By GORDON GLANTZ
GORDONVILLE — It happens every August.
Eagles fans – even in the afterglow of the ultimate prize – are ready for some football, even if it comes in the form of a messy version of the real thing that is preseason.
Excitement often turns to disappointment, as starters – and even familiar names further down the depth chart – don’t get much meaningful playing time.
But before you threw up your hands during Thursday’s preseason opener (7 p.m.) against the Steelers and send your bowl of pretzel sticks tumbling to the floor, wondering who these guys are up on your TV screens, take it from this guy that all is not lost.
In the midst of the madness and chaos, where yellow penalty flags go flying by like beach chairs in a tornado, there are some players in Eagle green who are not just dressed up for Halloween.
You need not re-watch the movie “Invincible” about the ultimate story of an undrafted free agent, Vince Papale, for inspiration. As recently as 2014, I picked an undrafted free agent – an undersized tight end from Florida named Trey Burton – out of the chorus and predicted he would be pegged for a solo. With the “Philly Special” – and a lot of other clutch catches and special teams efforts – in our heads, we know how that worked out. Burton has parlayed that success into greener pastures – literally and figuratively – as he signed with the Chicago Bears in the offseason to a contract that will made him the eighth highest paid tight end in the league.
Last year, as a public service, I provided a list of five players to watch in preseason. My only mistake – one that will not be repeated – was not doing it alphabetically, as Corey Clement would have been listed first instead of fourth (behind David Watford, Aaron Grymes and Joe Walker and in front of Randall Goforth).
A year later, Walker is still on the team as a backup middle linebacker after starting a handful a games last year. Goforth was released just before training camp began.
Clement, meanwhile, was a vital role player in the offense all season and saved his best for last, with four catches out of the backfield for 100 yards and a touchdown in the Super Bowl.
A good portion of the 53-man roster seems locked down with returnees, offseason signees and draft picks. Still, there a spots – even of the developmental variety on the practice squad – to be had.
Let’s take a look – in alphabetical look – at some candidates to catch your wandering August eye:
Josh Adams, RB: The Eagles have a crowded backfield picture, and the top three – Jay Ajayi, Clement and Darren Sproles – are roster locks who are likely to see much action. For what may be just one active roster spot behind them, there is a posse of Wendell Smallwood, Matt Jones and last year’s draft bust, Donnel Pumphrey. Adams, as an undrafted free agent (despite being considered a mid-round pick going into the annual cattle call), would seem to be fodder. However, the Bucks County native has some pedigree. He had a strong senior year at Notre Dame (1,430 yards to give him a fifth-best of 3,198 for his Irish career) and, at 6-foot-2, 213 pounds, strikes a noticeable pose. While he may have to wait it out a year on the practice squad, the Central Bucks South grad will get plenty of touches in the first two preseason games.
Rashard Davis, WR: After posting insane punt return numbers at FCS James Madison as a senior, the diminutive Davis (5-9, 175) was waiting tables in Charlottesville, Va. – right before the tragedy there – when the Eagles called after Sproles went down for the year. He was on and off the practice squad, but will get plenty of chances to field punts – and turn heads – while Sproles sits out the preseason. His time on the back end of the roster likely means Davis was schooled on the nuances of playing the slot, so he could make inroads as the fifth or sixth receiver there. A lot a guys – from last year’s fifth-round pick Shelton Gibson to converted quarterback Greg Ward Jr. to frequent Eagle Bryce Treggs – will be battling for one or two spots behind a locked in top four (Alshon Jeffery, Nelson Agholor, Mike Wallace and Mack Hollins) and maybe another one or two on the practice squad. Don’t be surprised if the shortest guy is left standing.
Joe Ostman , DE: It is not an exaggeration to say that Ostman, despite not having projectable NFL athleticism, was one of the best defensive players in college football. Just last year, Ostman (6-3, 255) had 19½ tackles for a loss (45½ for his career) and 13 sacks (26 career). He was considered a Day 3 pick who might be best suited as an outside linebacker in a 3-4 alignment. Here, with a wide-9 attack, he is a low-risk/high-reward longshot for the active roster at one of team’s deepest positions, but he will get a long look and could earn training time on the practice squad (and a second I-told-you-so mentioned here next year). Without much raw athletic ability, his high motor clearly runs on a lot of fuel, and Philly rightfully loves that as much as mustard on a soft pretzel.
Tre Sullivan, S: Even with Corey Graham back in the fold and Chris Maragos returning from injury, don’t be surprised if a safety you never heard of before lands on the final 53-man roster and another on the practice squad. Despite playing at Division III Shepherd, Sullivan was in camp last year, hit everything that moved and was promptly brought back for another chance to refine his game. Two other rookie free agent safeties – Jeremy Reaves and Stephen Roberts – are in the mix, but Sullivan may have an edge in his second camp.
Toby Weathersby, OT: Two guarantees. One, the media focus will be on seventh-round pick Jordan Mailata, who never played a snap of football before being drafted. Two, the more prepared player for right now will be Weathersby (6-4, 317), who played big-time college football at LSU. What that will mean when the final cuts come is hard to say, but if you look who is plowing holes for the likes of Adams to run through, it just might be No. 74.
This article originally appeared at phillyphanatics.com.