We're now only a couple of weeks away from the regular season starting. The coaches and players have worked hard this spring and summer to get to this point and the team is starting to take shape.
Let's start by taking a look at some areas where things have gone right and we have figured out:
New Backfield – Fullback Leonard Weaver looks like the real deal. He can block, run and catch. He's athletic and looks good on special teams. I was cautiously optimistic when we signed him. Weaver has been terrific every step of the way since coming here. As long as he stays healthy there won't be any questions at fullback.
Rookie LeSean McCoy is right there as well. He was good in all the camps. He played really well in the first couple of preseason games. Rookie running backs have not fared well in recent years, but McCoy looks like a trend-breaker.
Eldra Buckley was a ""who's that guy?"" kind of signing to most people. After a couple of games, people now see him as a legitimate contender for the third running back spot. Buckley isn't flashy, but boy does he run hard. He's caught the ball better than expected. I don't know if Buckley will get the job, but he has been impressive.
Depth at Receiver – The rumors are now flying that teams are taking a look at the Eagles to find a wide receiver. We actually have a surplus of talent at the wideout position. How times have changed. What in the name of Na Brown is going on? DeSean Jackson looks like a stud receiver. Kevin Curtis and Reggie Brown are proven vets. Hank Baskett and Jason Avant are important role players. Rookies Jeremy Maclin and Brandon Gibson have both played well. Danny Amendola has shown flashes of talent, but has an uphill battle because of the crowd in front of him.
Street Relief – Normally guys that get signed off the street in the middle of the summer are just ""camp bodies."" These players come in for a few weeks to fight for a roster spot. The young guys are still pursuing their dream of playing in the league and older players are trying to prolong their careers just a little bit longer. The reality is that they have little shot to make it.
The Eagles signed a couple of guys off the street this summer that have actually come in and opened some eyes. I have been flat out shocked by how well defensive end Jason Babin has played. He got off to a fast start in training camp. I thought that had as much to do with him having fresh legs as anything. Then Babin went and played well in the preseason opener. That made me take him seriously. Babin was even better against the Colts. Now Babin has my full attention.
Babin has played against starters and backups. He's played on the left and right sides. He is quick off the ball. He's making hustle plays. I now think of Babin as a serious threat to make the roster. I scouted him when he was at Western Michigan and liked Babin. He never quite developed during his time with the Houston Texans. Babin bounced around after that, but might have finally landed in the right place. He certainly isn't a lock to make the team. Fringe players cannot afford bad games. Babin needs to play well against the Jaguars and then the Jets. If he does that, the Eagles just might have found a solid backup off the street.
The other player in a similar situation is tight end Rob Myers. He missed his senior year at Utah State due to injury. He then got hurt while with the Jets this spring. They let him go and he sat by the phone waiting for the next team to call. The Panthers talked to him, but then the Eagles swooped in and signed him. I had some interest in Myers because he had averaged more than 15 yards a catch as a junior. I knew he had some potential. I just doubted how quickly he'd be able to step in and do anything this year.
Against the Colts, Myers got a lot of playing time because of injuries at the tight end position. Myers did a great job by taking advantage of those snaps. He caught four passes for 44 yards. Numbers aside, I thought he looked good. He caught the ball smoothly. He showed a feel for getting open. He looked athletic after the catch. Myers also showed he could handle the physical side of things. He took hits and kept fighting. He got open when tightly covered by pushing off to create a little space. Myers looked like a player who had been in camp with the team all spring long.
As with Babin, I don't want to overstate things. Myers needs to play well each of the next two weeks to have a shot at the roster or even practice squad. He was impressive last week, but that has to be a starting point. He can't get complacent. Myers is headed in the right direction. Just keep it going.
Some situations have not been figured out and questions remain. Let's now talk about some of those areas.
Offensive Line – Injuries have made potentially the team's biggest strength into a mystery. Each of these players has a good track record as an individual. Jason Peters and Shawn Andrews have been to the Pro Bowl. Todd Herremans was the team's best blocker last year. Stacy Andrews was a good starter for the Bengals. Center Jamaal Jackson has started for three-and-a-half years in the middle of the Eagles line.
