Sunday, November 23, 2014
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State of the Eagles: Evaluating the rookies

What contributions have the Eagles received from their rookies through the first seven games? Here's a look in the weekly State of the Eagles post.

State of the Eagles: Evaluating the rookies

Eagles´ rookie Nate Allen is unable to prevent Titans´ Kenny Britt from receiving the ball last Sunday. (Clem Murray / Staff Photographer)
Eagles' rookie Nate Allen is unable to prevent Titans' Kenny Britt from receiving the ball last Sunday. (Clem Murray / Staff Photographer)

The theme entering this season was the Eagles' youth.

The Birds shut the door on the Donovan McNabb era and said good-bye to many veterans. They stockpiled picks in April's draft and selected 13 players.

Now, the Eagles are seven weeks in, sitting at 4-3 in an NFC that appears to be up for grabs.

The youth theme is still relevant even though the Eagles took a detour at quarterback and are going with a veteran in Michael Vick.

The Birds have 13 rookies on their 53-man roster; that's over 24 percent of their players.

But how many are contributing? That's the focus of this week's State of the Eagles post. I'll go player-by-player to see where the rookies stand, and when appropriate, project the outlook going forward.

Brandon Graham (1st round, 13th overall): Graham impressed everyone (present company included) at training camp. Practice after practice, drill after drill, he looked like a guy that would contribute in a major way in his first season. The truth is that expectations were probably too high. Back in April, I took a look at how defensive ends generally perform in their rookie seasons, and the conclusion was that it usually takes time for players to have an impact at that position. Graham has been OK through seven games. He won the starting left defensive end job in the preseason and started the first four games, playing more than any other defensive lineman except for Trent Cole . But the Eagles replaced Graham with Juqua Parker, partly because of the veteran's hot start, and partly because of Graham's not-so-great performance against the run.

On the season, Graham has played just over 54 percent of the defensive snaps. In the last two weeks combined, he's only played 38 snaps total. But at least part of that has been because he's dealing with an injury and illness.

The outlook: Graham will have a shot to win back the starting job in the second half of the season, but nothing will be handed to him. Assuming he's healthy, expect Graham to be a big part of the defensive line rotation. He showed signs of being able to get after the quarterback against the 49ers, Jaguars and Lions. I still think he has a bright future and would not be surprised if he makes big strides down the stretch.

Nate Allen (2nd round, 37th overall): Last week was bad for Allen as Kenny Britt single-handedly decimated the Eagles' defense. But looking at the big picture, Allen has been the Eagles' most productive rookie. No Eagles defender has played more. By my count, Allen's been on the field for all but one snap this season. He's tied for the team lead with three interceptions and turned in very strong performances against the 49ers and Jaguars.

When Allen got drafted, some pundits questioned his tackling ability. He's been fine in that aspect, other than a missed tackle against Michael Jenkins and the Falcons. The area where he needs to improve is closing on receivers downfield. Allen was a little late on a Greg Jennings reception in Week 1 and a Jenkins reception in Week 6. Plus the struggles last week against the Titans.

The outlook: I'm comfortable saying that the Eagles have found their free safety - both for the present and the future. Physically, Allen doesn't appear to be limited in any way, and mentally, he's been ahead of the curve. Last year, the defense got nothing from the free safety position. This year, Allen has been a playmaker.

Daniel Te'o-Nesheim (3rd round, 86th overall): He was an afterthought until a couple weeks ago. Te'o-Nesheim has been active the last two games after not dressing for the first five. He's only been on the field for seven snaps and has dropped back into coverage on three of those plays.

The outlook: There's no question the coaching staff is intrigued by Te'o-Nesheim and the possibility of lining him up all over the place. His playing time could increase a little as the season continues. But right now, it looks like Te'o-Nesheim only will get on the field in certain packages.

Trevard Lindley (4th round, 105th overall): A bit of a strange season so far for Lindley. He saw his first action on defense in Week 5 against the 49ers when Asante Samuel was injured. In that game, he played nearly a third of the defensive snaps, mostly as part of the dime packages. He even had an interception late in the fourth quarter. With Samuel healthy, though, and the Eagles needing Jorrick Calvin to handle return duties, Lindley has been inactive the past two weeks.

