Philadelphia Eagles News

Time Is Now For These Youngsters

The Eagles wanted to keep as much of their roster intact as possible in this offseason, and while the focus has been on the high-profile players -- DeSean Jackson, Evan Mathis, etc. -- the other component to the team's lack of interest in the league's unrestricted free-agent class is that the Eagles believe in their young players.

Let's take a look at some of those players who are going to have a chance to make themselves much more significant on game days this season ...

CASEY MATTHEWS, LINEBACKER

I understand that the addition of DeMeco Ryans means that Ryan takes the middle linebacker job and the rest of the positions are totally in question. And I know that Casey Matthews struggled early in his rookie season in the middle before finding a role playing in space as a nickel linebacker late in the year.

I know that Matthews needs to be stronger and more instinctive. I know that he is a Matthews, and that nobody is going to work harder to improve his game for his second NFL season.

So where could Matthews fit in? Could the Eagles use him as a Joker pass rusher and line him up in gaps and have him get to the quarterback? Could he be a cover linebacker on third down?

I know not to count the kid out, nor to do that to any of the Eagles' young linebackers. Matthews has had four months since the season ended to build up his strength and take that next step in the NFL.

MIKE KAFKA, QUARTERBACK

This is an obvious player to watch, right? Mike Kafka is in line to back up starter Michael Vick, and that's a huge responsibility. Even if the Eagles use a draft pick at the position, you can expect Kafka to be the guy behind Vick.

Kafka will take a lot of reps in training camp as the Eagles work on his mechanics and his instincts. Kafka is a natural leader who stepped in at tough times in 2011.

What to make of Kafka? Good athlete, decent arm, fine accuracy. He gets the ball out quickly, he's a tough guy and very, very intelligent. Kafka's development should really grow by leaps and bounds this season.

JAIQUAWN JARRETT, SAFETY

Everyone understands what is at stake here. A second-round draft pick in 2011, Jaiquawn Jarrett played sparingly as a rookie and had his ups and downs. He has been hard at work in the offseason improving his game, but the questions about his speed will remain.

Does Jarrett vault into the role as a starting strong safety this season? Kurt Coleman had some bright moments last year and is clearly the leading candidate to remain the starter. But the Eagles want Jarrett to develop quickly. They haven't moved in free agency for any of the starting-caliber veterans, and while they may use a draft pick on a safety, Jarrett is still ahead of the game as he knows the scheme.

PHILLIP HUNT, DEFENSIVE END

Signed from the Canadian league last year, Phillip Hunt made the roster and contributed in the rotation as a rookie as an undersized defensive end. He isn't undersized any longer. Hunt is tipping the scales at about 260 pounds and is going to be in great shape to improve his playing time his year.

Quick off the ball, relentless and good with his hands, Hunt has a real chance to provide quality snaps for the Eagles this season. I know that Jim Washburn is excited about Hunt.

Keep an eye on him in the preseason and see the difference. Hunt could be a very positive X-factor here.

CURTIS MARSH, CORNERBACK

No player has been at the NovaCare Complex working out more than Curtis Marsh, who saw limited time as a rookie. He's got a great body, is very strong and has length and range. Now, can he play at this level?

We don't know that yet. Marsh doesn't appear to be an inside cornerback, but maybe the Eagles will give him a look there, too. General manager Howie Roseman said that the Eagles want to play to Marsh's "strengths," which appear to be using his strength in press coverage, being physical and covering in space.

DION LEWIS, RUNNING BACK

Dion Lewis opened eyes with his 100-yard performance against Washington to close the season and is expected to be the backup to LeSean McCoy. The Eagles have not made a move in free agency, even with the glut of backs on the market.

So it appears Lewis is the guy, and that's an exciting proposition for anyone who watched him explode when he had his chance last year. Lewis is smallish and he isn't the strongest back, but he runs hard, is hard to see and he has excellent quickness.

The Eagles are likely to add another back at some point, but Lewis should be in position to stay second on the depth chart.

BRANDON GRAHAM, DEFENSIVE END

His situation has been discussed throughout the offseason. Brandon Graham needs to be a major player this season now that he is fully recovered from his 2010 knee injury. With Trent Cole and Jason Babin as the starters, Graham has to push to get into the rotation and make himself a factor.

The Eagles can always use more pass rushers, particularly from the tackle positions in passing situations. Maybe Graham can create a niche that way.

There is enormous pressure on Graham, for obvious reasons. Let's see how he progresses throughout the offseason. He seems to understand the importance of this year, which is an early crossroads situation in his third NFL campaign.

STANLEY HAVILI, FULLBACK

And your starting fullback for 2012 is ... Stanley Havili? Stanley Havili! He's a good prospect in his second season after spending 2011 on Injured Reserve. Havili is already hard at work at the NovaCare Complex, understanding the opportunity in front of him.

The Eagles are going to add competition, of course, but the job appears to be Havili's to lose. He's 240 pounds, a good athlete and the Eagles think he can make plays with the ball in his hands. Can he be physical blocking? Can he work well with McCoy?

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