Philadelphia Eagles News

Roster Battles Heat Up In Camp's Tough Days

These are truly training camp's toughest days, the ones when there is no light at the end of the practices, when the routine has become mundane, when the players and the coaches and the staff start to grow weary of the environment and the intensity of camp.

It is also the time when the separation begins among the player performances. The depth chart, which will be released officially early next week prior to the preseason opener in Pittsburgh, is taking shape now. From an unofficial perspective, here is how it looks for the Eagles, position by position ...

QUARTERBACK

Donovan McNabb is having an outstanding training camp. He is physically as in shape as he has ever been. He has great zip on his passes, and he looks like he has improved his touch and accuracy. McNabb is having fun, that much is obvious. He has shown no lingering effects from the shoulder tendinitis he had in the spring. In short, McNabb looks great.

Second-year man Kevin Kolb is the backup. He has clearly benefited from having extra practice repetitions, and it is going to be beneficial to him to get a lot of playing time in the preseason. A.J. Feeley is the third quarterback and seems perfectly happy in that role.

The Eagles have a good setup at quarterback. And as long as the good health remains, the Eagles will get productive play from the position all season.

HALFBACK

This is shaping up to be a strength on the team, with Brian Westbrook, Lorenzo Booker and Correll Buckhalter sharing the load. Westbrook is the headline player, of course, and he has been spectacular in camp. Booker is everything the Eagles hoped he would be. He lines up all over the formation and is equally dangerous as a running back and a receiver. He will get his touches, plenty of them, and maybe more as a receiver than as a running back.

Buckhalter has also looked very good in this camp. He has his speed and burst at a level higher than any time in his NFL career. Buckhalter is ready to go.

Will the Eagles keep a fourth halfback? If they do, Tony Hunt is the leading candidate. He has gotten more reps the last few days and seems to be rounding into the kind of shape the Eagles want him in. Hunt should get quite a bit of playing time in the preseason games.

Ryan Moats is sidelined with an ankle injury. He needs to get back on the field in a hurry.

FULLBACK

Jason Davis is the starter and has played well. Luke Lawton is the No. 2 fullback and seems to have learned the system quickly enough to play well. Jed Collins is the third-string fullback.

What does it all mean? It means that the job -- one job -- will be won in the preseason games. Special teams could provide the edge for either Davis or Lawton. Collins is a longshot, but he is giving it a good go.

OFFENSIVE LINE

How many do the Eagles keep? Nine or 10? With the absence of Shawn Andrews, Max Jean-Gilles has played better and better at right guard. Jon Runyan is the right tackle, Jamaal Jackson is the center, Todd Herremans is the left guard and Tra Thomas is the left tackle. Winston Justice has played right tackle with the second team, King Dunlap has impressed the coaches at left tackle, Nick Cole is the center and Stefan Rodgers and Mike McGlynn, Mike Gibson and Franklin Dunbar have rotated at the guard spots. Scott Young has played mostly center with the third team.

The games will sort out the order as well as the players who make the 53-man cut. Some of these younger players need to step up. Justice, in particular, will have a lot of eyes watching him. Young needs to climb his way up the depth chart. The draft picks are being counted on to play well in the preseason.

TIGHT END

The only real news here is that Kris Wilson is running fourth behind L.J. Smith, Brent Celek and Matt Schobel. Smith has had a great camp, and Celek isn't that far behind. Both are in terrific shape and catching the ball well. Celek has more muscle, less weight, and is running fine with the pads on. Schobel has been a solid player.

The Eagles will keep three tight ends. Right now, Wilson would be the odd man out. That could change, of course, but time is ticking.

WIDE RECEIVER

This group has enjoyed a terrific training camp. Reggie Brown has been more of a go-to receiver than in any camp he has played, and his performance has been lauded by the coaching staff. Kevin Curtis came on in a big way this week. Jason Avant has been outstanding from day one, and Hank Baskett has been a weapon with a series of leaping grabs all week.

Greg Lewis just does what he does -- run good, crisp routes and catch everything thrown his way. DeSean Jackson is a super prospect who makes big plays every day when he is on the field.

Those six players are the best of the receivers in this camp. Jamal Jones opened eyes a couple of days with some big plays down the field and both Franz Hardy and Shaheer McBride have been more than holding their own. Still ... this is a six-man race for either five or six roster spots.

