Crunch time means everything for the players on the field against the Jets. Maybe they slept on Wednesday night. Maybe they tossed and turned and wondered how important their final audition for the coaching staff would be. Maybe they tried to be cool, but underneath they were paddling furiously.
Maybe the preseason finale means everything for a handful of "bubble" players as the Eagles wrap up their four games prior to the September 7 opener against the Rams.
Here is my list of 15 players who have a lot riding on a strong performance tonight.
TONY HUNT, fullback
This is an obvious choice. Hunt gave it great effort as a lead blocker last week and he won some battles and lost other battles. Hunt is expected to use better technique and show the same desire as a lead blocker. That is his challenge. His body is going to hurt more one week than the previous week. He is a battering ram. He has to run through walls every week. How is Hunt going to play in a game less than a week after playing for the first time at the fullback position?
Hunt is the leader in the clubhouse for the fullback job. But the expectation is that Hunt, Jason Davis and Jed Collins will play in this game. Is this the one game that decides the winner of the position? Only the coaches know the answer. In the meantime, Hunt needs to play well to secure a roster spot. It sure doesn't look like there is any room to keep a fourth halfback.
MIKE McGLYNN, offensive guard
He has not distinguished himself at this point, and the thinking is that McGlynn is on the roster bubble. How many offensive linemen can the Eagles keep? Has McGlynn played better than the likes of Scott Young and Max Jean-Gilles? Both are ahead of McGlynn in terms of how many reps they've played in the preseason games.
McGlynn is going to get a lot of time in this game. He needs to be active and use good technique and win a roster spot. If the Eagles keep nine linemen, and five of them are the starters plus Max Jean-Gilles and Nick Cole, that leaves only two spots. Can McGlynn be one of those players?
JEROME McDOUGLE, defensive end
One of the most pleasant surprises of the summer has been the play of McDougle, the former first-round draft pick who has served notice that he can be part of this team. The problem is, the numbers just don't add up at this point. You can basically pencil in the defensive ends right now, with Trent Cole, Juqua Parker, Darren Howard and Chris Clemons at the top four. Clemons? He hasn't played much in the preseason because of a calf injury, but would the Eagles go in another direction after making him such a free-agent priority? It would be shocking if they did.
Victor Abiamiri is expected to remain on the active roster as he recovers from a wrist injury, and Bryan Smith is a third-round draft pick with a bright future who would be snapped up in a second if he were to be waived.
So that leaves McDougle as the seventh end for a team that figures to keep six at the position. McDougle is playing for a job, no doubt about it. The question is can he win a job here or will he be in another uniform for the 2008 season?
KING DUNLAP, offensive tackle
A very talented left tackle, Dunlap has made good strides in his technque. He is a big body with good feet and long arms. He is a prospect. But he is a left tackle exclusively at this point in his career and the Eagles may not have the flexibility within their roster to keep a player who is confined to one position. Winston Justice, a second-round draft pick in 2005, is playing right tackle and maybe, possibly could play right guard in a pinch.
Dunlap's challenge is to play low on every snap and not allow defensive ends to gain leverage. He is making strides. Given some time, Dunlap might be able to make it at left tackle. This game is important for Dunlap, who should play quite a bit.
LORENZO BOOKER, running back
Booker is not in danger of losing a roster spot, but he needs as much time in the offense as he can get so the Eagles can learn more about what he can deliver to the offense. Look for Booker to move around the formation and get a lot of touches as Brian Westbrook and Correll Buckhalter take most, if not all, of the night off. With Ryan Moats sidelined, Booker could see a ton of snaps.
He needs to be quick, he needs to catch passes and he needs to get to the second level in the running game. Booker is a good fit in the offense, so this game will be another chance for the coaches to learn what they have in the second-year running back.
KEVIN KOLB, quarterback
OK, so Kolb has been good in the preseason. There is an added level of confidence in what he can do, so with another game to play and a bunch of passes ahead, Kolb is going to look to sharpen his game and prepare to be the No. 2 quarterback during the regular season.
