I wanted to write a column on The Best Players On This Roster You Don't Know, but Eagles fans know so much, anyway, so that didn't fly. Then I wanted to write about key backups, and kind of didn't get inspired about that. So I'm combining the two, and then some.
It's that time of the year when the players are out and about and getting their down time -- although the rookies are having their Rookie Symposium this week -- and so we're all just counting down the days until Training Camp begins.
With that in mind, a quick list of the Best Players On This Roster You Don't Know who just happen to be backups ...
Trey Burton, tight end
The Eagles want their offensive skill-position players to move around the formation and create favorable matchups and Trey Burton fits that profile. Offensive coordinator Frank Reich told a story a couple of weeks ago about watching film of a practice and seeing Burton displaced as a wide receiver and running such a precise route that Reich was initially taken aback that it was Burton, and not a true wide receiver, running the route.
That's the kind of player this team can use in a variety of ways. Burton isn't going to start at tight end, but the Eagles can use some three-tight end sets and get him lined up against a slower linebacker or a smaller defensive back and get him some touches.
Matt Tobin, offensive tackle
I'm talking about Matt Tobin, offensive tackle, not Matt Tobin, offensive guard. Tobin was thrown into a tough situation moving to right guard last season and he improved a lot. He's really a good, solid NFL lineman and he's at his best in space as a tackle where he can use his feet and his athletic ability. Tobin lined up as a backup at left tackle in the spring, his most natural position. What would happen if Jason Peters went down? Last year, the Eagles moved Lane Johnson from right tackle to left tackle and inserted Dennis Kelly at right tackle. They could certainly do that this year, too. But if Tobin comes along in camp, maybe he can become a trustworthy backup left tackle and help the team that way. The preseason games are going to be very telling.
Chris Pantale, tight end/fullback
The story on Chris Pantale: Not drafted, but signed with the Jets post-2013 draft and was on the practice squad with the Jets for much of that year before being promoted to the active roster. Same story in 2014, although he played in five games that season for New York. Waived there in May of 2015 and signed with Chicago. Waived there in August. Signed to the Eagles practice squad for 2015 season.
And here he is now, getting a lot of reps as the fourth tight end and a sometimes-fullback. Can he make the roster? Maybe, yeah. He looked good in the spring and he's got the power of "V" (versatility) and the Eagles could make the numbers work if he's good enough in the summer. Stay tuned.
Josh Andrews, offensive lineman
Interesting that Josh Andrews has been around for two seasons and maybe you didn't know it? He was on the practice squad in 2014 and then spent 2015 on the active roster. Andrews is aiming for a significant role this season, so it was noteworthy that he took a lot of reps as a second-team center in the spring. The Eagles have Stefen Wisniewski and his 77 career starts and he's taken reps at both center and guard, but Andrews offers some size at 311 pounds and he's quick off the ball.
There is no doubt that Andrews is a developing player. Can he develop enough to make it with a suddenly-deep offensive line group?
Ron Brooks, cornerback
After spending four seasons in Buffalo primarily as a backup cornerback, Ron Brooks signed with the Eagles for three years and found himself as a starter in the spring practices. The depth chart doesn't mean a whole lot in the spring, but Brooks acquitted himself well. He knows the system. He is hungry for playing time, and he's a feisty, talented player who is most certainly in the cornerback mix.
Along with his talents at cornerback -- he can also play inside in the nickel -- Brooks is an experienced special teams player. He does a lot of things well and could be one of those players who blossoms in the right situation.
Bryan Braman, defensive end/special teams
Here is what I love about Bryan Braman: He will run through a wall on every play to have a chance to be on the field. Braman could be a key cover player should the Eagles decide to kick off and cover rather than have touchbacks on kickoffs, and he's obviously a key player in the punt game.
How about as a defensive end? Can Braman use his burst off the line of scrimmage to help off the edge? He's not going to drop back in coverage. That's just not his thing. If Braman is asked to get up the field and get in the backfield, he's going to give great effort and cause some disruption.
Darren Sproles, running back/return man
We all know how dynamic Darren Sproles is, but we may not have seen the best of him quite yet as an Eagle. How can Doug Pederson and Reich incorporate Sproles more into the passing game here? Sproles had 40 receptions in 2014 and then 55 in 2015 after seasons of 86 catches (2011), 75 (2012) and 71 (2013) in New Orleans.
The idea in this offense is to create favorable matchups and then attack those areas. The Eagles are going to use more motion than in the recent seasons and they're going to use a lot of personnel groupings. Sproles and his special skills need to be part of the planning. Get him in space and let him eat up slower linebackers. Make a defense use a safety on him and go to Zach Ertz or Burton against a linebacker. Expect to see Sproles displaced in the formation much more than in the two previous seasons.