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Spadaro: Eagles trusting as 'next men up' keep team rolling

Eli Ricks
Eli Ricks

They don't flinch. All along, from the very first day the Eagles gathered at the NovaCare Complex to prepare for the 2023 season, they talked about a 69-man roster, an expansion from the conventional thinking of 53 players. Why? Because, over the course of a long, long 17-game and 18-week season, that's what is required. Every player has to be ready.

Actually, more than 69 because the team already added a player (cornerback Bradley Roby) from outside the organization to help, but more on that in a moment.

And so what the Eagles are finding out six weeks into this season is that they have depth to fill in when players are out. There have already been some challenges – cornerback Avonte Maddox is out for the season with a pec injury, linebacker Nakobe Dean went on Injured Reserve with a foot injury, and right guard Cam Jurgens the same. No problem.

The Eagles have others to step right in.

"We are here to do our jobs and that's the approach I've taken," said Sua Opeta, who will make his second straight start on Sunday at right guard. "I'm prepared to play my best and that's what I'm going to do."

In fact, the Eagles have gotten remarkable production from the entire roster. Nicholas Morrow has played well in place of Dean. Opeta helped limit Rams superstar defensive tackle Aaron Donald on Sunday. The safety room has been tested and all of those players have gotten significant reps and played well. Young cornerbacks have played, learning on every snap, and that experience will pay off down the line.

This is how it works. "Next man up" is one of the team's mantras.

"It definitely is a situation where you have to be prepared. You have to prepare during the week like you are going to start," said rookie cornerback Eli Ricks, who played a career-high 13 snaps on Sunday in Los Angeles. "It was fast out there but I adjusted and I think I got better and better. I feel now with this week that what I learned in that game is going to help me. Everything is so precise. The routes are perfect, and so I have to raise my game and I will."

The Eagles have had injuries throughout the roster, but they've been hit particularly hard in the secondary with the injury to Maddox, with safeties Reed Blankenship and Justin Evans missing time, and with cornerback James Bradberry sitting out one game with a concussion.

No problem. Next man up.

"We're here to play," Ricks said. "We wouldn't be here if they didn't think we could do the job."

Roby played 25 snaps on Sunday in his Eagles debut and only a few days after signing with the team's practice squad. He could be in line for more work on Sunday against the Jets.

"I've been around the league, so I know what to expect," said Roby, Denver's first-round draft pick in 2014. "You just have to be ready at all times."

The Eagles also were down two defensive tackles on Sunday, with both Fletcher Cox and Marlon Tuipulotu sidelined. For Cox, it was an uncomfortable and unpleasant experience sitting at home watching the game. He's been a durable star in this league, so watching on television wasn't ideal.

"I didn't enjoy it at all, but the guys made me feel like I was still there. They were Facetiming me and so that made me feel closer, but it was still tough," he said. "I haven't missed many games in my career. I didn't like it. Being back out there at practice today felt great. I'm excited to play on Sunday."

Everyone on the roster is excited as the Eagles look to reach 6-0. It's not just 53 players. It's really not just 69 players – Roby is an example, and there are more players on the team's "emergency" list – as Executive Vice President/General Manager Howie Roseman and his staff always keep their eyes open.

This is a marathon of a season. The next man up could be anybody.

"We have so much trust in everybody in this locker room," said cornerback Darius Slay following Sunday's win over Los Angeles. "These young guys, we're helping them. They are going to be out there and they're going to have to help us keep rolling."

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