The preseason winds to a close Thursday. For many Eagles this will be their last opportunity to make an impression before making the roster or being shot out into the football abyss. We’ve made our guesses as to who will be on the final roster, but this Quadruple Option will focus on four of the position battles that can still be decided tonight
1.) Running Backs
LeSean McCoy, Darren Sproles, and Matthew Tucker appear to be locks. I’m skeptical about Chris Polk, since I think his value has been overstated, and his replacements have looked more than capable. Henry Josey and Kenjon Barner are playing to stay off the practice squad. The Eagles traded for Barner following Week 2 of the preseason when it looked apparent he would not make the Panthers’ roster. The Eagles could potentially use Barner as a kick/punt returner while Josh Huff is injured, which might keep him on the roster over Polk and Josey.
Josey has looked pretty solid, but that assessment comes only after 12 preseason carries for 104 yards (8.7 yards per carry). Barner’s first game with the Eagles came last week against Pittsburgh, where he rolled up 44 yards on 9 carries. Tonight will be the most action either of these two see, and they will be fighting with Chris Polk for what will likely be the team’s last roster spot.
2.) Defensive End
Fletcher Cox, Cedric Thornton, Vinny Curry, and Brandon Bair are locks. Damion Square and Taylor Hart are playing to make the active roster tonight. In my prediction I had Square getting cut and Hart heading to the practice squad. This isn’t the most conventional approach, and it might leave the Eagles a little lean on the line, but neither of them have been all that impressive. Square can play more than one position on the defensive line, so I understand if they decide to keep him over Hart. However, I can see both of them being let go in order to keep depth at other, stronger positions.
3.) Outside Linebacker
This has not been an impressive outfit during the preseason. Brandon Graham is arguably the only Eagle who has stood out. Trent Cole and Connor Barwin are going to be the starters, but Graham could push for more time if he continues to generate pressure (he has 2 Sacks, 1 QB Hit, 4 Hurries, and 4 Tackles this preseason). Travis Long has been the next most impressive OLB, but might be the victim of rough numbers at the position. The Eagles are definitely keeping Barwin, Cole, and Marcus Smith II. Barring the unforeseen they are keeping Graham. They seem to really like Bryan Braman as a special teams player. If they keep Long it may mean keeping at least 10 linebackers, which they may not want to do.
4.) Wide Receiver
The Eagles will either keep 5 or 6 wide receivers. For a team that uses three and four wide receivers as often as they do, I’m guessing (and this blog’s sturdy foundation is a cement mix of guesses and sometimes pretty words) they keep six. Jeremy Maclin, Riley Cooper, Jordan Matthews, and Josh Huff are locks. If Huff ends up being put on PUP or IR, it will open this competition up a bit more. On the bubble are Brad Smith, Jeff Maehl, Arrelious Benn, and Ifeanyi Momah. We (and by that I mean me) at TNP are really big fans of Ifeanyi Momah, but he’s going to end up on the practice squad again. That leaves Smith, Maehl, and Benn.
All three of these guys can contribute on special teams, which makes the call a little tougher. Smith is a pretty good slot receiver when he’s healthy, but he’s missed the last two preseason games to injury. Benn and Maehl each missed time earlier in the preseason as well. Despite my better judgment (Smith has only been targeted once this preseason), I think Smith and Maehl make the final cut and Benn is the odd man out. However, a good enough performance from any of them would make the picture a little bit clearer for the Eagles’ staff and guessers like me.
Steve Sabato is the editor of The New Philadelphian. You can follow him on Twitter @steve_sabato.