Jobs up for grabs when Eagles take on the Browns

King Dunlap will be the Eagles starting right tackle for the second week in a row. (Yong Kim/Staff Photographer)
King Dunlap will be the Eagles starting right tackle for the second week in a row. (Yong Kim/Staff Photographer)
Posted: August 25, 2011

The Eagles' third preseason game is often Andy Reid's final opportunity to effectively assess players battling for positions on his starting 22.

Reid typically rests his starters in the final preseason game, and while that isn't a guarantee next week against the New York Jets, Thursday night's contest against the Cleveland Browns presents a chance for the Eagles to wipe away the remnants of a sloppy loss to the Steelers a week ago.

Reid's starters will play at least into the third quarter at Lincoln Financial Field, but at several key spots a number of players are vying to make the first team. Here's what to look for at several up-for-grabs positions with 17 days until the season opener:

Right tackle. King Dunlap gets the nod for the second straight week, but each day Reid becomes more forceful in saying that Winston Justice will be the starter once he has fully recovered from offseason knee surgery.

A few weeks ago, when Ryan Harris had seemingly put a vise grip on right tackle, Justice's place on the roster appeared precarious. Not anymore. Harris mostly has been out since suffering back spasms in the first preseason game, and even when he returned for a walk-through on Saturday, Dunlap was the starter.

But will Dunlap stay there if Justice isn't ready by Sept. 11? The Eagles re-signed Reggie Wells last week and he should see a few snaps at right tackle as the merry-go-round on Michael Vick's blind side continues.

Middle linebacker. When asked on his radio show on Monday about rookie Casey Matthews' standing as the starting middle linebacker, Reid said: "We'll give him a shot." It sounds as if Matthews may have one more shot following his rocky showing against the Steelers. If he's pushed around by the Browns as he was by the Steelers' offensive line, Reid and defensive coordinator Juan Castillo may have to move Jamar Chaney from strong side into the middle.

Matthews, though, will get plenty of opportunities against the run in the base defense. He might not see as much time in the nickel, though, with rookie Brian Rolle's increased role on passing downs.

Strong safety. Nate Allen's less-than-100-percent knee means that Jarrad Page will start opposite free safety Kurt Coleman. Allen, who ruptured his patellar tendon in December, recently admitted that his knee was still sore, which was no secret to anyone who watched his performance against Pittsburgh. He hasn't been shelved and should see a few snaps with the first team on Thursday, but Page has assumed the starting spot for the time being.

Page is a five-year veteran who hasn't started more than five games in a season since 2008, but he should provide some stability at a spot that is very young for the Eagles.

Center. Jamaal Jackson, who has started in each of his 72 career games, ran with the first-team offense last week against Pittsburgh and looked solid. But he's out this week, and Jason Kelce is in at center. A sixth-round draft pick, Kelce will start Thursday, although Jackson could spell him at times. The decision on who wins this job, though, may not come down to who is better now, but whom the Eagles project to be better by midseason.

Quarterback. Vick doesn't have to worry about losing his job to Vince Young or Mike Kafka. But he does have to ease some concerns following last week's three-interception outing. Expect a few high-percentage pass attempts early from Vick and a low-risk game plan that protects the quarterback.

Extra point. Eagles president Joe Banner was interviewed for an hour on WIP-AM (610) on Wednesday and touched on many subjects.

Asked about the possibility of trading cornerback Asante Samuel, Banner said: "At this point . . . we're better off with him than whatever the alternative is."

Banner reiterated that the Eagles expect receiver Steve Smith to come off the physically unable to perform list before the start of the season.

Banner said that trades for starting offensive linemen this late in the season are unlikely, but that he was more open to possibly adding a linebacker at some point.


Contact staff writer Jeff McLane at 215-854-4745, jmclane@phillynews.com, or @Jeff_McLane on Twitter.

 

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