews, though, and a great offseason in the weight room will benefit him a lot.
At the moment, Matthews is in a role and the Jets will look for him when he is on the field on Sunday. Book that. The Jets will throw at Matthews and see if he can cover in space.
RILEY COOPER, WR
With 5 catches against the Giants, 3 against New England and then 5 more in Seattle, Cooper provided a glimpse of what he can do when given the chance. And with
He's a big, strong kid who has good hands. Cooper has had a couple of drops this year, which is surprising, but he's also created more separation than maybe some expected. He can be a factor in the red zone.
CHAS HENRY, P
He has really come on lately, and in Miami Henry averaged a career-best 46.6 yards on nine punts. It will be interesting to see how he does in cold-weather games at Lincoln Financial Field against the Jets and Washington. The cold didn't bother Henry in Seattle, where he averaged 46.3 yards per punt.
Henry has gotten more consistent as the year as gone along. The Eagles hoped for this kind of progress and they've gotten it. Every game for a kicker in this league is a test, of course. Henry is passing it through 13 games after some early struggles.
ALEX HENERY, PK
Henery has made 19 of 22 field goals, with a long of 47 yards. His 86.4 percent conversion rate is the best among Eagles rookies ever. Henery's kickoffs have improved greatly and his consistency has been admirable.
David Akers is having a tremendous season in San Francisco, as everyone knew he would. Henery is having a fine season here, too. The Eagles have a placekicker who, barring a meltdown that would be totally unforeseen, should be their guy for the next decade.
Let's see how he does down the stretch and see if he is in any game-winning situations. That's the next hurdle he needs to clear.
There are other young players who could go on this list, because the Eagles are going with a lot of kids.
The important focus now is to beat the Jets and see where the season goes from there. Mixed with that is the development of a young core the Eagles need to develop for the future.