Making sense of the Eagles' 53

Colt Anderson earned his spot on the Eagles' 53-man roster (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh).

In yesterday's post, I focused on the players the Eagles cut.

But what about the 53 who will show up at the Novacare Complex for practice on Monday?

It's important to remember this was just the first round of cuts. Guys like Akeem Jordan are probably relieved they made it, but a lot can change going forward. When the Eagles trimmed their roster to 53 last year, here were some names that made the cut: running back Mike Bell, defensive end Antwan Barnes, wide receiver Hank Baskett. None of them lasted very long.

In other words, shaping the roster is a process. Yesterday was a big step, but not the final step.

Keeping that in mind, here are position-by-position thoughts on the players who made it and why the Eagles made the decisions they did:

Quarterback (3): Michael Vick, Vince Young, Mike Kafka

Nothing to see here. We all knew these would be the three guys.

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

I might be reading too much into the preseason, but I really have been impressed with Lewis. He showed he has the skill set to play in this offense, with the ability to run the ball, catch the ball and pick up blitzers. Lewis was doing those things against backups, but to his credit, he really stood out.

So what does that mean for the regular season? I'm all for him returning kicks. Considering how well LeSean McCoy played last year and the addition of Ronnie Brown, I'm not sure how much Lewis will get on the field if everyone's healthy. Kickoff returns are a good way to get the ball in his hands on a weekly basis, even if there are going to be more touchbacks.

And if McCoy or Brown suffers an injury, the Eagles are probably in a position to expand Lewis' role, rather than pick up a veteran.

Wide receiver (5): DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, Jason Avant, Riley Cooper, Steve Smith

The Eagles decided to go with just six receivers, bidding farewell to Chad Hall, Sinorice Moss and Johnnie Lee Higgins. If they would have kept one of those three to serve as a return man, it would have likely meant making Cooper (or Smith in the beginning of the season) inactive on gamedays. If the Eagles stick with five to start the season, it tells me they are confident that Maclin is fully recovered and that Smith is making good progress.

In reality, though, Smith does not need to be rushed onto the field until he's ready. In an emergency situation, the Eagles could probably be creative enough to stick with three-receiver sets and flex Brent Celek, LeSean McCoy or someone else out if they need to.

Having said all that, the Eagles could add a sixth receiver after monitoring the progress of Smith and Maclin.

Overall, this is an impressive and well-balanced group. Jackson and Maclin provide great speed and playmaking ability. Avant and Smith are sure-handed possession guys who can work intermediate routes and the middle of the field. And Cooper has a unique skill set with his size and strength, even though we're not quite sure what we're going to get from him.

Tight end (2): Brent Celek, Clay Harbor

I feel like a broken record here, but only two teams went with two-tight end sets less often than the Eagles last season, according to Football Outsiders. And with the addition of Smith, we might even see fewer 2-TE sets. Considering Harbor was a fourth-round pick, Donald Lee was going to have to really outplay him to make the roster. Remember, Harbor was active for just one of the Eagles' first eight games last year, but he dressed as the second tight end the rest of the way. In other words, they must have liked his progress and potential in the second half of 2010, so it makes sense that they're sticking with him and allowing Harbor some time to develop.

Offensive line (9): Jason Peters, Evan Mathis, Jason Kelce, Danny Watkins, Todd Herremans, Winston Justice, King Dunlap, Jamaal Jackson, Julian Vandervelde

I hit on 51 of 53 when projecting the roster on Friday. One of the players I got wrong was Reggie Wells. Like everyone else, I was unsure of Justice's health and thought Wells might make the cut as a backup lineman.

Instead, the Eagles only kept nine and activated Justice off the PUP list, which should be viewed as a cautiously optimistic sign that he's making progress after offseason knee surgery.

I took a look at the Eagles' inactives from their playoff game against the Packers. They went with two backup linemen, and that was the case in many other weeks also. So even though Justice is on the roster, he could be inactive on gamedays until he's ready, and Dunlap could serve as the backup tackle. Jackson would probably be the other reserve, with Vandervelde being inactive.

Defensive line (10): Trent Cole, Jason Babin, Mike Patterson, Antonio Dixon, Cullen Jenkins, Trevor Laws, Cedric Thornton, Darryl Tapp, Juqua Parker, Philip Hunt

I think Parker probably gets less credit than he deserves. He had six sacks a year ago, second on the team to only Cole, and has shown the ability to play both the run and the pass. He's 33, so it's reasonable to project that Parker might slow down, but if he maintains last year's production, it makes sense to keep him in the rotation. And in reality, the only other defensive end option would have been Daniel Te'o-Nesheim if the Eagles kept five.

