Philadelphia Eagles News

Just Wondering About Roster Battles and More

It's way too early to write anything about roster battles and depth-chart projections, but, hey, idle time leads to wild talk here. The Eagles are still a couple of months away -- six weeks, to be exact -- from lining up for their post-draft mini-camp and even then the reps are divided pretty evenly and the depth chart is not officially.

But, why not talk about it now? At least, anyway, muse about some positions to watch before everything changes when the draft rolls around.

**LEFT DEFENSIVE END

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Who will it be? Juqua Parker is a hustle end who uses great technique and who is very, very sound. But his numbers don't lie, and they say that his production dips later in the year. So it's probably fair to say that the Eagles are open to having the best man win at left end.

There are several candidates, with Parker leading the way. He will be pushed and the competition should be excellent. Third-year man Victor Abiamiri would have challenged for the starting position last year had he not suffered the dislocated wrist in training camp. When Abiamiri played in 2008, he played very well, so it stands to reason that a healthy Abiamiri will get a shot at starting.

So, too, will Chris Clemons. He came on strong late in his first season with the Eagles. Now Clemons needs to take it up a notch. He needs to be productive from Day 1 and show, more than anything, that he is physical against the run as well as fast and effective rushing the quarterback.

It's probably a three-man race going into the draft period. Veteran Darren Howard led the team in sacks with 10 last season and he seems to have a lot of football to play, but Howard is probably best used moving around the line of scrimmage rather than lining up against an offense's strong side. Second-year man Bryan Smith needs to make an impression after an inactive rookie season.

The numbers are good at end, and the Eagles rotated their personnel wisely last year. They sure could use somebody to step forward and be the man opposite Trent Cole in 2009.

**WILL LINEBACKER SPOT

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From a non-drafted rookie to a starting spot in two years' time, Akeem Jordan's rise has been pretty remarkable. Can he take his game to the next level now as opponents spend their off-season watching every one of Jordan's plays and finding his flaws? Jordan has to prove that he can do just that to retain his job, because Omar Gaither is still here and is intent on pushing for playing time.

Jordan impressed as he worked right into the lineup and made a lot of plays down the stretch and in the playoffs. He has good speed, good coverage skills and he worked hard to get the scheme down.

Reaching a starting spot is one thing and staying there is another. Gaither is there and hungry for time. Both players should push each other to play very well.

**SAFETY, STRONG AND FREE

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Quintin Mikell is going to be a starter, and he is likely to get a lot of Pro Bowl love if he plays as he did last season. Mikell has a chance to escape from the shadow of Brian Dawkins, and Mikell has a chance to gain a lot of league-wide notice.

But how will the safety spots shake out?

Is Mikell going to play strong safety again, with Quintin Demps/Sean Jones/Rashad Baker fighting for the free safety job? Or would defensive coordinator Jim Johnson think about moving Mikell to free safety and using Jones as the physical factor at strong safety? Or is Johnson going to rotate some players and give different looks at both safety spots, taking advantage of all of their abilities and calling a blitz here and there and some keep coverage in certain formations?

Demps gets the first crack at free safety. He is an athletic player who knows the scheme. He covers well, witness the job he did last Thanksgiving against Anquan Boldin and Arizona. Demps has taken a lot of heat for two tough plays in the NFC Championship Game -- the dumb roughing-the-quarterback penalty he had and the coverage when he slipped on the deep touchdown pass to Larry Fitzgerald -- and he likely will be reminded of those plays throughout the off-season.

It will be a good test of his mental mettle. Demps is a smart kid, a talented player and he is eager to make the most of his opportunity.

**NICK COLE, OFFENSIVE LINE

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No question, Nick Cole earned a starting spot somewhere on the offensive line based on the way he played after replacing Max Jean-Gilles last season. Cole gained a lot of confidence, kept his leverage and showed that, despite a body that doesn't exactly scream "athlete," he has good feet and moves very, very well to play at this level.

The question is, as head coach Andy Reid "sorts out" -- his words from our exclusive interview last week -- the who-plays-where on the offensive line this season, is how Cole fits. Does he stay at right guard if the Eagles give Shawn Andrews a look at left tackle? Does Cole challenge Jamaal Jackson at center? Maybe Cole can play left guard and push Todd Herremans.

The team is likely to add at least one lineman among its 12 draft picks, so the issue of where Cole plays and how he fits in won't be settled until training camp. The good news is that the Eagles have a player in Cole, someone who stepped up at a time when the Eagles really, really needed him last season.

So much can change between now and May, when the mini-camp starts. The Eagles have all of those draft picks and they have the chance to make a trade and they can pretty much change a large dynamic or three on the roster just like that.

For now, with time on our hands, why not?

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