Almost all the starters sat out the Eagles’ preseason finale Thursday night. Even backups such as quarterback Mark Sanchez, cornerback Nolan Carroll and receiver Brad Smith didn’t play.
But, with Saturday’s deadline (4 p.m.) to reduce the roster to 53 looming, the game wasn’t entirely meaningless. It was downright crucial to players trying to make the final roster.
The Eages’ backups may have complicated some of head coach Chip Kelly’s roster decisions by turning in a dominating performance during a 37-7 destruction of the Jets’ backups at Lincoln Financial Field.
Cody Parkey, Henry Josey and a host of receivers put their best feet forward as they tried to convince Kelly they belonged on the team.
Parkey, acquired from the Colts in a trade last week, literally put his best foot forward. The rookie from Auburn booted field goals of 54, 53 and 25 yards. The long field goals had plenty of distance.
Considering that the longest field goal of incumbent kicker Alex Henery’s career is 51 yards, Parkey may have a leg up, if you’ll pardon the expression, in the kicker competition. The questions are how much confidence Kelly has lost in Henery and whether he is willing to trust a rookie kicker after just one preseason game.
It may also be difficult to keep Josey off the roster. With LeSean McCoy and Darren Sproles glued to the sidelines and with backup running backs Matthew Tucker (shoulder) and Kenjon Barner (ankle) sustaining injuries during the game, Josey rushed 22 times – he had only carried the ball 12 times during the prior three preseason games – for 121 yards. Josey appeared to be banged up and a little fatigued during the fourth quarter, but there was no way he was going to ask to come out of this game.
Quarterback Matt Barkley had a bumpy start, throwing an interception in the end zone, but he got better as the game progressed. Much better. Barkley completed 21 of 33 passes for 253 yards and one touchdown. Barkley also ran for a touchdown before giving way to fourth-string quarterback G.J. Kinne early in the fourth quarter.
Speaking of quarterbacks, former Eagles quarterback Michael Vick started for the Jets – and left after one play. After the running play, Jets head coach Rex Ryan called timeout, allowing Vick to exchange his helmet for a visor as he left the field to a warm ovation. When Ryan said this week we wouldn’t see Vick for very long, he wasn’t kidding.
The following is how players’ performances Thursday may affect roster decisions at specific positions.
Henery must be squirming after seeing Parkey convert all three of his field goals, including two from beyond 50 yards. Henery was inconsistent beyond 40 yards last season. He missed from 47 yards and 31 yards during the preseason. He didn’t attempt a field goal on Thursday, although he converted two extra points and kicked off during the fourth quarter. Parkey may have taken Henery’s job with his performance Thursday.
Chris Polk didn’t even play. That could be a sign that he may be put on injured reserve due to his hamstring injury. Josey, the Eagles’ leading rusher for the third straight week, is making it very difficult to cut him. Another concern is that Josey might not make it through waivers, which he would have to do before the Eagles could sign him for their practice squad.
Tucker carried six times for 39 yards before leaving with a shoulder injury. Barner carried 5 times for 21 yards and wasn’t particularly impressive returns punts. Unless Tucker’s shoulder injury is serious enough to sideline him for the start of the season, Josey and Tucker are likely to make the team behind McCoy and Sproles, with Polk on IR and Barner released.
Brad Smith and rookie Jordan Matthews joined Jeremy Maclin and Riley Cooper on the sidelines. That’s probably a sign that Smith has made the team. That would only leave room for one receiver, assuming the Eagles keep six receivers. If rookie Josh Huff starts the season on injured reserve because of his shoulder injury, it’s possible that two receivers who played Thursday could make the team.
Jeff Maehl made a strong bid for a roster spot with four receptions for 84 yards. Arrelious Benn caught two passes for 55 yards, including a 43-yard touchdown from Barkley to open the scoring. The most intriguing receiver against the Jets was Damaris Johnson. He caught two passes for 19 yards, but he also excelled on punt returns, nearly breaking one for a touchdown, and lined up in the backfield to take some of the burden off Josey’s shoulders. All Johnson did as a running back was rush five times for 69 yards, including a dart up the middle for a 50-yard touchdown to close out the scoring with 1:42 remaining.
Will Murphy had a nice game, with four catches for 34 yards and some solid special teams coverage, but there simply aren’t enough available roster spots. Ifeanyi Momah caught one pass for 12 yards and has to hope the Eagles keep him around on the practice squad.
Brent Celek and Zach Ertz didn’t play against the Jets. James Casey caught two passes for 10 yards. There’s only room on the roster for three tight ends, but Trey Burton certainly turned some heads with six catches for 45 yards and a touchdown. The Eagles certainly would like to get Burton on their practice squad – if he makes it through waivers.
First-round draft pick Marcus Smith didn’t make a tackle. He came close to dropping Daryl Richardson for a loss, but missed the tackle. There’s no way that Smith doesn’t make the final roster, but it doesn’t appear that he’s ready to contribute. That means someone who could be more productive right now will be released.
Former first-round draft pick Brandon Graham made a couple tackles on running backs. Graham will make the roster because he’s a good pass rusher on a team that doesn’t have many of them, but it’s helpful if he can play the run because he’s not very good in pass coverage.
The inside linebackers rotated, with Emmanuel Acho and Najee Goode mostly playing the first and third quarters, and Casey Matthews and Travis Long playing the second and fourth quarters. Acho had a good game, although he could have intercepted a pass. Matthews was around the ball a lot, but he took a bad angle and let Richardson escape down the right sideline for a long gain on a short pass.
The big question is how many linebackers Kelly will keep. Smith takes up one spot on the roster. Bryan Braman, a special teams demon, likely will take up another. Matthews may be the odd man out. Then again, Acho had a monster game in the preseason finale against the Jets last season and still was cut.
The second-team offensive line continues to play well. The only effect Thursday’s game may have on the roster decisions is that Matt Tobin injured his left ankle on the Eagles’ third play from scrimmage. If the injury will keep him sidelined for any length of time, it may open the door for an additional lineman, perhaps Andrew Gardner or Kevin Graf, to make the 53-man roster. Lane Johnson will miss the first four games due to suspension and does not count against the 53-man limit.
Defensive end Brandon Bair continued his excellent summer, hustling back to recover a fumble caused by safety Earl Wolff. Rookie defensive end Taylor Hart also had a solid game, although he might be headed for the practice squad. Rookie defensive tackle Beau Allen also looked good. Defensive tackle Bennie Logan, who hadn’t played much during preseason, was one of the few starters to play Thursday. With Allen and Logan solid bets to make the team, Damion Square appears to be the odd man out.