The fourth game of an NFL preseason has a different feeling, obviously. There are players who feel they are one or two plays away from securing a spot on a roster. There are players who understand the odds and the significant stakes at hand. And there are players who will never play in a football game again.
So the final preseason game has a feel of desperation and urgency to it. Sometimes it's an ugly 60 minutes with players on the field who really don't know what in the world they are doing, other than playing football. Newest Eagles defensive linemen Jake Metz and Bruce Gaston joined the team only days before Thursday's 7 p.m. kickoff and the truth is that they are playing on instincts, not with months of reps in the scheme to rely upon.
"It isn't the cleanest football sometimes," defensive tackle Beau Allen said. "It's the reality of the league. A lot of guys who are here now won't be here at the end of the weekend. It's tough, but that's what makes this game so important. Guys are going to get after it and try to win jobs."
How many jobs are on the line for the Eagles? That's a good question, given how fluid the situation is with rosters around the league being reduced, with trade conversations happening, with teams trying to put together their best 53 by 4 p.m. on Saturday and then tweaking on Sunday and into Monday with waiver claims and practice-squad additions.
Crazy times. Fun times. The regular season is around the corner.
How does the Eagles roster look? We can guess here on the way to 53 players …
This is pretty easy, barring anything unforeseen like a trade or an injury. Sam Bradford, Chase Daniel and Carson Wentz are the three, with McLeod Bethel-Thompson a possibility, even if remote, to be a practice-squad arm and developmental quarterback for the future.
Running Back (4)
Ryan Mathews, Darren Sproles, Kenjon Barner and Wendell Smallwood. There are questions here, for sure. Can Mathews stay healthy? Can the Eagles get anything from Smallwood this season after he missed much of the summer with a quad injury and then a concussion? What role will Sproles play?
Wide Receiver (4)
It's a little light, so allow an explanation. The four are Ronald Darby, Nelson Agholor, Josh Huff and Dorial Green-Beckham. If the Eagles need a fifth receiver in a pinch, they can put someone like Paul Turner on the practice squad and have him ready at a moment's notice. They can keep their eyes open and see if a receiver cut from another team can help them. Four receivers dress on game days, anyway. Going thin here allows the Eagles to keep an extra player on the offensive or defensive line.
Tight end (4)
Brent Celek, Zach Ertz, Trey Burton and Chris Pantale are the four, with Pantale playing a key role on special teams and filling in as the fullback when needed.
Offensive Line (10)
Jason Peters, Isaac Seumalo, Jason Kelce, Brandon Brooks, Allen Barbre, Stefen Wisniewski and Matt Tobin are the first seven, anticipating Lane Johnson's suspension (he would not count against the 53-man roster if suspended). Who are the next three? How about rookies Halapoulivaati Vaitai, Darrell Greene and Dillon Gordon as the Eagles keep four first-year players (including Seumalo) and build some sustainable depth for the long term. The odd men out in this scenario would be Josh Andrews and Barrett Jones, both of whom have played well in the preseason.
Defensive Line (10)
Going heavy here with a group that has a lot of talent. Here are the 10: Connor Barwin, Brandon Graham, Vinny Curry, Marcus Smith, Steven Means, Fletcher Cox, Bennie Logan, Beau Allen, Taylor Hart, Destiny Vaeao. It's really important to keep everyone healthy on Thursday, and Allen, Smith, Means and Vaeao will probably get quite a few snaps in the game. The Eagles want to rotate their defensive linemen and they can go heavy here and do exactly that. Keep throwing 95-miles per hour with Jim Schwartz overseeing the defense.
This is a wishy-washy number because teams would generally keep six linebackers. Who is the sixth linebacker here?
The five are: Jordan Hicks, Mychal Kendricks, Nigel Bradham, Najee Goode and Stephen Tulloch. There isn't a lot of depth here. The Eagles will keep their eyes open for linebackers let go by other teams.
Here are the five, in no particular order: Leodis McKelvin, Nolan Carroll, Ron Brooks, Eric Rowe and Jalen Mills. The competition has been strong in the preseason, and a rookie like C.J. Smith could find himself on the practice squad. Thursday is big for Mills, Smith and JaCorey Shepherd, who has had a quiet preseason.
Fairly cut and dried here, it seems. The starters are Malcolm Jenkins and Rodney McLeod. The reserves are Chris Maragos and Jaylen Watkins. There is probably only room for four safeties.
Punter, Donnie Jones. Placekicker, Jake Elliott, who has outkicked Cody Parkey with a terrific spring and summer. Strugis has a huge leg and has been very, very consistent. Rick Lovato is the long snapper. And the fourth specialist? Bryan Braman, an ace on special teams who has moved to defensive end after playing linebacker in the 3-4 front. Braman is a beast on special teams and is a wild card here. How much do the Eagles value special teams? How will they play it on kickoffs? What happens around the league to players like Braman who excel on special teams, but who wonder how the teams are going to play the new kickoff rules (touchbacks come out to the 25-yard line, not the 20)
That's my best guess, and it's only a guess. We'll see how things shake out after a wild and unpredictable Thursday night around the league comes to a close.