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How Do You Get to 53?

Posted By Christopher Rowe On Sep 3 2011 @ 12:47 pm In Philadelphia Eagles | No Comments

Roster cut-down day is dreaded by NFL players – especially hopefuls wanting to make the roster. Imagine a job interview requiring you to go away for a month, live in a dormitory and participate in drills, classes and exercises then take tests to determine your value… or in a word… college.

Ordinarily, there is an entire training camp to week out all of the extraneous players. A couple of times a week, the Grim Reaper of coaches assistants will make their rounds at the dormitory, knock on doors and speak those unkind words, “Coach wants to see you. Bring your playbook.” When a few players a week exit camp, it lessens the stark contrast between having 115 men on the practice field and 110 or 105. Heading into the fourth and final preseason game, most NFL teams were offered an 80-player limit. That would allow them to make evaluations on their second and third (and fourth) string players before having to cut the excess by September 3 – a full week before the season’s kickoff.


By the 6 PM Saturday deadline, the Eagles have to shed 27 players from their roster. This does afford players who are cut a chance to hook on with another NFL team but mostly it means “back to the salt mines.” There is a proviso that NFL teams can retain a 7-player practice squad or travel squad in the event of injury or to augment the team during weekly practice. These players are offered a different contract, no guarantees and a simple “we’ll let you know if we need you.”

There have been some injuries during the very abbreviated and compressed preseason and that will likely be an ancillary consequence of the 132-day Owners’ lockout. Standout play (especially in preseason games 3 and 4) has earned one or two bubble players those coveted final roster spots. This is not official, merely one person’s projections of who will make the 2011 Philadelphia Eagles’ list of 53:

Quarterbacks (3): Michael Vick, Vince Young, Mike Kafka.

QB Analysis: Young has been tabbed as Vick’s backup, assuming that hamstring injury doesn’t linger. Even if it does, hamstrings can heal very well while holding a clipboard on the sideline. Much of this drama has been media-driven and any real controversy ended with Kolb being traded and Young being signed. Oh right there was that whole “Dream Team” thing but as I said, media driven. QB Jerrod Johnson’s release after preseason Game One meant that the question wasn’t who would make the team, merely in what order. Vick starts. Young is #2 and Kafka spends another year as third-string. The good news is that due to a rule change in the new CBA, the third-string (or “emergency” QB can now be inserted freely as any other backup. Previously the rule was that the third string QB could only enter the game due to injury of the first and second-string players. It may prove interesting to find out whether Jerrod Johnson accepts a role with the practice squad or if he heads for the UFL (first overall draft pick).

Running Backs (4): LeSean McCoy, Ronnie Brown, Dion Lewis, Owen Schmitt

RB Analysis: There’s just no room for rookie Stanley Havili or veteran Eldra Buckley. Buckley would likely pursue employment with another team but Havili would be the only member of the 2011 Draft Class not to make this roster. He was impressive on special teams in limited preseason play and should find a role with the practice squad. Injuries are part of every NFL season and the last has not been seen of either of these players.

Wide Receivers (6): DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, Jason Avant, Steve Smith, Riley Cooper, Chad Hall

Receivers Analysis: Surprised? This one was more difficult than expected especially with the signing of “the other” Steve Smith. Sinorice Moss has had some good moments both as a receiver and in the return game. Hall had a couple miscues against the Jets, perhaps tightening the competition, but the edge goes to the diminutive Air Force product. Johnnie Lee Higgins and Moss had each hoped to find a spot on Special Teams but with changes in kick return rules and roster spots at a premium, it is more likely that role would go to Hall, Cooper or possibly Dion Lewis. Maclin has shown marked health improvement since reporting to camp 4 weeks ago while Jackson is still negotiating a new contract (which could be signed by opening day).

Tight ends (3): Brent Celek, Clay Harbor, Donald Lee.

Tight End Analysis: Donald Lee can still play in this league, but the Eagles need to decide what exactly they want to do with him. Clay Harbor has aggressively defended his backup post, leaving Lee or Cornelius Ingram on the proverbial bubble. Should the Eagles go with just two TE, they’ll have no choice but to hope Cornelius Ingram is still available because Lee will go elsewhere. Think hard about this one as the wrong decision could prove problematic later.

Offensive linemen (10): Jason Peters, Todd Herremans, Jason Kelce, Jamaal Jackson, Danny Watkins, Winston Justice, King Dunlap, Evan Mathis, Reggie Wells, Julian Vandervelde

Offensive Line Analysis: Julian Vandervelde (5th round pick) makes the cut after back problems resulted in surgery for Ryan Harris. Danny Watkins (first round pick) and Jason Kelce (6th round pick) could make landmark news in NFL history if they start on the same line (first rookie Center/Guard combination) but that is unlikely to happen. Can’t find a spot for veteran supersub Mike McGlynn which means Evan Mathis and Reggie Wells both make the squad. Not sure I understand this completely. Justice and Dunlap are both apparently the same player and if Jamaal Jackson is not the starter then he should be given the chance to sign elsewhere. Howard Mudd must see something he likes in Jackson (former stalwart starter) that he doesn’t see in McGlynn. If the theory is to go with younger, more athletic offensive linemen then Jackson and McGlynn should both be out. McGlynn’s value as a sub for all five OL positions will be sorely missed and we may see 77 again.

Defensive linemen (9):  Jason Babin, Cullen Jenkins, Mike Patterson, Trent Cole, Darryl Tapp, Trevor Laws, Anthony Hargrove, Antonio Dixon, Phillip Hunt.

