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Early To Judge, OK To Evaluate

Posted Nov 28, 2012

Five games to go, with an eye on the players. Who is the real deal among these young players on the field? A project? A disappointment? Let's take a look ...

We all want to make a judgment and it's not the right thing to do. It's fair, though, as the Eagles play out the regular season that they do an exact job evaluating what they see and knowing as much as possible what they have for next season.

With all of these young players getting time and the Eagles down a few rungs across some important spots throughout the roster, the future is now in many instances for players hoping to get some quality game film and impress somebody, anybody, in the league.

Here are some key players who we've seen just a bit, at least enough to have crafted an opinion about ...

  • Nick Foles, QB: The positives in the young quarterback's game are there, and we see them. He has a good arm. He plays tall in the pocket. He sees the defense and knows what he is looking at, and is able to audible. Foles has done a good job with his progressions as well, and he's made some very nice throws in the mid-range passing game.

What we still don't know about Foles is how he projects as a long-term quarterback. He hasn't been surrounded with an offensive of projected NFL starters. He hasn't had the full complement of weapons the Eagles have on the roster, either. Foles also hasn't had a chance to lead a last-minute scoring drive with a chance to win a game.

Foles still needs to gain more confidence in what he sees in coverage and he has to show that he can create something from nothing. He's gotten the ball out quickly, but he doesn't have a compact, super-efficient delivery, either.

The jury is very much out on Foles, which is why he should get as many snaps as the Eagles can give him the rest of the season. Michael Vick is still recovering from his concussion and has a few more steps to go to be cleared to return to practice, but does it make any sense to have him start even when he's healthy? What is that going to accomplish as the Eagles evaluate Foles?

Certainly, the Eagles will have to make a decision on whether to keep Vick in 2013, but that's a call that can be made after the season. They know what kind of quarterback he is and what he is capable of doing.

The Eagles need to find out everything they can about Foles.

  • The defensive secondary: I wish I could tell you how Nnamdi Asomugha projects for 2013. I know he's been a disappointment and isn't the Pro Bowl performer we thought the Eagles were signing. I know he's been beaten. I know he's given up some big plays. And I know the secondary is allowing far too many open receivers and huge passing plays and all of that.

Why is all of that happening? Why are there still lapses in communication during a game? Why are players not in the position that Todd Bowles wants them to be in? How could a secondary that appears to have a lot of talent get beaten so much?

This is part of the evaluation process that has to be exact, and also provided with a leap of faith. Asomugha has a huge salary cap number next year and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent. It's easy to say, "Ah, just let 'em go!" Yeah, well, if the Eagles do that, who is playing cornerback in 2013?

Same with the safeties, who share in the concern for the secondary. If you want to replace Nate Allen and Kurt Coleman, go ahead and try. Safeties, good ones it seems, are very rare in the NFL. Where have all of the star safeties gone?

Is it the scheme here, or is it the lack of pressure up front, or is it the talent level that has caused this secondary to get gashed so much of late? I don't have the answer, but the Eagles better make sure they do for 2013 and beyond.

  • Bryce Brown, RB: I'm all about Bryce Brown and have been since the Eagles drafted him. Great story, super talent. I asked a coach the other day about Brown and his skill set and the coach said, "He has it all." That's exciting to hear, and after watching Brown rush for 178 yards and two touchdowns on Monday night against Carolina, the level of expectation for him has certainly grown.

But it's important to be cautious here. Ryan Moats was a rookie for the Eagles in 2005 and went off against the Giants in Game 13, rushing for 114 yards and two touchdowns -- one a 40-yarder -- on only 11 carries. He came back the next week with 78 yards and a score on 12 carries against the Rams.

Moats then had 16 carries and 36 yards in the final two games of that season, came back in 2006 and picked up only 69 yards on 22 carries and was done as an Eagle. Moats played for a couple of years with Houston before his NFL career ended.

The point is, the trajectory of a running back can change dramatically in this league. Brown has great promise, but he has a long way to go and a lot of work to do. He fumbled twice on Monday night, and the looseness with the football has to stop immediately. Teams know a lot more about his running style now. Dallas will be ready for No. 34.

  • Fletcher Cox, defensive tackle: I have seen enough of Fletcher Cox to say that he is the real deal, and that he has a chance to be a star player for years to come. He's big and strong and quick up front, and for a rookie to play as well as he has is extremely encouraging. Cox was an excellent first-round draft pick and is a player around whom the Eagles can build the front seven.
  • Brandon Graham, defensive end: Give him 45 snaps a game over the next five weeks and let's see Brandon Graham holds up physically. In limited duty, he's been OK. Graham gets off the ball very nicely and is in the backfield a lot. He needs to play with more discipline and he needs to finish plays better. Working against Doug Free on Sunday night will be a great time to evaluate Graham.
  • Dennis Kelly, right tackle: Nobody talks much about Dennis Kelly right now, which is an obvious sign that he is improving. Whether Kelly is eventually a starter or a reserve, he's a talented player who has good feet and decent strength for his size. Kelly needs a lot of polish, but all of this playing time is paying off for the fifth-round draft pick.
  • One of the most challenging decisions the Eagles must make for next year is whether to bring back middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans. There are a lot of questions, of course, and some of them are impossible to answer. What kind of defense, for example, are the Eagles going to play in 2013? Ryan's cap number jumps up and the Eagles have a lot of high numbers to deal with, so that's a factor, too.

But Ryans has done as well as could be expected behind the defensive line this year. He's active, he's durable and he's highly respected. Ryans should be a keeper, unless the Eagles have a sure thing to replace him in the middle -- or in the interior of a 3-4 scheme -- for next season.

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