The Eagles were a very busy team over the weekend. They had to make cuts to get down to 53 players and Howie Roseman also made a few trades to bolster the roster. There weren't any shocking moves, but things did get interesting.
The move that caught me off guard was cutting both Quintin Demps and Macho Harris. I just assumed we would go with four safeties and had pegged at least one of them to make the roster. The Eagles must have felt that neither player earned a spot. I didn't think that either player played so poorly that they deserved to get cut. The problem is that they didn't do anything so compelling this summer to make the Eagles feel as if they had to keep them. This is a good reminder that few players are safe when it comes to making the team. High draft picks that have a lot of potential and accomplished veterans are generally safe. Everyone else has to constantly prove their worth.
Demps was our fourth best safety this summer. Two guys ahead of him, Nate Allen and Kurt Coleman, are rookies. That's not a good sign. Harris' situation is more complicated. He started at free safety for most of 2009. The team moved him to corner and took Allen early in the draft. That wasn't a ringing endorsement for Harris' ability as a safety. Harris was moved to cornerback, his natural position. He was slowed by a hamstring injury in training camp and that really hurt him. Unfortunately, he failed to shine when he got back on the field. The Eagles weren't looking to dump these guys or anything like that. Both had been quality players for us in the past. I'm sure they were among the final guys that were cut. Unfortunately with a 53-man roster limit there are some talented players that are going to be let go.
Are there any concerns about the Eagles only going with three safeties? Not in my mind. Coach Andy Reid said that cornerback Dimitri Patterson would get some practice reps at safety so that he could help out if that became necessary in a game. Patterson certainly has the skill set to be a good safety. He is a physical player, tackles well, and has solid ball skills. In the past we used Sheldon Brown at safety in some packages. He was a cornerback, but had the skills to play safety as well.
Two of our three safeties are rookies. That fact may bother some people. I certainly understand the concern. I look at the situation differently. Think back to the spring and summer of 2009. Our key safeties were Quintin Mikell, Quintin Demps, Sean Jones, Rashad Baker and Macho Harris. Demps had a disappointing offseason. Jones and Baker were veteran players who desperately wanted to start. Both guys failed to impress at Lehigh or in the preseason games. Harris was only a rookie, but became the starting free safety. He had a solid showing in practices and preseason games. Most of his snaps came against backups, but he flashed ability. Harris got the job in part because he earned it, but also in part because his competition didn't play well.
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Allen and Coleman are quite the opposite. Allen was named starting free safety right after the draft. He didn't take that role for granted. He embraced the opportunity and has been terrific this summer. Allen doesn't look like a rookie starter. He looks like a potential star. Coleman has also been outstanding. He's made plays on defense and stood out on the kick coverage units. He earned a roster spot and then some. I think Coleman showed enough that he's a guy you want on the field. I have been a fan of his since before the draft and it sure looks like the Eagles got a steal in the seventh round. I'll take a pair of rookies that have played well and show good ability over unimpressive veterans any day of the week.
Roseman traded for guard Reggie Wells from Arizona. I watched a couple of his games from the 2009 season to get a feel for Wells. He is simply a solid veteran blocker. Wells isn't going to dominate anyone up front, but he also won't lose you any games. He is solid as both a run blocker and pass protector. He is smart and shows good awareness. He has pretty good feet and moves well laterally. He can pull and block on the move. He works hard to sustain blocks. One area that could use improvement is his hands. Wells punches out and tries to engage the defender, but he's sloppy with his hands. Sometimes he misses his target. The good news is that he moves his feet well enough to handle the situation when that happens. I expect Wells to sit for a week or two while he learns the playbook. Wells isn't a project of any sort so he should learn quickly and be ready to get on the field. Soon enough he will battle Nick Cole for the right guard job.
Roseman's other trade landed us defensive end Antwan Barnes. He ran a 4.43 at the Combine back in 2007. That kind of speed got the Eagles attention, but Barnes was drafted by the Ravens. He flashed big-time ability at times, but never could break through and establish himself in Baltimore. Barnes is a good fit for the Joker in our Okie package. He also should be a help on special teams. Expect us to use him much the way we did Chris Clemons over the last couple of years.
I really like the way Roseman aggressively goes after players that he feels can help us. Wells will never be a star, but he can be a good band-aid for us this season. Barnes could be a very good role player for us. You never know what move will end up being important when you look back in a few months or even a year. We added Antonio Dixon around this time last year and he became an important backup. At the time, that move didn't generate much buzz.
Jorrick Calvin made the roster despite only being here about a week. The team didn't just keep him around for the heck of it. They liked him prior to the draft and then followed him closely over the summer. He did get to play for us in the Jets game. Calvin was impressive. He showed quick feet in coverage. He tackled pretty well, although that area still needs some work. He showed a lot of potential as a returner. He was quick, fast, and elusive. I thought he looked like a natural punt returner. I'm not expecting Calvin to play much this year, but we'll see how that goes. I thought Antonio Dixon was a long-term project last summer. He clicked with the coaches and was able to contribute right away. We'll see how things go with Calvin.
Clay Harbor is the No.2 tight end. The Eagles could still make a move in the next week or so, but they might be comfortable enough with Harbor to stick with him. He has the ability to be a good NFL player. Harbor just needs experience. He shows a lot of potential as a blocker and is an athletic pass catcher. Those guys are hard to find. If you listen to an interview with Harbor he sounds like he's 30 and has been in the league for five years. That makes me comfortable with him despite having to make the transition from Missouri State to the big time.
We've added a couple of outsiders to the practice squad. One is tight end Garrett Mills. He is an undersized player that was a fullback/H-back type when coming out of Tulsa. He is a talented receiver with athletic ability. He can really help in practice because of his versatility. He can be the fullback at times. He can play the role of a Chris Cooley-type receiver other weeks. He will be a big help for the defense as they prepare for each game.
Receiver Jeremy Williams is a rookie that went undrafted. I actually listed him to the Eagles in some mock drafts. He had a terrific senior season at Tulane. Williams is 6-1 and 201 pounds. He runs well, but isn't a blazer. He played in a pro-style offense and runs good routes. He also has some kickoff return experience. He could push for a roster spot in 2011.
Reid and Roseman have put together an outstanding roster. There is a lot of youth, but also a lot of talent. We have a lot of high character players that are coachable and want to learn. Those are the kind of young guys you want to build your team around. I also get the sense that these young players are hungry. Kevin Kolb wants to show the world he's a good quarterback. Stewart Bradley wants to establish himself as a Pro Bowl linebacker. Brandon Graham wants to prove that he can be an impact pass rusher. LeSean McCoy wants to prove he's a good starting running back in the NFL. And so on. That kind of desire is important with a young team. As long as we stay healthy and our star players play up to their ability, I expect 2010 to be a good season.