Defensive Line Analysis: Phillip Hunt may have solidified his roster spot after another strong performance Thursday. Juqua Parker, complete with a bad calf and a $4.3 million cap hit, probably does not make it unless the team or Mike Patterson decides that his AVM makes it too risky to hope for an event-free season. Derek Landri falls just off the bubble while Anthony Hargrove has quietly made the squad. Brandon Graham starts the year on the PUP (Physically Unable to Perform) List meaning he won’t play until Week 7. If Patterson falters then Parker gets a reprieve until Week 7. Nothing complicated here.

Linebackers (6): Casey Matthews, Moise Fokou, Jamar Chaney, Brian Rolle, Keenan Clayton, Greg Lloyd

Linebacker Analysis: The most talked-about position this summer has ended exactly the way everybody thought it would. Moise Fokou and Jamar Chaney return as the “graybeards” of the bunch augmented by rookie Casey Matthews. That’s your starting three! Greg Lloyd (no, not that Greg Lloyd) hasn’t exactly moved heaven and earth to earn a spot, but they’ll carry probably the undersized seventh-round pick. Brian Rolle most definitely deserves a spot having shown the tenacity and ferocity this team needs. Quick question… Name me three great linebackers from the Andy Reid Era… No?… So it’s not my imagination that Reid simply ignores the linebacker position and throws in whoever he has on the depth chart? How about one?

Cornerbacks (6): Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Nnamdi Asomugha, Asante Samuel, Trevard Lindley, Curtis Marsh, Brandon Hughes

Cornerback Analysis: “Bermuda Triangle” is the term for Asomghua, Samuel and “DRC.” Basically this means we have three “number one” CB (not unlike the Phillies “Four Aces”). Last season Philadelphia started everyone short of Betsy Ross opposite Asante Samuel leading to the worst Red Zone defense the NFL has seen in 30 years. Money well-spent when you consider the talent upgrade and with pass-happy NFL offenses this rotation ensures quality on every down. The problem now is finding enough playing time to keep everybody happy! Lindley and Marsh have the enviable task of learning from three of the best in the business. Projecting that Joselio Hanson and his $2.4 million cap hit gets traded before it’s all said and done is no revolutionary concept. The question is where he will go and why any team would offer trade value when Hanson will be cut if not traded. Talent-wise Hanson is better than Brandon Hughes but considering the amount of playing time available and the “capology” numbers, you do the math.

Safeties (4): Nate Allen, Kurt Coleman, Jaiquawn Jarrett, Jarrad Page

Safety Analysis:  Very quietly, this has been a huge upgrade from 2010. Allen and Coleman return from 2010 but Jarrett and Page bring this quartet back p to NFL standards. Quentin Mikel is in St. Louis while the other members of the “Open Safety Valve Knothole Gang” are simply elsewhere. Page is a diamond in the rough who will help Allen and Coleman immensely. Colt Anderson, if the cards fall this way, is a casualty of the new kickoff rule. Carrying 5 safeties would only be justifiable if one of them could play on special teams. Maybe Anderson returns as well he should.

Kicker/punter: Rookie Alex Henery. Rookie Chas Henry. Deal with it.

Kicker Analysis:  Two rookies usher in the dawn of a new era in the Eagles kicking game. Better a year too early than a year too late (see Donovan McNabb). Gone are Sav Rocca and longtime fan favorite David Akers (can anyone help out a 49er?). Kickers are an odd lot as they can have a bad week to go from cult hero to social pariah.

Alex Henery’s ghastly miss against New York has more than a couple people nervous Not only was it “only but it was only one kick and only 14 people saw it. If kickers were hired and fired from kick to kick that quickly they would be more plentiful and disposable than day laborers you pick up behind Home Depot (or Billy Martin). At least give the guy a couple of games to prove himself – something Eagles fans are reluctant to do with… well… anybody. Henery was a fourth round pick ahead of Dion Lewis for a reason. An All-America selection in 2010, Henery handled kicking and punting duties at the University of Nebraska - scoring 397 points on 68-of-76 FG attempts (89.5 %) and finishing his career as the most accurate kicker in NCAA history.

As for Punter Chas Henry won the Ray Guy Award as the nation’s best punter while at Florida. He punted 40 times for 1,892 yards (47.3 average) and 14 of his 34 punts (41.2%) went 50 yards or more. Who can argue with that? Philadelphia can. In true Eagles fans fashion, we will say they are no good until after three games when they are doing well (Eagles will see David Akers in Week 4 vs. SF). Then we will hold them in high esteem proclaiming them the best player moves ever made by any Philadelphia sports teams in the history of human existence… until we lambaste them a week later for shenking one against Buffalo. It is the Tao of Philadelphia Sports Fans.

Final Roster Spot Long snapper: Jon Dorenbos OR Donald Lee OR Jason Kelce OR Julian Vandervelde. Whoever it is this might free up a roster spot. If they can’t find a roster spot for a Special Teamer then they might force the long-snapper to do double duty. Plan accordingly.

Notable names on the bubble: Donald Lee, Joselio Hanson, Eldra Buckley, Colt Anderson, Johnnie Lee Higgins, Sinorice Moss, Rashad Jeanty, Akeem Jordan, Austin Howard, Stanley Havili. Brandon Graham will start the year on the PUP list.

2011 draft picks that made the cut (10): Dion Lewis, Jason Kelce, Danny Watkins, Casey Matthews, Brian Rolle, Greg Lloyd, Curtis Marsh, Jaiquawn Jarrett, Alex Henery, Julian Vandervelde. RB Stanley Havili might be the only pick to not make the 53.


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