Few surprises on Eagles roster

Posted: September 01, 2014

There may be a decision to quibble with here or there, but the 53-man roster the Eagles trimmed to on Saturday didn't come with many surprises.

They kept only three running backs, retained four tight ends, went heavy on the lines with 16 total players, and snuck five of Chip Kelly's former Oregon Ducks onto the roster.

But there weren't any shocking cuts, unless running backs Henry Josey and Matthew Tucker, receiver Damaris Johnson, or defensive lineman Damion Square catch on elsewhere and light the NFL on fire.

The most notable name to go, of course, was Alex Henery. But after rookie Cody Parkey's pair of 50-plus-yard field goals on Thursday night - and Henery's decreasing reliability - the veteran kicker was ousted after three seasons.

While kicker remains a question mark, the Eagles like their 53. They're understandably not ready to puff their chests out about it, though.

"I don't really think in those terms, really," general manager Howie Roseman said when asked if he thought he had a Super Bowl-contending roster. "It's a day-to-day process. It's a week-to-week of trying to get better. When you see how many things happen during the season, to sit here and make predictions and pretend you're like Nostradamus, it's hard to know.

"But I think when we look at our team and work ethic and the determination they put forward with our coaching staff - it's exciting going into the season."

Here's a closer look at the roster that will likely look different before next Sunday's season opener against the Jaguars:

Quarterbacks (3): Nick Foles, Mark Sanchez, Matt Barkley. The Eagles had been open to offers for Barkley, but he didn't do enough in the preseason finale to whet the appetites of backup-needy teams. If something were to happen to Foles, Sanchez has shown that he can steer the Eagles.

Running backs (3): LeSean McCoy, Darren Sproles, Chris Polk. The Eagles kept only three to start last season but had four by the end of the year. Josey and Tucker were productive in the preseason, but Josey lacks versatility, and Polk squeezed out the similarly sized Tucker. Polk didn't play in the preseason, but Roseman said the Eagles were going on his body of work and "have information" about his immediate return from a hamstring injury.

Wide receivers (6): Riley Cooper, Josh Huff, Jeremy Maclin, Jeff Maehl, Jordan Matthews, Brad Smith. Maehl snagged one of the last spots. He was playing on an injured ankle and likely knew he was on the bubble. He beat out Arrelious Benn - who will be waived as soon as he comes off short-term injured reserve - Ifeanyi Momah, and Johnson. Maehl's special-teams contributions, Roseman said, played a large part in his sticking for another season. The fact that he played for Kelly, the GM said, did not.

"He lets us make our own evaluations and talk to him about it, and then he gives us his opinions," Roseman said of Kelly. "He doesn't do anything different than he does for any player from any other school.

"It's really not fair that he gets hit on some of this stuff, when the guys that we're keeping, we're keeping because they're good players, and they can contribute to our football team. That's all for us."

As for the group as a whole, Maclin, Cooper, and Matthews form a solid first three, but there isn't much depth on the outside if one of the first two were to go down.

Tight ends (4): Brent Celek, Zach Ertz, James Casey, Trey Burton. Burton, as Roseman pointed out, caught 9 of 9 passes targeted to him in the preseason for 100 yards and a touchdown. Along with Parkey, he was the only undrafted rookie to make the team. Burton's blocking needs work, but he's athletic and sure-handed, and could develop into an H-back. The Celek-Ertz one-two punch could be as good as any in the league.

Offensive line (9): Jason Peters, Evan Mathis, Jason Kelce, Todd Herremans, Allen Barbre, Matt Tobin, David Molk, Andrew Gardner, Dennis Kelly. Lane Johnson's four-game suspension and Tobin's recent ankle injury may have paved the way for Kelly's addition, but keeping nine probably had more to do with how well the second-team unit performed in the preseason. If Barbre falters filling in for Johnson at right tackle, Tobin could be a suitable replacement.

Defensive line (7): Fletcher Cox, Cedric Thornton, Bennie Logan, Vinny Curry, Beau Allen, Brandon Bair, Taylor Hart. Square might have been the best player left off the roster, but Allen was a quick study at nose tackle, and defensive end Bair's play in the two-gap scheme landed him a roster spot. The strength of the defense is on the line. Hart, a rookie, may have to sit and watch early on.

Outside linebackers (5): Connor Barwin, Trent Cole, Brandon Graham, Bryan Braman, Marcus Smith. Travis Long had a spot until he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee Thursday night. He was slated to fill a number of roles, including backing up Barwin at the versatile "Jack" spot. Smith was destined to be inactive to open the season, but despite the Eagles' preaching patience about their top draft pick, he may be pressed into duty.

"Do we hope he can contribute as a first-round pick? Certainly you'd like that," Roseman said. "And I think the story's yet to be written on it. The season's long."

Inside linebackers (4): DeMeco Ryans, Mychal Kendricks, Najee Goode, Casey Matthews. Long had been cross-training at outside and inside and was expected to plug the fourth spot here. His injury likely paved the way for "Nine Lives" Matthews. The Oregon product and 2011 fourth-round pick got the nod over Emmanuel Acho because he can play both linebacker spots and chips in on all special teams.

Cornerbacks (5): Cary Williams, Bradley Fletcher, Brandon Boykin, Nolan Carroll, Jaylen Watkins. The offseason signing of Carroll gave the unit much-needed depth. Watkins will watch and be ready to man the slot if the dependable Boykin goes down.

Safeties (4): Malcolm Jenkins, Nate Allen, Earl Wolff, Chris Maragos. Ed Reynolds became the first Eagles fifth-round pick to be cut before the season since safety C.J. Gaddis in 2007. The Stanford alumnus missed part of the spring workouts because he was still in school but could land on the practice squad if he clears waivers. The Eagles are as well-equipped at safety as they've been in years.

Specialists (3): Cody Parkey, Donnie Jones, Jon Dorenbos. Parkey's on the tea, for now, but the undrafted rookie who spent most of the preseason with the Colts should be on a short leash. The Eagles did not invest a draft pick in the Auburn product, and they can't afford to be patient during a season with high expectations.


jmclane@phillynews.com

@Jeff_McLane

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