DEFENSIVE END

The depth is starting to come back a little bit after some paper-thin days at the position. Victor Abiamiri is out for at least the next three weeks and probably longer, and the Eagles have to decide if they want to keep him on the active roster when the final cut to 53 men comes. They have some time to decide.

In the meantime, the team welcomed back rookie Bryan Smith to the practice field on Thursday and will see how he fares in an accelerated climate through the next week before the preseason opener against Pittsburgh. So far, Trent Cole has been outstanding at right end, while Chris Clemons and Juqua Parker have rotated at left end. Darren Howard has been one of the very pleasant surprises of training camp, playing mostly at right end and inside at tackle when the defense goes to its nickel personnel.

That is a total of six ends who are playing good football (Abiamiri was doing a good job before his wrist injury). Jerome McDougle is fighting for a job here and is going to have a tough time making it, but he is in shape and giving great effort.

The number here is five ends. That is how many the Eagles usually carry. However, they could end up with six, if they can go light at another position or two.

DEFENSIVE TACKLE

Mike Patterson, Brodrick Bunkley and Trevor Laws are 1-2-3 here now that Laws is back on the field and feeling OK after missing time with an injured foot. Laws has to gain some ground, but the Eagles think he will do that and that the team will have a capable threesome here.

Who is the fourth tackle? It could be Kimo von Oelhoffen, but a knee injury has him sidelined and von Oelhoffen can't afford to be watching practice. Dan Klecko plays with a super amount of energy, and Montae Reagor looks good two years after his near-fatal auto accident two years ago.

Klecko weighs 285 pounds and is going to see a lot of preseason time. So is Reagor. von Oelhoffen needs to be healthy to show he can be counted on for a long season. The Eagles like his physical nature and his play on short-yardage situations, but he can't make the club if he's in the (training) tub.

LINEBACKER

Young, promising and very talented, this group has been a hit in camp. Stewart Bradley seems to have handling everything in the middle and Omar Gaither and Chris Gocong are doing well flanking Bradley. Akeem Jordan is pushing for more playing time. Rocky Boiman seems to be rounding into shape now that he is on the field.

Here is a camp surprise: Pago Togafau. He is the second-team MIKE at the moment, battling Joe Mays, and Togafau seems to be everywhere on the field. He is playing with great desire.

Andy Studebaker is making a transition and is struggling at times. That is to be expected. Studebaker (and Gocong) have taken reps at defensive end in rush situations and the young man from Wheaton looks so much more comfortable doing that than dropping back in coverage.

Figure on six linebackers making the team.

CORNERBACK

Great group here. Lito Sheppard and Sheldon Brown are having lights-out camps. Brown has played both right cornerback and left cornerback, as has Sheppard, and they have both had their hands on the football many, many times. Joselio Hanson looks like he fits right in as a reserve cornerback.

Asante Samuel's hamstring injury has been a disappointment, but Samuel is a playmaker and the Eagles don't sem all that concerned that he is missing time.

Who is the fifth cornerback? Will the Eagles keep five corners? Nick Graham, Therrian Fontenot and Kyle Arrington are pushing each other, with Graham in the lead right now. The games will tell a lot for all of those players.

The Eagles don't have to keep five cornerbacks, but it is a number they usually like to hit at cornerback. Somebody has to step forward here.

SAFETY

Brian Dawkins is nursing a hyperextended knee, but he should be OK. Quntin Mikell is playing very well as the starter at strong safety and seems secure there. Sean Considine has enjoyed his best training camp with his good coverage skills and his physical play. Quintin Demps buzzes around the football every day in practice and makes big play after big play.

J.R. Reed looks good and is getting a fair share of reps. Marcus Paschal seems to have been bumped back a bit in terms of practice reps. He needs to open some eyes in the weeks ahead.

SPECIALISTS

David Akers lost 20 pounds in the off-season and is kicking the ball great. Sav Rocca is so much more consistent than he was a year ago and is still booming hs punts. He should be much improved this season.

Richmond McGee knew the deal when he signed with the Eagles, and he is the backup punter/placekicker who has little chance of making the team. Still, he will kick in the preseason to audition for another other team.

Jon Dorenbos is solid and effective at the long-snapper position.

Jackson will get the first crack in the punt return game next week and Booker and Demps will be the kickoff return team in Pittsburgh, barring anything strange happening between now and then.

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