Last Thursday night was big for a lot of people, particularly on the back end of the roster. Position battles were coming to a close and some players were fighting for a job. One player who wasn't was linebacker Kiko Alonso, who saw his first action of the preseason against the New York Jets. Let's go to the tape and see how he performed.
If you read my analysis of Alonso when the Eagles traded for him back in the spring, you'll remember his relentless playing style and his sideline-to-sideline nature. The veteran linebacker put that aspect of his game on full display in the one series he played against New York.
Alonso does a great job here filling his gap, then chasing the action to make a play outside the numbers for his first official tackle of the summer.
On this inside run from the Jets, Alonso shows his ability to stay clean in traffic, using his hands to keep the tight end off of him at the second level so he can get his hat on the ball; a very savvy play by the veteran. Overall, Alonso was credited with two tackles on the evening, and it was a performance that he can build on as the game against Atlanta draws closer.
The Bubble Guys Who Persevered
It was pretty much a guarantee that Alonso would be on the 53-man roster. For three other players, that determination was not as clear. Denzel Rice, Jerome Couplin and Josh Andrews each needed strong summers to stake a claim for a spot at their respective positions. All three came out on top.
In Rice, the Eagles have a physical corner who fits their prototype from a dimensions standpoint at 6-0, 196 pounds. He uses that frame to his advantage in a number of ways, including at the line of scrimmage in press situations and in the run game.
Against the Jets, Rice made a couple of plays in the run game (some where he made the tackle, others where he influenced the runner to go back inside to his help). Tackling may not be the number one job of a corner on every play, but every week in the NFL you see corners who aren't willing or capable of finishing a one-on-one tackle against a running back, and he burns the defense. You'll never have to worry about that happening with Rice.
Rice also brings a lot of positional versatility, as he can line up both inside and outside. On this play against the Baltimore Ravens, he lined up in the slot and carried the receiver vertically down the field. He showed the ability to be effective in man or zone, in the slot or outside and in off or press coverage. When you have a young player who can do that and be a performer on special teams (where he contributed in every core unit throughout the preseason), you have a guy who can stick on a roster.
Couplin has always intrigued me ever since the Eagles picked him up last fall. He's got great size, his athletic testing numbers coming out of college were very good, but it wasn't until this preseason that we got to see him in game action and see what he could do between the lines at this level (keep in mind that he played at FCS-level William & Mary, so this was a jump for him coming to the NFL). After missing the first game against Baltimore with appendicitis, he showed up in a big way in the final three games.
Couplin was consistently active in the run game. He was decisive, he was physical and he closed ground in a hurry in those situations. All three of those traits showed up on this tackle for loss against Green Bay.
The other intriguing part of Couplin's game is his combination of size and movement skills. At 6-2, 215 pounds, he's got the size to handle bigger receivers and tight ends in the slot, and his ability to run allows him to hold his own in coverage. This versatility is very important for the Eagles' defense and the way they employ their safeties. Not to mention that with any long, physical, athletic defenders you should have a player who can make an impact on special teams as well. I would expect Couplin to do that this fall.
Last, but not least, is Josh Andrews. After spending the 2014 season on the team's practice squad, you had a feeling that Andrews was going to compete for a roster spot on this offensive line this summer. With the ability to play both guard and center, Andrews is another player with athleticism, some power and a nasty demeanor that makes him a great fit for this run-first scheme.
On this rep against New York, you can see Andrews work on the 3-technique then sift up to the linebacker and take him out of the play on this long run by Kenjon Barner.
Again, you see Andrews' ability to handle opponents at the point of attack here against New York. I could've picked at least half a dozen plays from this game alone on Andrews, who steers the defensive tackle out of the frame on this long run from Raheem Mostert. Chip Kelly praised Andrews' ability as an explosive player and his development moving forward will be fun to watch.
Fran Duffy is the producer of "Eagles Game Plan" which can be seen on Saturdays during the season. Be sure to also check out the "Eagle Eye In The Sky" podcast on the Philadelphia Eagles podcast channel on iTunes. Prior to joining the Eagles in 2011, Duffy was the head video coordinator for the Temple University Football team under former head coach Al Golden. In that role, he spent thousands of hours shooting, logging and assisting with the breakdown of the All-22 film from the team's games, practices and opponents.