The outlook: Lindley provides size and a physical presence at cornerback, but it's unclear exactly where he stands in terms of knowing the defense. The Eagles face some very good quarterbacks and receivers the rest of the way. Sean McDermott could switch things up at cornerback, given Ellis Hobbs' struggles, but I'd be surprised if Lindley saw an expanded role the rest of the way, unless the Birds suffer an injury.

Keenan Clayton (4th round, 121st overall): Not much to say here. He has yet to be active on gamedays. I remember Clayton telling me before the season he was overwhelmed at times, and apparently Bobby April doesn't see him as much of a special-teams contributor.

Mike Kafka (4th round, 122nd overall): He hasn't seen any game action, but the Eagles didn't bother to pick up a veteran when Kevin Kolb and Michael Vick were injured, respectively. So he was really one play away from getting in the game. If either Vick or Kolb is gone next year, it'll be interesting to see if the Eagles trust Kafka to be the backup. Ok, it won't really be interesting, but it's something to keep an eye on.

Clay Harbor (4th round, 125th overall): Hey, remember him? Harbor was a bit of a training-camp sensation and even started Week 1 as the Eagles' second tight end. Since then, though, he's been inactive as the Eagles have instead gone with Garrett Mills.

The outlook: Harbor has the physical tools, but is a project, specifically as a blocker. He'll likely remain inactive the rest of the way and will have to continue to work on his blocking and his understanding of the offense. Being the No. 2 tight end behind Brent Celek in 2011 seems like a reasonable goal at this point.

Ricky Sapp (5th round, 134th overall): He's on injured reserve.

Riley Cooper (5th round, 159th overall): He missed a couple games with a concussion, but has been the Eagles' fourth receiver the rest of the time. Cooper's most impressive game was last week against the Titans when he hauled in three catches for 51 yards, including the 37-yard grab at the end of the first half. Overall, he's played about 17 percent of the offensive snaps.

The outlook: With his size and physical style of play, Cooper brings something different to the wide receiving corps. Kolb showed quite a bit of trust in him last week, and Vick and Cooper built a good chemistry at training camp. He's not on the field a lot, but don't be surprised to see Cooper have some highlights the rest of the way.

JaMar Chaney (7th round, 220th overall): He's played nine snaps on defense - all in Week 3 against the Jaguars. Chaney has been active on gamedays, although I'd have to double-check to see which special-teams units he's a part of. If Stewart Bradley goes down, the Eagles are in trouble. Omar Gaither got the nod earlier this season, with Chaney as his backup. Akeem Jordan could be a possibility going forward, now that he's no longer the starter at the weak side.

Jeff Owens (7th round, 243rd overall): Owens has spent the season on the practice squad. At one point, when Brodrick Bunkley went down, it looked like he might be activated, but that didn't happen.

Kurt Coleman (7th round, 244th overall): Coleman has played 37 snaps on the season, almost exclusively as the sixth defensive back in the Eagles' dime package. Coleman has been on the field for some big plays, and hasn't had many bright spots through the first seven games.

The outlook: Bringing Coleman in allows McDermott to blitz Mikell or have him match up with the tight end. However, Coleman will have to produce better results to continue getting playing time.

Austin Howard (undrafted): He's been a part of the active roster in recent weeks with Jason Peters out, but it's clear that the Eagles will only go to him in an emergency. Last week, when King Dunlap went down, the Birds slid Todd Herremans over rather than bring Howard in. It's extremely unlikely that he'll see the field this season.

Joique Bell (undrafted): The Eagles signed him off the Bills' practice squad, but Bell's only action has been on special teams.

Jorrick Calvin (6th round, 201st overall): The Eagles acquired him from Arizona for running back Charles Scott. He's handled return duties and was doing a pretty good job until last week when he fumbled in the fourth quarter. We'll see if DeSean Jackson returns punts when he gets back on the field, but Calvin could very well be the primary guy the rest of the season.

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Sheil Kapadia Philly.com
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Sheil Kapadia is in his fifth season writing about the Eagles and the NFL for philly.com. His earliest memories as a sports fan include several trips to Veterans Stadium with his Dad. He's not a beat writer or an Insider, but is here to discuss the NFL 365 days a year. E-mail him at skapadia@philly.com or by clicking here

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