We learned a little in this group about the importance of training camp and the preseason.

Let's start with Laws. It was probably silly to think he was playing for a roster spot in Thursday night's preseason game against the Jets. Laws has been in the organization for three seasons. In 2010 alone, he was on the field for 484 snaps, according to Pro Football Focus. Surely, the Eagles felt comfortable making a decision on Laws prior to seeing how he performed against Jets backups in the fourth preseason game.

On the other hand, try telling Hunt that the preseason wasn't important. It was clear all along that he was going head-to-head against Te'o-Nesheim for the final defensive end spot. And really, if the competition was close to even, Te'o-Nesheim probably would still be here since he was a third-round pick. But Hunt shined, and the Eagles decided they couldn't give up on his potential.

Thornton was the biggest surprise of the group. He's an undrafted free agent out of Southern Arkansas and made the team over Derek Landri and Anthony Hargrove. Looking at the potential gameday roster probably explains that decision. The Eagles are likely to dress eight defensive linemen. That's based off last season and also Jim Washburn's rotation in Tennessee. The defensive tackle spots are accounted for with Patterson, Dixon, Jenkins and Laws.

Thornton probably won't play unless there's an injury. And even then, the Eagles might instead decide to add a veteran to the mix. But he offers more value down the road than either Landri or Hargrove.

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

This was another area where I made a mistake. I had Hargrove and Wells making it, but left Jordan and Thornton off.

I thought the Eagles would eventually have six linebackers on the roster, but wasn't sure if Jordan would survive the weekend. He provides versatility with ability to play all three linebacker positions and can contribute on special teams. But I'm not sure Jordan provides much more than what the Eagles might be able to get from another veteran linebacker. In other words, he might be the least-safe guy on the roster.

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

In the end, the Eagles couldn't find a suitable trade partner for Joselio Hanson and had to just release him.

Lindley showed enough as a rookie to warrant a roster spot. It's easy to forget, but he saw significant action in four games (against the 49ers, Bears, Texans and Cowboys). Lindley had ups and downs, but given the shortened offseason, it makes sense to allow for him to develop.

The competition should still be open for the fourth cornerback spot. It might seem insignificant, but we saw the Eagles use their dime package quite a bit this preseason, and the fourth corner would have to step in if Samuel, Asomugha or Rodgers-Cromartie suffered an injury.

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

What? You thought the Eagles kept five? See the section below for an explanation.

There are a lot of question marks with this group. Coleman, a seventh-round pick in 2010, is a lock to start. Beyond that, how healthy is Allen? What kind of progress is Jarrett making? If Page is so good, why is he playing for his third different team since the start of the '09 season?

The Eagles have spent three picks on safeties in the past two seasons, but we still have to just wait and see what they have here.

Specialists (4): Alex Henery, Chas Henry, Jon Dorenbos, Colt Anderson

That's right. I'm putting Anderson in this group because it's where he belongs. Yes, Sean McDermott used Anderson as a safety in certain packages last year, but we all know he made the roster because of special teams.

And I think keeping him was absolutely the right call. When I worked on my special teams post last week, I couldn't believe how often Anderson stood out on the coverage units. As a gunner on punt coverage, he consistently was the first player downfield. But maybe more importantly, he made plays when he got to the ballcarrier.

I've mentioned these numbers before, but Anderson's 12 special-teams tackles ranked tied for third on the Eagles last season, and he was only here for eight games. He was the first man downfield four times, second to only Eldra Buckley. And again, that was in half the season.

Consider this: The Eagles had to cover either a punt or a kickoff 176 times in 17 games last season. That's over 10 plays a game where Anderson can be a difference-maker. Even with more touchbacks, he's still an important player.


I'm going to be gone for much of the day, but be sure to check for practice squad updates. Tommy Lawlor and the crew over at Iggles Blitz have been out in front of this one. They have a good post that explains practice squad rules and outlines who's eligible for the Eagles.


Howie Roseman has made 24 picks in two drafts as the Eagles' general manager. Eighteen of those players are on the 53-man roster. Another way to say it would be that 34 percent of the roster is made up of guys selected in 2010 or 2011.

The only ones who didn't make the cut from this year's class were fullback Stanley Havili and linebacker Greg Lloyd - both seventh-round picks.

The ones missing from last year's class are Te'o-Nesheim, Ricky Sapp, Charles Scott and Jeff Owens.

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