The Philadelphia Eagles preseason schedule comes to an end tonight against the New York Jets. As opposed to last week, when the starters played well into the third quarter, I find it unlikely more than seven or eight starters will see any game action. Tonight is the night for bubble players to separate themselves from the rest of the pack and make stronger cases to stay on the 53-man roster.
Here are five players to watch tonight:
Damion Square, DE
The Eagles’ defensive ends have really impressed this preseason, from Cedric Thornton to Clifton Geathers to Vinny Curry. Add in Fletcher Cox, and you have a solid group of four defensive ends in addition to the two nose tackles, Isaac Sopoaga and Bennie Logan (who can play both). Coming in, Damion Square was on the outside looking in with no NFL experience. I have him making the roster now, but only barely.
Square has had an extremely good camp, and coming out of Alabama’s stellar defense, there’s no doubt he has talent. He’s struggled, however, to adjust to NFL game speed, recording only two tackles in three preseason games with zero sacks and zero QB hits. Meanwhile, guys like Thornton, Geathers, and Curry have seen more playing time and done more with it, racking up sacks and QB hits left and right. Tonight is Square’s chance to show that Kelly should keep a 7th lineman and that he is the perfect man for the job.
Greg Salas, WR
Salas is another guy who came in with a small chance of making the roster, impressed early on, but has since fallen off. After Maclin’s ACL injury and an incredible start to camp, where he even got some first-team reps across from DeSean Jackson, many (including myself) had Salas making the roster. Then he went out and had a brilliant performance against the Patriots in Week 1 of the preseason, catching three balls for 54 yards and a touchdown. He’d passed Russell Shepard on the depth chart and seemed destined to make the team whether Chip Kelly kept six wideouts or not.
Since then, however, he’s really struggled. He’s been practicing with the third-stringers for the most part and has caught only two balls for 27 yards over the past two preseason games. With Jackson, Jason Avant, Riley Cooper, and Damaris Johnson being roster locks, tonight will be key for Salas. Shepard has stood out to Kelly and will likely make the team as the 5th wideout, so tonight is Salas’ chance to prove to the coaching staff that he is the worth having around as the 6th wide receiver.
Jordan Poyer, CB
More than any other player on the roster, injuries have helped Jordan Poyer. Despite his flashes of brilliance in college, his status as a 7th-rounder and his off-the-field issues had Poyer as an underdog coming into camp. Since then, however, a combination of him impressing and his teammates going down in droves has helped him mightily.
Right now, Cary Williams, Brandon Boykin, and Bradley Fletcher are the only locks. That leaves two spots open for Poyer, Brandon Hughes, and Trevard Lindley. That list would be a lot longer if it weren’t for injuries to rookie Eddie Whitley, a guy who has been almost as impressive as Poyer in his rookie camp, and Curtis Marsh, a guy who the Eagles coaching staff likes a lot as a veteran with a chance to break out this year. Poyer now has the inside track on making the 53-man roster; all he has to do tonight is outplay either Hughes or Lindley, which he’s been doing for the past four weeks, and he’s a lock.
Danny Watkins, RG
Danny Watkins has done everything in his power not to make the roster this summer. He hasn’t improved his biggest weaknesses, he hasn’t adjusted to the up-tempo offense very well, and he hasn’t endeared himself to a new coaching staff that didn’t draft him. Guys like Allen Barbre and Dallas Reynolds have made him near-expendable, and his role as a backup may not be as solid as we had thought.
Luckily for him, he has two things working in his favor: 1) He is guaranteed $1.1 million regardless of whether the Eagles cut him or keep him. 2) The recent injury to Dennis Kelly leaves the Eagles extremely thin along the offensive line. Watkins may not be a great option, but having a former first-round pick with some experience on the team is likely a better option than projects like Matt Tennant, Matt Tobin, and Michael Bamiro. Tonight is Watkins’ chance to solidify his spot on the roster with a solid performance.
Dennis Dixon, QB
The Eagles already have their three roster quarterbacks. Michael Vick is the starter, Nick Foles is the invaluable backup, and Matt Barkley is the rookie with potential. So where does Dennis Dixon, the former Oregon signal-caller who Chip Kelly single-handedly brought in to help his transition?
Dixon hasn’t been spectacular, but then again he may not have to be. He is mobile, he knows how to run Kelly’s offense, and he’s practice squad-eligible. The Eagles could use a guy like that on their PS this season, because I think in the case of an injury to Michael Vick or Nick Foles, Chip Kelly would rather have Dixon, a guy he is comfortable with, running the show than Matt Barkley.
But that doesn’t mean Dixon can come out tonight and lay an egg with the playing time he’s given. He needs to earn a spot on this team just like anyone else, and tonight could be the deciding factor.