The problem is that a good offensive line is built on chemistry as much as talent. This group hasn't taken a live snap together. That won't change during the preseason. Herremans is dealing with a foot injury and won't be ready until the regular season. Shawn Andrews back is getting better, but the team isn't going to rush him. The good news is that Jason Peters and Stacy Andrews will be on the field in the Jacksonville game. They are new to the scheme and need all the game reps they can get.
Backup Cornerback – The Eagles love Sheldon Brown, Asante Samuel and Joselio Hanson. Those guys give the team a solid trio of cornerbacks. We have an interesting group behind them. Jack Ikegwuonu had first-round talent before tearing up his knee. Dmitri Patterson was signed by the team last year late in the season. He was on the roster during the playoffs. That tells you they liked him. Ellis Hobbs was acquired in a draft day trade. He's been a productive NFL starter.
Without having access to coaches' tape and knowing the actual defensive play calls it can be tough to judge cornerbacks. Patterson is the one that has stood out to me the most. He has played outside and in the slot. He looks quick in coverage. Patterson is playing with confidence and looks like an NFL player.
Neither Ikegwuonu nor Hobbs has played as well as I had hoped to see. Hobbs missed an important third down tackle in the Colts game and also looked a step late in coverage. Ikegwounu hasn't made any major mistakes, but he also hasn't stood out. He went 18 months without playing in a game. I expected him to be rusty. I just hoped to see him flash some of that talent that made him such an intriguing prospect prior to his injury.
Left Defensive End – Trent Cole is the star of the defensive line. He mans the right side and sets the tone for the guys up front. Left end is unsettled. The Eagles wanted Victor Abiamiri to win the job, but then he got hurt in training camp and missed time. Abiamiri was able to play last week and looked OK out there. He's got the job for now. The Eagles reportedly made a bid on defensive end Jeremy Jarmon in the Supplemental Draft. They also were linked to a trade offer for former Eagle Derrick Burgess. These attempted moves show that the team isn't satisfied with things as they are.
If Abiamiri can come on and play at a high level against the Jaguars that would go a long way to easing concerns about left end. Juqua Parker is a proven veteran, but he's best suited as a role player. Chris Clemons is a good edge rusher. I don't think he'll ever push for a starting spot due to his playing style and lack of size. Things are looking up now that Abiamiri is healthy and Babin is playing well.
Linebacker –Joe Mays has taken over the middle linebacker job due to Stewart Bradley's injury. Mays hasn't played a ton in the preseason games due to the fact the starters have been pulled early in each game. We'll get a long look at him in the Jaguars game. Mays will have his doubters until we see what he can do in a regular season game.
Chris Gocong and Akeem Jordan are set as the starters on the outside. Rookie Moise Fokou has arguably been the most impressive linebacker on the whole team. He's steadily climbed the depth chart and has played all over the place. Could he actually challenge for a starting spot? Maybe. Backup Tracy White wasn't a lock for the roster and then played very well against the Colts. Unfortunately he got hurt and will miss the Jaguars game. Veterans Tank Daniels and Matt Wilhelm haven't been all that impressive.
Omar Gaither is battling a knee injury. He is a backup for now, but could end up starting in the middle or on the weak side, depending on how things play out. We might turn out to be fine at linebacker, but the position is uncertain for now because of injuries, lack of experience and new faces.
Backup Tight End – Brent Celek gives us our best starting tight end in several years. The situation behind him is in a state of flux. Matt Schobel is the current backup. Schobel has battled injuries most of the summer. He hasn't been the player the Eagles expected him to be when he was signed as a free agent from the Bengals. This summer was his chance to step up, but the nagging injuries derailed that idea. Eugene Bright is a developmental prospect. I covered Rob Myers earlier. He is impressive, but making him the backup tight end might be a stretch. Tony Curtis was recently added to the mix. We could use a player like him. Curtis can catch, but also is a blocker and solid special teams player.