If the starters play, Donovan McNabb will see limited time with them. Then it will be up to Kolb and A.J. Feeley, both of whom are looking forward to the opportunity to play. The Eagles think they have a really good situation at quarterback. They have three taletned players here, and for Kolb and Feeley, the game means something.
BRYAN SMITH, defensive end
The more reps he gets, the better Smith is going to be. There is no telling what role Smith is going to play in the season ahead, but if Clemons remains sidelined and if Abiamiri remains out, Smith could be active on September 7 when the regular season opens. The Eagles much know they can count on Smith if he is active to play, both on special teams and from the line of scrimmage.
Expect four ends to be active on game day. Smith, at the moment, is one of those four.
ROCKY BOIMAN, linebacker
Signed to help on special teams, Boiman has not been a standout there. He needs to make some plays in coverage for a special teams group that showed a lot of improvement last week. Still, the coverage units haven't been as good as coordinator Rory Segrest wants. Boiman is on the spot to step up and lead a young core group.
The Eagles generally keep six linebackers. Boiman is in line to be the sixth linebacker of the group, but he is not guaranteed anything. He needs to be involved against the Jets.
NICK GRAHAM, cornerback
Graham, who made the roster last year after playing well in preseason games, has not been around the ball as much as expected. As a result, he has not staked a rock-solid claim to the fifth cornerback job.
This is his last chance to convince the Eagles that they need to keep five corners. Do the Eagles keep five at cornerback or five at safety? Graham's play could go a long way toward answering that question.
JASON DAVIS, fullback
Davis, the starter at fullback in the spring, has not kept the job. He is, however, still a candidate because he has the most experience in the offense and is the most reliable option. Maybe. Davis is in a boom-or-bust situation right here.
ANDY STUDEBAKER, linebacker
The rookie from Wheaton is going to play both SAM linebacker and hand-in-the-dirt defensive end. He is an active player who finds the ball and makes up for his lack of experience and technique with a great work ethic and his natural athletic ability.
All along, Studebaker has been a long shot. He has made improvements, shown a great attitude and is the kind of kid you want to bring along and teach and see what he can do when he learns the game. But he must show up and make plays with the number of snaps he is going to take in this game.
KRIS WILSON, tight end
Wilson is not the in-the-back-pocket-option for the fullback position. He has to either make this team as a tight end or try to make another team after waivers. Wilson is behind Matt Schobel for the third tight end job, but he seems to be coming on the last couple of weeks.
At this point, Wilson needs to probably have a huge game to make it. He has good skills, but the question is whether Wilson fits into the scheme as well as Schobel.
SCOTT YOUNG, offensive guard
After a curious holdout in the spring, Young returned and has played good football as a backup guard in training camp and in the preseason. He has some game experience and can play both guard spots and the center position. That gives Young an advantage over players like McGlynn and Mike Gibson, the sixth-round draft pick from Cal.
Young has been able to put aside whatever caused him to stay away in the spring to focus on his job and he has stepped into a solid role here.
JOE MAYS, linebacker
Mays has been one step ahead of Pago Togafau for the backup middle linebacker job and enters this game with the lead for the spot. But Mays needs to make some plays on special teams and in pass coverage to nail down the position.
Mays has been nothing less than impressive since he was drafted. He has good instincts, plays without fear and is a strong, physical kid. Look for him to play at least a half. We'll get a much better feel for his game. He looks like a good one so far.
QUINTIN DEMPS, safety
This isn't about Demps making the roster. Nor is it about him being a kickoff return man. It is about him learning to play the safety spot to a level at which the Eagles can trust him if they need him on the field. Demps played a little bit at cornerback last week, but defensive coordinator Jim Johnson said Demps is likely to stay at safety for now.
So he has to go out against the Jets and make the right calls, get in the right position and play with his natural ability. What happens if the Eagles need Demps in a pinch during the season? He has to earn some of the coaching staff's confidence in this game. They need to know where Demps is at in his development. A good half at safety will help.