By GORDON GLANTZ
GORDONVILLE — Welcome, class, to Rosterology 101. Put away your iPads and laptops. Our supplies are simple. All your need is a calculator and some common sense.
As a proactive strike, I would ask that you place your head above your heart. As training camp evolves into the NFL preseason, you will read about – and catch glimpses of – long shot players and get visions of Rudy Ruettiger- and Vince Papale-like success stories.
The harsh reality is that those were movies. The real Rudy played college football when the only requirement was to suit up X amount of players on game day. Infinite players could don the golden dome helmets during the week.
Papale? Contrary to the myth spun by the flick “Invisible,” he had already been a pro player with the Philadelphia Bell of the ill-fated World Football League and was invited to try out for the Eagles (the silly open tryout in the movie was more reminiscent of what he experienced trying out for the Bell as a semi-pro player). He was, for lack of a better term, a preferred walk-on for an Eagles’ team in transition at a time in the NFL where training camp rosters were not limited to 90.
Unlike the team Papale made, this is an Eagles squad coming off back-to-back 10-win seasons. A large part of the roster is locked down by established players, newcomers acquired via trade or free agency, younger players that a significant amount of development time has been invested in already and 2015 draft picks that will have to play themselves off the active roster or 10-man practice squad.
For every guy who makes a diving catch or interception in the fourth quarter of a preseason game, keep in mind that someone ahead of them in the minds of coach Chip Kelly and his coaches would have to be X-ed out of the final equation based on a play that could be chalked up as an aberration.
For this exercise, we will keep the math simple and go with 25 players on each side of the ball and save three spots – etched in stone – for the kicker (Cody Parkey), punter (Donnie Jones) and long snapper (Jon Dorenbos).
So, while the cops may have busted Madame Marie for telling fortunes better than they do, it is not too hard to read the tea leaves here.
Barring injury, let’s look at a projected 53-man roster:
Quarterback (3): Sam Bradford, Matt Sanchez, Tim Tebow
What about me? Matt Barkley
What about you? A fourth-round pick in 2013, Barkley is likely to be showcased early in the preseason with the intent of being peddled to a quarterback-desperate team closer to the start of the season. If that doesn’t happen, the decision becomes more difficult. If it came down to starting, Barkley might be a better option than Tebow. As a third quarterback, the sense is that the Eagles would rather have Tebow.
Running Back (3): DeMarco Murray, Ryan Mathews, Darren Sproles
What about me? Kenjon Barner
What about you? With the curious release of previous preseason workhorse Matthew Tucker due to non-football injury, it leaves the undersized Barner (5-9, 195) to carry the load and take the hits they don’t want or need the three primary backs absorbing. It could be opportunity knocking for Barner, who racked up big numbers for Kelly at Oregon, but he is in the Sproles mold as a third-down back and return man and a needless duplication. He could be auditioning as much for other teams as he is for the Eagles.
Wide Receiver (6): Jordan Matthews, Riley Cooper, Nelson Agholor, Josh Huff, Miles Austin, Seyi Ajiroututu
What about me? Jeff Maehl
What about you? A marginal NFL talent who has not distinguished himself on special teams – an area where Ajiroututu stood out with the San Diego Chargers to the extent that he could put some defensive players on the roster bubble. Maehl has milked this “Oregon thing” long enough. The CFL beckons.
Tight End (3): Zach Ertz, Brent Celek, Trey Burton
What about me? N/A
Offensive line (10): Jason Peters (T), Jason Kelce (C), Lane Johnson (T), Allen Barbre (G-T), Matt Tobin (G-T), Andrew Gardner (T-G), Dennis Kelly (G-T), Kevin Graf (T), Jared Wheeler (G-C), John Moffitt (G)
What about me? David Molk, Julian Vandervelde, Josh Andrews
What about you? Molk did an admirable job as a undersized pivot when last year when Kelce was injured. Vandervelde, a fifth-round choice by the old regime in 2011, has been in and out of Philadelphia so many times that he has accrued enough frequent flyer miles for a round-trip to Bora Bora. He became a pet project for offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland, but newcomer Wheeler has collegiate ties to Stoutland and is a bigger version of Vandervelde. He can play center, as can Andrews, who is likely ticketed for a return trip to the practice squad. Expect him to be joined by some combination of rookie free agents (i.e. Brett Boyko, Mike Coccia, Malcolm Bunche and Cole Manhart).
Summary: That takes us to 25, class. There is some flexibility if Kelly elects to go with nine offensive linemen and keep a fourth running back, all four quarterbacks or another tight end (three rookie free agents in camp), meaning guys like Graf and Kelly are very much on the bubble. A lot of that will be based on the versatility of offensive linemen to master multiple spots, as only seven or eight dress on game day anyway. You may now go to recess before we continue with the other side of the ball.
