By GORDON GLANTZ
GORDONVILLE – The song is called “Under The Gun,” by Little Steven and The Disciples of Soul, and it likely ranks among the best you’ve never heard.
A key line goes like this: “In the midnight hour, you find out what you’re made of.”
There are several holdover members of the Philadelphia Eagles who found themselves in such a scenario as soon as the 2014 NFL Draft, and follow-up frenzy of undrafted rookies, went into the history books.
Here is a closer look at jobs on the 53-man roster placed up for grabs as a direct result of the Eagles’ shopping spree, which has created healthy competition in head coach Chip Kelly’s second season:
Outside Linebacker: First-round pick Marcus Smith out of Louisville may not have been a popular choice for those looking for a bigger name, and he may have been Plan B for the Birds’ brass, but they are committed to him now. To the chagrin of the fan base, he will likely be brought along slowly, serving as an apprentice behind Trent Cole. With Connor Barwin at the other spot, this leaves a roster crunch.
Brandon Graham, a former first-round pick and a natural defensive end who fits their 3-4 system like the proverbial square peg in a round hole, was either shopped with no buyers during the draft or the Eagles are still hoping to make it work. However, they have also have Travis Long, who spent last season on the practice squad and may be a better long-term fit at a lower salary. And then there is free agent signee Bryan Braman. Although he is considered a special teams ace, his passport is stamped outside linebacker and has to be accounted for somewhere on the roster’s final head count.
Wide Receiver: The Eagles passed on some “name” receivers in the first round in order to grab Smith, using the logic that the draft pool was deeper at receiver than at 3-4 outside linebacker. Time will tell if their calculated risk will pay dividends. As it is, they spent their second- and third-round picks on receivers – Jordan Matthews of Vanderbilt and Josh Huff of Oregon – and it would seem that they are locks to be the third and fourth receivers behind projected starters Riley Cooper and Jeremy Maclin.
Depending on how many players they won’t to carry at other spots – for an example, see above – they could justify going no deeper than five receivers on the active roster. The addition of all-purpose running back Darren Sproles and the break-out promise of second-year tight end Zach Ertz make it possible to carry just five receivers, with six being the absolute maximum. As such, the competition should be intense among a no-frills group. The frontrunners would be second-year Eagle Jeff Maehl, a good runner of routes who played for Kelly at Oregon and former 2010 Tampa Bay second-round pick, Arreloius Benn. Others with NFL experience are the well-traveled Brad Smith and third-year spare part Damaris Johnson. A wild card is B.J. Cunningham, a former sixth-round pick of the Dolphins who had a superlative collegiate career at Michigan State.
Cornerback: Behind returning starters Cary Williams and Bradley Fletchers, the Eagles have one of the league’s top slot corners in Brandon Boykin and a free-agent signee in Nolan Carroll, who has more than 20 career starts under his belt. In the fourth round of the draft, they positioned themselves to grab the first pick of the third day and drafted Jaylen Watkins out of Florida. Assuming those five make the roster, somewhat of a luxury already, the futures in midnight green don’t look so promising for returnees Roc Carmichael and Curtis Marsh.
Safety: Seen as the position of greatest need going into the offseason, the Eagles released the disastrous Patrick Chung and let Kurt Coleman and Colt Anderson ride off into the sunset of free agency. They spurned bigger names and signed Malcom Jenkins away from the Saints and decided to give former second-round pick Nate Allen a one-year deal. Meanwhile, 2013 fifth-round surprise Earl Wolff, who won a starting job before hurting his knee, is back in the fold. Chris Maragos, a free agent by way of Seattle, is a special teams ace by trade. However, like Braman, his papers say he is a safety. If the Eagles are going to carry five corners, it would seem that four safeties would be the max. This likely quartet was put on notice when the Eagles grabbed Stanford’s Ed Reynolds in what seemed like a draft steal in the fifth round. They also jumped on a priority undrafted safety in Daytawion Lowe of Oklahoma State. This would put Allen on the hot seat to win the starting job alongside Jenkins away from Wolff. If he can’t, he offers too little value on special teams to justify a roster spot.
Defensive End: This is a young group, headed by 2012 first-round pick Fletcher Cox and Cedric Thornton. Vinny Curry, once viewed as a poor fit for the 3-4 alignment, has worked his way into being a high-quality backup. They would likely carry one or two others at the position. Fifth-round pick Taylor Hart, an Oregon product, is well-known to Kelly and defensive line coach Jerry Azzinaro. However, the Eagles also return last year’s seventh-round pick Joe Kruger and Oregon product Brandon Bair from the practice squad. A lot of eyes will also be on sentimental favorite, Alejandro Vallanueva, the former Army standout and war hero.
Nose Tackle: The Eagles last pick of the draft, nose tackle Beau Allen of Wisconsin, may be among their most significant. If he can play 15-20 snaps per game, it frees up second-year man Bennie Logan to play some end. This would leave Damion Square without a real role on the team, barring a strong camp.
Kicker: A lot of media hype is swirling around kicker Carey Spear, a Vanderbilt product signed after the draft. Spear’s claim to fame, other than being a decent enough college kicker to be worked out by a handful of NFL teams and get a shot in a training camp, is making some terrific tackles that went viral on You Tube. A Vanderbilt student journalist dubbed him “Murder Leg,” and a legend was born. Now, for a dose of reality in the form of a question: Does “Murder Leg” have the length strength to kill the career of incumbent Alex Henery? Think it through as you watch You Tube. It is admirable that he hurled his chiseled body at returners, but let’s realize that he was making these tackles because his kickoffs were not reaching the end zone.
This analysis originally appeared on http://www.phillyphanatics.com