Another game – another preview. The Philadelphia Eagles take on the Cleveland Browns in an important preseason battle. Most of the starters will sit for the Eagles because they played on Monday, therefore a lot of backups will find themselves playing significant minutes. Not just significant in terms of amount, but significant because most of them will be fighting for a roster spot. It’s that reason that the seven preview points will focus on roster battles.
1. Punter Mat McBriar vs Chas Henry
Oh yea, I started with punting! That just happened. In all seriousness, a punter is on the field for approximately 20 plays a game both punting and holding. If punters only did what their name suggests, McBriar would have this job virtually locked up. That’s not to say that Henry is not punting well, but McBriar, when healthy, is a pro-bowler. He has proved to be healthy, but as previously stated, punters do more than just punt – they also hold. Henry has held for Alex Henery every single time this preseason. If McBriar cannot successfully hold, Henry will be awarded an Eagles roster spot. The questions is: when will we see McBriar attempt holding? Perhaps tonight.
2. Wide Receiver Damaris Johnson vs Chad Hall
In my post-camp final roster breakdown, I state that Hall is on the outside looking in at a roster spot. However, it’s much closer than meets the eye. Yes, Hall is small, but he is shifty, quick and most importantly has hands like glue. And not talking about that Elmer’s crap – I’m talking about this type of glue! Johnson on the other hand (no pun intended), has two bad drops in the preseason. However he is a rookie, and showed he can bounce back with catches right after. Johnson also showed tremendous talent in the return game, excluding a muffed punt. Johnson is probably in the lead, but it’s not by much. One of these tiny titans will emerge with an Eagles roster spot, but who?
3. Backup Safeties
This is not a specific roster battle between two guys. However safety depth behind starters Nate Allen and Kurt Coleman couldn’t be more open. OJ Atogwe brings veteran leadership and starting experience to the youthful group, but does has he picked up the defensive scheme quickly enough? Jaiquwan Jarrett, an Eagles former second round draft pick, has not shown he can play at an NFL level, but could he make the team by default due to his high draft position? Tom Nelson is solid on special teams and against the run, but can he prove that he can cover tight ends and running backs? Can undrafted free agent Phillip Thomas out of Syracuse make a few ore statement plays to complete the Cinderella story? Oh, and remember dominate special teams player Colt Anderson? He is still recovery from knee surgery, but could be activated part way through the season. So many questions to answer at safety!
4. Running Back Bryce Brown vs Chris Polk
The Eagles found gems in the last round of the NFL draft and rookie free agent acquisitions. If the safeties are the yang, then Polk and Brown are the ying. Unlike the safeties, both of them are making big plays almost every time they touch the ball. First Brown shows off his speed by getting around the corner, then Polk will show is power up the gut and push the pile with his second, third and fourth effort. Brown catches a pass and makes two defenders miss. Then Polk does the same but makes three defenders miss. Both of these guys deserve to stay on the roster. However the Eagles, along with most NFL teams, carry only 3 running backs. Is it possible the Eagles keep 4 running backs? Eagles reporter Dave Spadaro ponders the same question. Nonetheless, with LeSean McCoy and Dion Lewis roster locks, one of these guys likely gets cut – but whom? Brown is in the lead, but by a slim margin. Will someone finally stop making plays consistently?
5. Final 2 Offensive Lineman Positions
The top 6 offensive lineman are locks. Dennis Kelly has played well enough to earn a start tonight and if he plays just okay, he has a roster spot. The Eagles need to find their final two interior linemen. That list includes about 10 men. Whoever comes in after the starters, if the starters play could be a good indication.
6. Can Foles and Edwards Squeeze Kafka Out?
This will be Nick Foles first test against a full first team defense. Can he perform like he has against the second and third string defenses this preseason. If he can, or at least come close, the Eagles will have something special. Edwards has been overshadowed by Foles outstanding play but has played at a very high level himself. It’s similar to how Dwayne Wade played lights out in the finals but no one noticed because Lebron was having one of the most dominating series of all time. Yes neither of them are superstars, but the point stands nonetheless. Kafka won’t play another down this preseason and if they others keep it up, Kafka should start to sweat.
7. Fullback Stanley Havili vs Fullback Emil Igwenagu vs Tight End Brett Brackett
Stanley Havili played outstanding football against the Patriots. He is in the clear lead to make the Eagles final cut. However, that was just one game. If he falters and either Igwenagu or Brackett make a series of great plays throughout the next two games, Havili could lose his spot. Brackett is included in the fullback battle because the Eagles will likely only keep a combination of 3 fullbacks and tight ends.