This is an exciting and busy time for personnel departments, coaching staffs and players. Teams are getting ready to play a final preseason game and then comes the arduous task of whittling down the roster from 75 players to 53. Then teams will sign players to the 8-man practice squad.
Coaches have to figure out which players they want to keep around and who they are willing to let go. Pro scouts and personnel executives are busy evaluating the players on other teams to determine who might be of interest in a trade or who to sign should those players get cut. The personnel people and the coaches will do a lot of talking to try and come up with a plan for the best 53-man roster possible. This is a very fluid time of the year and you have to be prepared for various situations.
Players are under the most stress. They are fighting for their professional lives. These guys know that only 53 players are on the final roster. The top 45 or so players are usually pretty set. That leaves 25 to 30 guys battling for fewer than 10 spots. The odds are not in the average player's favor. Each player knows that, but has to put it out of his mind. You won't play well and make the team if you're filled with self-doubt and worrying about things you can't control. All players can do is play hard every snap and hope that they do enough to impress the coaches.
The preseason finale against the Jets will be critical for players in a couple of different ways. Some guys are fighting for starting jobs. Other players are simply trying to earn a roster spot. The game might be ""meaningless"" in the standings, but it can make or break careers.
I know some fans are concerned with a couple of positions still being unsettled. Free safety is an open competition. It sure sounds like Quintin Demps is the leader right now, but rookie Macho Harris or veteran Sean Jones could change that with a strong showing tonight. Demps has had a solid summer, but he hasn't made the decision a no-brainer. No one is given a starting job. It has to be earned. Harris is one of those players who coaches love. He is versatile, instinctive and has a knack for being around the ball a lot. This is not your typical rookie.
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Sean Jones is the X-factor in all of this. He's a proven NFL starter and that can't be dismissed. Jones has 44 starts and 14 career interceptions. He's big, fast and hits like a ton of bricks. He'll start at strong safety against the Jets. I expected more out of Jones. He's been good, but he hasn't stood out nearly like I expected. I wonder if getting to start and play an extended amount will bring out the best in him. Jones needs to really play well in order to push Demps, but it is possible. He's had good games in the regular season so a strong showing in the preseason finale isn't out of the question.
The middle linebacker position has gone through some changes. Joe Mays had the job since Stewart Bradley went down on August 2. Mays didn't play as well as he did last year. He just looked a bit tentative as a starter. The team experimented with Moise Fokou in the middle. Fokou looked pretty good, but he's completely new to middle linebacker and that's a big move for a rookie. Omar Gaither has the top spot for now. He's dealing with an ankle injury, but hopefully will be fine for the season opener. Mays will start in the middle in the Jets game. I wonder if having the pressure off him will get Mays back to playing confident, aggressive football like he did last summer. He could still be in the mix.
Fokou is an interesting player. There is part of me that would like to see him get the job. I happened to watch the Texans/Vikings preseason game on Monday night. Lord Favre was interesting, but the guy that I kept focusing on was Houston middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans. He was always around the ball or making something happen. He just had "it." Fokou has shown some of that ability in his short time as an Eagle. I'm not sure if Fokou is ready to play middle linebacker right now, but he is playing really good football and I'd love to see the coaches find a way to get him on the field.
I liked Fokou at Maryland. There was something about him that caught my eye. I felt he was very raw and would take time to develop. I thought he'd need quite a bit of coaching. Oops. Well, apparently Fokou is a quick learner and he and linebackers coach Bill Shuey are on the same page. Fokou is way ahead of schedule.
One position group that I will be watching closely is the offensive line. I feel like the five projected starters plus Nick Cole, Max Jean-Gilles and Mike McGlynn are all locks at this point. That leaves quite a few guys fighting for only one or two jobs. Tackles King Dunlap and Winston Justice could both make it. At least one will stick around. Dunlap has played pretty well this summer and has left tackle potential. Teams try to keep those guys if at all possible. Justice has been much improved, but he also hasn't looked like a fourth-year player that is smooth and polished.
Second-year blocker Mike Gibson has played both guard spots. He'll be starting at left guard against the Jets. I think his best bet is to make the practice squad. There are a couple of rookies in the mix for jobs. Fenuki Tupou has played both guard and tackle. He's gotten better each week. Paul Fanaika will start the Jets game at right guard. I think he'll need some time before he's ready to play in the NFL, but the Eagles do seem to like him.
There is one other position where it would be nice to have a player emerge. Tight end is still a bit of a mystery, beyond Brent Celek. Matt Schobel, Eugene Bright, Rob Myers and newly acquired Tony Curtis are competing for one or two spots. Myers stood out against the Colts. Bright stood out against the Jaguars. Curtis should get a lot of reps this week. He's got some NFL experience and could be a good backup for us. We just need to see if he's healthy and what he can do.
The passing attack of Kevin Kolb to Jeremy Maclin and Brandon Gibson should be fun to watch. Kolb played well last week and I'm sure he's eager to have another strong outing. Maclin and Gibson have both had some really good moments this summer. Maclin is the athletic playmaker, while Gibson is the polished possession receiver. Maclin is trying to show that he deserves playing time. Gibson is trying to secure a spot on the roster.
Rumor Mill in Full Force
You are going to read all kinds of reports over the next few days. Because the Eagles are a very active team they get mentioned in a lot of rumors. The Eagles have some players that could be dealt. We also have some areas that could use a boost. Tom Heckert will be on the phones a lot, talking to as many teams as he can. Andy Reid will call some coaches around the league to inquire about certain situations.
Don't expect any huge deals, but the Eagles could find a key role player or some young player that they like. It was about this time in 2000 when the team claimed some kid named Darwin Walker off waivers. He sat on the bench for almost two years before becoming a starting defensive tackle and key contributor to some good teams.