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Rookie Class: Immediate Impact

Five rookies are in line to start on September 11 against St. Louis. A few more will play. The rookie class has stepped up quickly ...

Even without the post-draft mini-camp, the OTAs, and the off-season workouts, the Eagles are looking for maximum -- and instant -- impact from the 2011 Rookie Class.
It's rather remarkable for a team with as much veteran talent as the Eagles have, and it sets up a nice blend on the 53-man roster and beyond.

Here is a look at the status of the Rookie Class heading into the final preseason game, Thursday night at the New York Jets (7:30 6abc) ...

The team's No. 1 draft pick is starting at right guard and is going to remain there. He has improved by leaps and bounds since his first day on the job. The coaching staff knows it has a great talent in Danny Watkins, and it also knows it has a lot of work ahead with the Baylor product.

There is still some hesitancy to Watkins' game, which is understandable. He has had a lot thrown at him in a very short period of time. Still, the Eagles love his tenacity and his strength at the point of attack. Watkins is only going to get better and better.


Some expected Jaiquawn Jarrett to challenge early for the starting job, but Kurt Coleman has had an exceptional summer. Thursday's game looms large for Jarrett, who figures to play a lot of football against the Jets.

The Eagles are going to keep working with Jarrett, of course. He is trying to learn a complicated position in handful of weeks, and it just isn't an easy thing.

Thursday will be good for Jarrett. He needs the reps in Juan Castillo's defense.

Curtis Marsh has certainly shown flashes throughout the summer. He has good size and athletic ability. He is learning to play the position at this high level, the way Johnnie Lynn demands.

It would seem almost a definite that Marsh will make the team. He is one of the players who expects to see a lot of time on Thursday, so the Eagles can take an extended look at him.

How many cornerbacks will the Eagles keep? Marsh and Trevard Lindley, a fourth-round draft pick in 2010, are battling here.

The question with Casey Matthews isn't whether he will make the team. It is whether he will start, and right now he is the guy at middle linebacker. Matthews played an outstanding game against the Browns and is handling the defense well. He has made some terrific strides in the last couple of weeks.

Matthews has been calm, cool and collected in the heat of some unusual preseason scrutiny. He is a mature young man who has a lot of ability, and he figures to be the starter against St. Louis on September 11.

His leg has been as strong as advertised. Alex Henery has done an excellent job on kickoffs and he has been -- knock on wood -- perfect in his few field goal attempts through three preseason games.

Henery isn't going to be perfect all season, but he has the demeanor that the coaches are looking for and he clearly has the talent. The Eagles made an investment in Henery and he is paying them off nicely so far.


After an injury-plagued start to his training camp, Dion Lewis has come on strong. He has 86 rushing yards on 21 attempts and he has shown a great ability to make people miss. Lewis is only 5 feet 7, but he brings it on every touch of the ball with thick thighs and a strong core.

Lewis is working as the team's third halfback and he should get a lot of carries against the Jets. Look for some outstanding runs. Lewis has opened a lot of eyes this summer for the way he runs the ball, his excellent receiving skills and his effort in the blocking game.


Julian Vandervelde figures to make the etam as a backup at both guard positions, although a lot could depend on his performance in Thursday's game against the Jets. Vandervelde has the same task as the other linemen here: Doing exactly what line coach Howard Mudd demands.

Vandervelde has good size and good athletic ability. He fits the mold here. Now it's a matter of improving and finding his place on the team.


A lot has been written and said about Jason Kelce, who is lining up as the team's starting center. Barring a dramatic setback, Kelce will start against St. Louis in a loud, unfriendly environment.

Is there any other way to break in a rookie?

Kelce has demonstrated maturity and great, great skills to handle the responsibility.

His speed and cover skills have enabled Brian Rolle to take over the job as middle linebacker in the nickel package, working with Jamar Chaney as the only linebackers on the field. Rolle runs well and delivers a wallop. He has natural instincts and is, simply a really good football player.

Not only is Rolle expected to play a big part in the defense, he is expected to be a core member of Bobby April's special teams. The young man from Ohio State has a lot on his plate early in his NFL career.


A high ankle sprain limited Greg Lloyd early in training camp, but he is back on the field now as a reserve middle linebacker. Thursday is an extremely important game for Lloyd, who should see a lot of playing time.

Lloyd is a player most definitely on the bubble. He has to play hard and fast and physical against the Jets to make this team.


The USC product hasn't appeared to give Owen Schmitt the kind of challenge many expected, so Stanley Havili has a big, big ahead on Thursday. The Eagles are only going to keep one fullback and Schmitt has been a no-doubt-about-it starter since the first day of training camp.

A big game from Havili would thrust him into the spot as a practice squad possibility here. Havili needs to be physical and take advantage of his chances against the Jets.


Signed after the draft, Chas Henry is averaging 44.3 yards on nine punts. He has had four touchbacks, which is an area that needs to be improved -- to be fair, at least one of Henry's punts in the preseason should have been downed inside the 5-yard line -- but Henry has done a nice job both as a punter and a holder for Henery on field goals.

The Eagles have gone out on a bit of a limb here with the young guys, but both Henery and Henry have rewarded the team's faith. Who knows? Maybe both kickers have a very busy night against the Jets with the backups playing most, if not all, the game.

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