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A List Of Most Improved Eagles

We're still in the early stage of the 2013 season, of course, and when the lights go on for the regular season, the tempo changes and the stars of preseason are often given their dose of reality.

However, we can only judge what we've seen to date, and what we've seen from this Eagles roster is a long list of players who have improved greatly. From this perspective, then, here are the players on the move, trending upward ...


Given some hindsight, what Damaris Johnson provided to the Eagles last season was pretty impressive. He didn't play in his senior season at Tulsa and then was bypassed in the draft. Johnson signed with the Eagles and made the 53-man roster and then caught 19 passes in a reserve role at wide receiver. Johnson also handled the punt return duties and ranked second in the NFC with an 11.2-yard return average.

In two preseason games Johnson has 5 receptions and is working well into Chip Kelly's offense. His quickness and route-running ability fit nicely into the offense and Johnson has been a secure pass catcher and a threat after making the reception. In the return game, Johnson is averaging 29 yards on his three returns, including a 62-yard effort against the Patriots.

Whether he starts or not, Johnson is far beyond where he was as a rookie, when too often he rushed so much that footing became an issue. Johnson is going to be a major weapon for this team in several phases.


Mychal Kendricks has followed a fine rookie campaign at the SAM linebacker position with an outstanding 2013 summer as an inside linebacker in Bill Davis' defense. We saw some of what the Eagles have planned for Kendricks when he had made some plays behind the line of scrimmage in the defense's outing last week against Carolina.

Kendricks is a physical, passionate player who gives the defense energy. It's likely that Davis wants to feature Kendricks in a variety of ways to take advantage of his sideline-to-sideline speed and his ability to get into the offensive backfield. It's going to be interesting to see what Davis does with Kendricks on a week-to-week basis.


Anyone watching the team on a day-to-day basis is impressed with Brandon Boykin, who has arguably had the finest summer of any Eagles defensive back. He came into camp chisled physically and focused mentally and he's been outstanding in coverage. Nobody asks Boykin about covering bigger wide receivers any longer.

Boykin, by the way, has also returned two kickoffs for an average of 37 yards per return, which is also exciting to note.


Fully healed after a shoulder injury restricted his appeal to the NFL during the April, 2012 draft, and all the way back after suffering an ugly foot injury as a rookie, Chris Polk has been largely outstanding in the summer of 2013.

He fumbled against Carolina, yes, and that has to stop immediately, but Polk has been quicker and every bit as powerful in camp and in the preseason games. He's running well enough to seriously challenge Bryce Brown for the No. 2 running back position and Polk appears to have earned the confidence of the coaching staff.

The Eagles have a fine situation at running back. Polk's development is a prime reason, and he should be plenty involved in the offense in the season ahead.


Bigger and stronger than he was three years ago after his college career at Southern Arkansas, Cedric Thornton is suddenly a starter along the defensive line. He has to continue to improve, of course, but Thornton is hungry to keep developing.

A couple of plays in the backfield against Carolina highlighted Thornton's quickness off the ball as he beat the offensive lineman in front of him. How will Thornton hold up in the heat of a game with the offensive line leaning on his 310-pound frame? That's the next step in his career development.


Don't read this to suggest that DeSean Jackson's play fell off in the last couple of years. It didn't. It's just that Jackson wasn't featured as much as he had been earlier in his career, which is why seeing Jackson dominate every day in practice and in the preseason games when called upon is so refreshing.

Jackson has the speed, always has, and now he has more variety in his routes and in his game. He's blowing past defenders who creep close to the line of scrimmage and he's moving the chains when cornerbacks give him a cushion and some easy completions in the 10-to-12-yard range.


The cornerback depth chart seems set at the top with Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher in starting roles and with Boykin as the third man in. Who plays behind them? Brandon Hughes has come on lately with some strong play and is making his move.

Hughes has been slowly making progress in his time with the Eagles and he appears to have taken another step. The Eagles need some depth at the corners, no question about that.


The decision on who is the starting quarterback has yet to be made, but Kelly honestly believes he has two quarterbacks who can win for him right now in Michael Vick and Nick Foles. Both have moved the offense successfully and efficiently and have adapted to the fast tempo with few problems. It's been, frankly, remarkable how quickly the offense has picked up on Kelly's demands.

Vick has been nearly flawless in his preseason time. He's completed 13 of 15 passes and has a passer rating of 113.2. That number would be close to 150 minus the last-play fling that was intercepted at the end of the first half against Carolina. Vick has run when the chances are there (20 yards on 2 carries) and he's been calm and poised in the pocket.

Foles has completed 11 of 14 passes, has scrambled for big yards (and a touchdown) when the field has opened up and has adjusted beautifully to the tempo. The end-zone interception he threw against Carolina was a huge mistake, though, and probably about the only thing that really has separated the two quarterbacks in the preseason games.

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