They are what is known as the "scout team," and while players like running back P.J. Hill and wide receiver Jordan Norwood have had a taste of the 53-man roster this season, they know the role they play now: To act the part of Denver offensive players in practice this week and to give the Eagles defense a good, accurate "look" at what they can expect from the Broncos on Sunday.
It isn't glamorous work, and for kids who have been stars their entire football lives it can be quite humbling to work all week and then watch the rest of the team in uniform on Sunday afternoons.
"Anything I can do to help the team and impress the coaches," said Hill, whom the Eagles signed off of the Saints' practice squad to the 53-man roster for a seven-week stretch. "This is part of the job."
You see it everywhere with this team. The competition continues as the Eagles have juggled the roster all season. Injuries have taken away some of the key pieces of this team, and yet the Eagles have been able to plug in a Winston Justice here and a LeSean McCoy there and continue to tick. Toward the tail end of the roster, they have moved players around to no end. The practice squad has exactly one player, safety Reshard Langford, who has been there each and every week of the year.
It makes for quite a revolving door of faces and names. The most anonymous player on the active roster? Maybe cornerback Geoffrey Pope, who was with Miami, the New York Giants and Cincinnati (with whom he played four games this season) before signing with the Eagles on November 24. While Pope hasn't yet played for the Eagles, he has been a part of things in practice, in the meeting rooms and in the locker room.
"I'm learning a lot," he said. "It's a different system, a different way of doing things. You understand why the Eagles have success when you see how it is done here."
All eyes on Sunday will be on the usual suspects, the stars. The entire roster, and then some, will have contributed to the preparation and everyone on that sideline will know it.
*NEWS, NOTES AND THIS AND THAT *
- Moise Fokou is starting at SAM linebacker, so let's take a moment to examine the impact of the draft class coming into the final two games of the season. There are three starters with Fokou, McCoy (who may or may not start depending on Brian Westbrook's status, but who will still play a lot) and wide receiver Jeremy Maclin. In addition, Macho Harris continues to take significant reps on defense and on special teams. That's four rookies you can build a draft class on, with tight end Cornelius Ingram making excellent progress from his knee injury. Don't count out offensive lineman Fenuki Tupou making a strong roster bid next year, either. Add in rookie defensive tackle Antonio Dixon, claimed off of waivers from Washington, and the Eagles have a very impressive first-year group of players.
- Would the Eagles consider using Chris Gocong as a defensive end now that he isn't starting at SAM linebacker? Sure, knowing how defensive coordinator Sean McDermott thinks. Maybe the Eagles can get Gocong into a position where he stands up and blitzes off the edge, or perhaps they can look at him in a Joker position coming through the "A" gap. Gocong is still contributing a lot on special teams here. He is a core member of special teams and is doing an excellent job there.
- What do I expect from Brian Dawkins on Sunday? I expect him to be Brian Dawkins and I think the Broncos will use him to blitz and make plays in the box. Donovan McNabb has to be very aware of Dawkins coming on the blitz.
- Speaking of the blitz, Joselio Hanson did a fantastic job coming off the edge last week against San Francisco. He had good timing, took a direct route to quarterback Alex Smith and really caused some problems.
- Looking forward to seeing what the Eagles try against wide receiver Brandon Marshall, who is big and strong and who has amazing hands. He is the closest thing to Plaxico Burress since Plaxico Burress played for the Giants.
- The Pro Bowl teams are announced on Tuesday, and here are my Eagles guesses: Wide receiver DeSean Jackson, left tackle Jason Peters, fullback Leonard Weaver, cornerbacks Asante Samuel and Sheldon Brown and defensive end Trent Cole, with David Akers very, very close.
- I really have no problem at all with Michael Vick being voted by his teammates as the winner of the Ed Block Courage Award. They know of Vick what they have seen from him this year, and what he has gone through this year. They know he made mistakes in his life, hit rock bottom and has worked hard with his nose to the grindstone all year to fit in with his teammates in the locker room and on the field. It was an easy choice, really. The players know what they see. They see a man who has re-built his life and his football career.
- What if Vick can't play on Sunday? How much of an impact will that have on the Eagles? I don't know, but he has created a valuable niche on the team this season. For me, I'm wondering when the Eagles are going to dust off the Wildcat here and there on short-yardage situations.