The big names are falling from the trees as NFL teams make their roster cuts in these frantic final days to reach the Magical 53-Man Limit. With one preseason game to go, the cards are clearly on the table: 22 players will be gone from this 75-man roster by 6 p.m. on Saturday. Thursday's preseason finale features players with careers on the line.
That said, it is fairly obvious that the game against the Jets is important for a lot of young man, and for the Eagles in general. Here is a look at the roster, position by position, from this perspective, heading into the game ...
The Eagles will keep three quarterbacks -- Kevin Kolb, Michael Vick and Mike Kafka. Simple as that. Vick plays the first half against the Jets and Kafka takes over in the second half. Vick will play a role in the team's offense during the regular season in the wildcat formation and when the team goes to a "change-of-pace" situation at quarterback.
Kolb is the guy, and he has the full support of everyone in the locker room and within the organization. He has been crisp in practice and is ready to open the season as the team's starting quarterback for the first time in his career. The new era at quarterback is here.
Andy Reid has historically kept three at the position, and if that is the case it would appear that LeSean McCoy, Mike Bell and Eldra Buckley remain, and that Martell Mallett and J.J. Arrington would be on the outside looking in. Both Mallett and Arrington will see a lot of time against the Jets and are looking to impress not only the Eagles but the other 31 teams as well.
Arrington arrived in a trade with Denver as the Eagles shipped linebacker Joe Mays to the Broncos. Should Arrington make the team -- and to do so he would have to have a tremendous game against New York -- he would give the Eagles a good third-down back and return man. Should Arrington not make the team, the Eagles receive from Denver a sixth-round draft pick in 2012.
Mallett has made the most of his time as an Eagle. He has been a hard runner, a reliable receiver and a really hard worker. Mallett is a good football player. Is he good enough to make this 53-man roster?
Leonard Weaver is the guy, period. The Eagles will likely use Mallett as a fullback on some formations against the Jets as Weaver takes the night off. The Pro Bowl fullback should be a huge part of the offense in many ways this season.
Looking at the history of Reid, he has kept two tight ends on the 53-man roster in his 11 years previously. Mike Bartrum was a luxury as he was the long snapper and the third-string tight end. Jon Dorenbos is the long snapper now, so the logic is that Reid keeps two tight ends. Who are they? Brent Celek is the starter, and Clay Harbor has been running as the No. 2 throughout the preseason.
Where does that leave Cornelius Ingram? He is back on the field and feeling much better after treatment on his Baker's cyst, and it is a critical time for the young man to show his movement and explosiveness to every team in the league. Nate Lawrie is in a similar situation -- auditioning for the Eagles and every team.
Looking at this position with an open mind, the Eagles could easily carry six receivers because they have at least six who can play at this level. The first four are obvious: DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, Jason Avant and Riley Cooper are in. Who is the fifth receiver? Would the Eagles consider keeping six?
Hank Baskett appears to be the fifth guy, and he has shrugged off a knee injury suffered in training camp to play very well. Baskett knows the offense, plays good special teams and is a good fit here for the fifth receiver role. Right there is Kelley Washington, signed early in training camp. An accomplished special teams player, Washington is battling for the job with Baskett.
Based on reps and on the depth chart, Baskett is ahead of Washington. But who knows what the coaches are thinking and how much of an impact this last game will have?
There are other players to consider. Dobson Collins, Jordan Norwood and Chad Hall have all had their moments in the summer. They could all stick around in some capacity.
This group isn't so cut and dried, although there appear to be few openings. Here are the givens: Jason Peters, Todd Herremans, Jamaal Jackson, Stacy Andrews, Winston Justice, Nick Cole, Max Jean-Gilles and, I think, Mike McGlynn. That makes eight linemen. The ninth would appear to be young left tackle/guard Austin Howard, who hasn't been as dominating as he was in the opening game against Jacksonville, but who certainly has tremendous promise.
Should the Eagles keep 10 linemen -- and they very well could given the health status of Herremans and Jackson -- the candidates include tackle King Dunlap and guard/center Dallas Reynolds, guard/center A.Q. Shipley or even tackle Jeraill McCuller. Who knows? The Eagles would probably have at least a couple of offensive linemen on the practice squad, too.
*DEFENSIVE END *
Good group. Potentially a very, very good group. Trent Cole, Juqua Parker and Darryl Tapp are the veterans, with Brandon Graham and Daniel Te'o-Nesheim the rookies. Eric Moncur showed up last week in Kansas City and opened some eyes. Newly-acquired Pannel Egboh is going to play against the Jets because the Eagles want to look at him and because they don't want their more-established regulars to play.
The development of the rookies, and of Tapp, is key to the season. Tapp seems to be coming on a bit after a slow start here. Graham is a starter on the left side. Te'o-Nesheim is working with the starters in the nickel package.
The question here is whether the Eagles carry four or five defensive tackles. They seem pretty set with their first four on the depth chart -- Mike Patterson, Brodrick Bunkley, Trevor Laws and Antonio Dixon. Jeff Owens is a draft pick who is very much on the roster bubble. Boo Robinson has been active and aggressive and is clearly making the most of his chances.
I'm saying the Eagles keep four tackles, unless Owens blows it up against the Jets. The Eagles, though, won't let a good young tackle get away, no matter how difficult the roster crunch.
This is a tricky position to figure. I say the Eagles will keep seven linebackers, many of whom will form the core of the special teams. Givens are the starters: Ernie Sims, Stewart Bradley and Akeem Jordan. Omar Gaither isn't a starter, but he certainly is good enough to be one and he will back up at all three positions and play a lot on special teams. Who else makes it? Let's take a look.
Keenan Clayton has been impressive in the open field during the preseason and seems to have a bright future. Count him in. He makes five linebackers. Fellow rookie draft pick Jamar Chaney has a chance, too, because he could develop into a strong special-teams player and middle linebacker. Veteran Tracy White and second-year man Moise Fokou are battling it out and both have made plays on special teams in the preseason.
There are eight linebackers here, and seven -- OK, maybe six -- are going to make the team. The competition has been heated all summer.
The assumption here is that the Eagles will keep five cornerbacks and that Asante Samuel, Ellis Hobbs, Joselio Hanson, Dimitri Patterson and Trevard Lindley are lined up one through five, in no particular order. But there are other candidates, and who knows if the Eagles are going to make more moves between now and Saturday at 6 p.m.?
Jorrick Calvin will get a look in this game as a cornerback and a return man, and Geoff Pope gets one more crack to impress the coaching staff. David Pender has battled an illness, which has hampered his opportunities to shine.
Who makes it if the Eagles keep four safeties? Seems pretty easy, doesn't it? Quintin Mikell and Nate Allen are the starters, with Quintin Demps and Kurt Coleman in reserve. Macho Harris has been moved to safety after a brief look at cornerback, so does that mean the Eagles think he can help at both safety and cornerback as a utility player, or does that mean the Eagles think he doesn't have a position in this secondary? This game is huge for Harris.
No brainer here: David Akers is the placekicker, Sav Rocca punts, Jackson returns punts and either Hobbs or Demps returns kickoffs. Dorenbos is the long snapper. No other specialists need apply.