Defensive Line (7): Fletcher Cox, Bennie Logan (NG), Cedric Thornton, Vinny Curry, Beau Allen (NG), Frank Mays, Taylor Hart
What about me? Brandon Bair, Brian Mihalik
What about you? Bair lived out of a suitcase, bouncing around between NFL practice squads, before walking onto a field for the first time – and performing admirably – last year at age 29. This will be a tough cut, but the head wins out over the heart. They will keep his agent’s cell phone number in the rolodex, but it is time to get younger and go with players – like the massive Mays (6-9, 291) and Hart, a 2014 fifth-round pick out of Oregon – that offer more down the road, while placing 2015 seventh-rounder Mihalik onto the practice squad.
Linebacker (9): Connor Barwin, Mychal Kendricks, Kiko Alonso, DeMeco Ryans, Brandon Graham, Jordan Hicks, Travis Long, Brad Jones, Najee Goode.
What about me? Marcus Smith II, Bryan Braman, Emmanuel Acho
What about you? None of these were easy cuts. More than likely, second-year man Brandon Hepburn will show enough for a return hitch on the practice squad. It just comes down to numbers, and also the fact that the Eagles didn’t make the playoffs last year because of a defense that was tired at the end of games and at the end of the season. The idea here is to rotate successfully at more spots than just defensive line, which benefitted from its depth last year but had guys huffing and puffing behind them. Smith was drafted in the first round in 2014 based on size, raw athletic ability and one year of production at Louisville. They knew he lacked technique, which can be culled from a willing pupil, but have had to learn first-hand that he lacks coachability and the high-motor needed for the NFL. Better to cut ties now. Braman was brought in last year to help solidify the special teams units, and fulfilled that task. However, he can only continue that role by suiting up on game days and he simply offers nothing at linebacker, at least not compared to Jones (a resume in Green Bays that includes starts, inside and outside, and solid special teams work) and Long. Additionally, others – like Burton – have emerged as special-teams aces, making Braman expendable. Acho, like Casey Matthews, only made the team in 2014 because of season-ending injuries to Long and Goode.
Defensive Back (9): Byron Maxwell (CB), Nolan Carroll (CB), Eric Rowe (CB-S), Malcolm Jenkins (S), Walter Thurmond (S-CB), Chris Maragos (S), Jaylen Watkins (S-CB), Ed Reynolds (S), Jacorey Shepherd (CB).
What about me? Earl Wolff, Chris Prosinski, Randall Evans, Jerome Couplin III, EJ Biggers.
What about you? As you can see from the notable cuts, the Eagles have gone for more of a quantity over quality approach to upgrade their depth in the secondary. Wolff was the red herring thrown out by Kelly to the media wolves early in the offseason when asked about who will start alongside Jenkins at safety, but the 2013 fifth-round pick continues to take up permanent residence in the trainer’s room. As is the case at linebacker with the likes of Braman, a special-teams specialist like Prosinski was a luxury they couldn’t afford. He and Couplin, poached from Detroit’s practice last year, needed to beat out Maragos, and there was no way that was going to happen. Maragos is an elite special-teams guy, not just a “good” one, and can play some safety in an extreme pinch. Shepherd and Evans were drafted in the sixth round and could certainly unseat the likes of Watkins or Reynolds, but they have one less year in the system and would be better served with a year on the practice squad. Biggers should be familiar to Eagles’ fans because he was victimized as a slot corner during Jordan Matthews’ coming-out party early last season against the Redskins. Perhaps he was signed in the offseason as a thank you for that non-effort. With Brandon Boykin recently traded cross-state to Pittsburgh for a bag of deflated footballs, the hope is that Biggers doesn’t beat out Shepherd or Watkins as the new slot corner.
Summary: That’s 25 more. Really not as much flexibility in the breakdown, as it is risky going with less than seven defensive linemen or just to accommodate a 10th linebacker or defensive back. The out-of-the-box projections here are Mays on the defensive line instead of Bair, Long and Goode at linebacker over Braman and Smith II, and Reynolds and/or Watkins at safety over Wolff and Prosinski. Mays has too much untapped potential to be stashed on the practice squad and, as stated, Goode is – pardon the pun – a good enough special-teams player to ease the loss of Braman. His presence will also allow third-round pick, Hicks, to cross-train at outside linebacker. Long makes it on his versatility and for bringing all the intangibles that Smith II will likely never have.
And there it is: 25 plus 25 equals 50. Now, class, add in three for the aforementioned specialists – kicker, punter and snapper – and you have your 53-man roster for the 2015 (and hopefully a little into 2016) Philadelphia Eagles.
There will be a pop quiz, so be prepared.
This analysis also appeared at http://www.phillyphanatics.com