Most analysts agreed that the Eagles had a talented starting lineup heading into Training Camp, but did the team have enough quality depth? The NFL season is a marathon. There will be injuries. You need good backups to be able to step up and do their part when called upon.
After two preseason games, the Eagles' depth is looking good. Let's start along the defensive line. Rookie Derek Barnett has looked great so far, racking up three sacks and living in the backfield. He might end up playing his way into the starting lineup if he continues at this level. Barnett can explode off the ball and beat offensive tackles with his speed. He has also had success with inside moves and power rushes. He shows potential as a run defender. One of the best things about Barnett is his motor. He is relentless in pursuit of the ball. That's a great trait for a pass rusher.
Veteran Chris Long won a Super Bowl with the Patriots last year. He signed with the Eagles because he wanted to be a pass rusher playing in the 4-3. He is the backup at left end and has looked very good this summer. Long isn't as explosive at age 32, but he still has plenty left in the tank. He is technically sound, has a great motor, and knows every trick in the book. Long is also a good teacher for Barnett and the other young defensive ends.
Steven Means is in his second full year with the Eagles and is playing very well. He had a pair of sacks against Buffalo and was disruptive all game long. Alex McCalister had a quiet camp but has come alive in the games. He still has an uphill battle to make the team, but you can see why the Eagles' coaches like him.
The Eagles have a great pair of starting defensive tackles in Fletcher Cox and Tim Jernigan. There was a lot of uncertainty after that. Things look different now. Destiny Vaeao has played well for two straight weeks and Justin Hamilton has been a pleasant surprise. Vaeao used power to collapse the pocket on multiple plays against the Bills. He also has good quickness off the ball.
Hamilton is more of a bully. He's able to push the pocket on pass plays and be stout on run plays. He has stuffed a running back for no gain in each game. Hamilton has gone from long shot to someone who could be part of the defensive line rotation. Beau Allen is still rehabbing from his pectoral injury, but the Eagles are in better shape due to the development of the young guys in the middle.
Wide receiver has been a focal point this spring and summer. Several players looked good in the Buffalo game. Nelson Agholor was good in the slot. Marcus Johnson got his first preseason action and showed why there has been a buzz around him. He had the long play of the night, a 38-yard catch-and-run. Johnson has good speed and you could see it on that play. Greg Ward hauled in a tough pass for a 29-yard gain. He was in traffic, but stayed focused and made the grab. Shelton Gibson used his speed to get deep and draw a penalty that led to the winning score.
The rise of situational football has created the need for teams to have a deep, talented receiving corps. The Eagles recently traded Jordan Matthews. I haven't mentioned Mack Hollins or Bryce Treggs yet. In less than a year, the Eagles have gone from a struggling group of receivers to a deep one that looks really impressive.
Linebacker was a spot where there were some questions. Mychal Kendricks is a starter with the base unit, but a backup in the nickel defense. He has looked really good in the preseason games. The coaches might have to figure a way out to get him on the field more. Joe Walker tore his ACL last summer. You can't tell that by watching him this year. Walker is flying all over the field and playing well. He's in position to be the backup to Jordan Hicks. Najee Goode continues to show he is a solid reserve linebacker. He can play any of the three spots. Rookie Nathan Gerry remains a work in progress. There is no doubting his athletic ability. He can run and cover a lot of ground. Gerry just needs to continue learning the nuances of the linebacker position.
Cornerback was the biggest question mark entering Training Camp. The trade for Ronald Darby gave the Eagles a good starting duo and allowed Patrick Robinson to move to the slot, a spot he's played well before. Robinson was in the slot against Buffalo and had a solid game. Rasul Douglas has experienced ups and downs in Training Camp, but the games have brought out the best in him. He is much more confident and aggressive. He just missed a pick-six the other night. The Eagles drafted him because they wanted a tall, long corner who could make plays on the ball. The Eagles are finally starting to see that guy on the field. C.J. Smith went from potential starter to someone who is fighting for a roster spot.
Running back was a mystery right after the draft. The Eagles signed LeGarrette Blount and he and Darren Sproles complement each other well. Wendell Smallwood had some great practices in Training Camp and the team remains high on him.
Rookie Corey Clement is in great shape and has opened eyes in the preseason games. His numbers aren't great, but that is due to the blocking. Clement has made the most out of the room he's had. He runs hard and has some speed. He can catch the ball and shows promise as a blocker. Donnel Pumphrey hasn't carried the ball as much but has been a good receiver. The Eagles still seem to like him as a weapon to move around on offense and provide depth as a returner.
The Eagles have drafted well the last couple of years and the coaching staff has done a good job of developing those players. That is starting to pay off in the form of young talent and good depth for the team. The Eagles have mixed in some veterans to provide leadership and competition. Cutting the roster down to 53 players this year is not going to be easy.