In the final week of the preseason, with one eye on the Jets and Thursday's preseason finale and the other eye on Washington and the regular-season opener, the Eagles are in the last step of everything that leads into the games that matter.
And there's a lot going on.
While it may seem fairly cut and dried that the team has most of its 53-man roster figured out, it really is never that simple. The roster is fluid, witness the move on Sunday to bring in cornerback Dexter McDougle and throw him into the mix at a position that has changed ever so much since April's draft. What does McDougle have to do to make this roster? He didn't practice on Sunday, so McDougle will get a crash course on the defense for two days and play in the preseason finale against the Jets, his former team, and hope he's made enough of an impression to stick.
How about running back, where the Eagles are likely debating between keeping four or five backs on the 53-man roster? LeGarrette Blount is making it. Darren Sproles is making it. Wendell Smallwood is going to be here. Who else?
Let's set up the week that will be, and the steps to be taken to reach the magical 53 when the roster is finalized – that is, until more roster tinkering is done – on Saturday at 4 p.m.
- Will the Eagles keep two or three quarterbacks on the roster? Head coach Doug Pederson has steadfastly remained confident that backup Nick Foles will be ready for the regular season despite missing all of the preseason with an elbow injury. Matt McGloin has improved greatly since the early days of Training Camp and has completed 62-of-88 preseason pass attempts. McGloin isn't a starter, but he has the experience to be a competent backup in the league. Here? We'll find out if the Eagles go with two quarterbacks, as they did last season, or three when the roster is cut down to 53 players.
* Running back is an interesting position to watch. The three names above – Blount, Sproles, and Smallwood – are going to be here. What about Donnel Pumphrey, a fourth-round draft pick, or undrafted rookie Corey Clement? Pederson had some notable things to say about Pumphrey on Sunday. "He's right where I expected him to be and I think he can only get better when we start gameplanning and honing in on our defenses and things like that during the week when we get play specific if he's available to us on Sunday," he said. "He'll just get better from there."
* The offensive line has been the subject of some concern from the fans and the media, but Pederson said he is not worried in the least. "I'm not concerned at all with our protection," he said. "As we get into the regular season, we spend a lot of time looking at blitzes, looking at pass rush, and making sure not only our backs, but our tight ends and offensive line are tuned into that."
* Which roster spots are still open? Pederson mentioned he's keeping an eye on the nickel cornerback spot, running back, tight end, and the offensive line. He could have added the situation at backup middle linebacker and defensive line, both at tackle and end. It was widely expected that Ron Brooks would claim the nickel cornerback spot once he was healthy, but he hasn't come all the way back and won the job. Patrick Robinson has been playing the nickel spot with Ronald Darby here. The Eagles are going to look at McDougle in that role, too.
* How many defensive tackles can the Eagles keep? Fletcher Cox, Tim Jernigan, Beau Allen, and Destiny Vaeao are the top four on the roster, but the Eagles have liked what they've seen from others like Justin Hamilton and sixth-round draft pick Elijah Qualls.
, Isaac Seumalo, Jason Kelce, Brandon Brooks, and Lane Johnson. That's five. Count on backups Stefen Wisniewski, Halapoulivaati Vaitai, and Chance Warmack. That's eight. Young tackles Dillon Gordon and, yes, Taylor Hart – who is making the transition from defensive tackle to offensive tackle – are in the mix. Victor Salako is a young tackle with promise. Guards Dallas Thomas and Darrell Greene are going to get long looks on Thursday. Despite trading two offensive linemen in the last month – Allen Barbre and Matt Tobin – the Eagles still have a lot of players they like along the offensive line.
As the Eagles enter the final week of the preseason, they've got some real intrigue and, certainly, some tough roster situations to figure out. That's exactly the hope when Training Camp opens, that the team will remain largely healthy and that enough players will step up to make the roster decisions difficult when it comes time to whittle the roster to 53 players.