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Let Eagles 'X' Factors Be Heard!

Posted Sep 4, 2014

Who takes into account the contributions of the less-heralded players in an NFL game? The stars get the headlines. The stars get the interviews. The 'X' factors can make the difference, though ...

Who takes into account the contributions of the less-heralded players in an NFL game? The stars get the headlines. The stars get the interviews. The 'X' factors can make the difference, though.

The Eagles have plenty of stars and front-line talent. They've also got a roster deep with many other players who will play roles that are more complementary, and they are thus in the 'X Factor' category. A look at some of the players who may not be gaining all of the attention from the media this week, but who are being counted on by the coaching staff for key roles against Jacksonville on Sunday.

NOLAN CARROLL II, CORNERBACK/KICKOFF RETURNER

Healthy after a bumpy preseason, Nolan Carroll II figures to play a versatile role in the Eagles' defense. He's got size and range and speed, and when he's been on the field in the spring and summer, Carroll has been terrific.

The question is: How can the Eagles use him? Would they take a safety or a linebacker off the field and move Carroll around and match him up against, say, Jacksonville tight end Marcedes Lewis? Could he track a running back in the passing game? Would the Eagles use Carroll as a "cover linebacker" in certain instances?

Having Carroll affords coordinator Bill Davis a lot of flexibility. The Eagles are four-deep at cornerback with starters Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher, and slot corner Brandon Boykin and now Carroll. It's one of the best groups the Eagles have had in many years.

BRANDON GRAHAM, OUTSIDE LINEBACKER

A year in the scheme has made a world of difference for Brandon Graham. He looks soooo much more comfortable dropping into coverage and firing from space into the backfield on the pass rush. Graham had a strong preseason rushing off the edge, and the Eagles are going to need that impact this season. Can he provide the punch to complement Trent Cole and Mychal Kendricks and Fletcher Cox and Vinny Curry (another 'X Factor' candidate, for sure).

Graham has worked hard and deserves credit for his development. He's in a backup role, but he will rotate in and get his chances. Making the most of them will make a difference in this defense.

ALLEN BARBRE, RIGHT TACKLE

We all know the story: Allen Barbre replaces the suspended Lane Johnson for the opening four games of the season at right tackle. Barbre is a strong, anchored veteran and he's going to be a force for the Eagles in the running game. Can he play solid football on the edge in the passing game when defenses are sending blitzes and speed rushers his way?

The Game 1 matchup is tough: Speed rusher Chris Clemons brings an array of moves and a strong track record and he will be a handful for Barbre. Clemons is quick off the ball and very aggressive. Jacksonville could also use Red Bryant, a 320-plus pounder and he's got some quickness to go along with power.

JON DORENBOS/DONNIE JONES, SPECIAL TEAMS

The focus on special teams has been, rightly so, on placekicker Cody Parkey. He's on the spot, no doubt. But making it work for Parkey means that both long snapper Jon Dorenbos and holder Donnie Jones have to be perfect as well. It's a team thing, a timing thing.

Jones, of course, is coming off one of the best seasons of his career and was simply brilliant in the preseason. Dorenbos doesn't get much attention for the job he does on the field, but the Eagles are fortunate to have someone so precise with his performance.

BEAU ALLEN, NOSE TACKLE

Beau Allen is becoming less of a secret. The seventh-round draft pick played a lot of snaps in the preseason and impressed everyone with his explosiveness for a 322-pound man. He's picked up things quickly in this defense and is likely to split reps with second-year nose tackle Bennie Logan against a Jacksonville ground game that features power running back Toby Gerhart.

Can Allen make a quick transition to the regular season tempo and intensity? He's going to get his shot and is expected to anchor the middle of the defense. Jacksonville wants to slow the game and play keep-away from the Eagles' offense, so the more effective the Eagles are at stopping the run, the more quickly Nick Foles and Co. can get back on the field.

Allen made huge strides in the preseason. Suddenly, he's being counted on as a key part of the interior defense.

JORDAN MATTHEWS, WIDE RECEIVER

After a very strong preseason, Jordan Matthews figures to get a lot of play at the slot wide receiver spot. He's big and has a wide catch radius, so the Eagles figure to use him extensively in the middle of the field and in the red zone.

Matthews is also good catching bubble screens and showed that he can block in the preseason. The Eagles wanted a bigger target in the slot than last year, and Matthews is that presence as he makes the move from preseason football to regular season games.

NATE ALLEN, SAFETY

Malcolm Jenkins is the quarterback of the defensive secondary, and Nate Allen is the strong partner. Allen is an improved player from where he was a couple of seasons ago, and now it's time to take another step forward.

The Eagles need him to be a strong tackler and to be in the right position to make plays. When he has a play on the ball, Allen has to get it done. That's a critical next step in his career.

Allen beat out Earl Wolff in the preseason to earn the starting job, but Wolff is not backing down. Allen has to perform, and another jump up in improvement from Allen will benefit the overall defense greatly.

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