Two weeks ago today, the Eagles' rookies took the field for their first practice of training camp.
Well, most of the Eagles rookies. Nate Allen had yet to be signed, and same with Brandon Graham.
But as we get closer to Friday's preseason opener against the Jaguars, now is a good time to take stock of the Eagles rookies and see where they stand.
Brandon Graham - To channel my inner Dennis Green, I'm not ready to crown him. That being said, I'm not sure Graham could have had a more impressive showing in the last two weeks. He works hard, coaches love him, and most importantly, he's producing. Graham is seeing all the reps at defensive end with the first-team nickel, and it's reasonable to assume he'll take over for Juqua Parker in the base defense as well. I'm just not sure when. His motor and high-energy style of play have lived up to the hype. And he's versatile. Just this morning, Graham intercepted a Kevin Kolb pass, and we've seen Sean McDermott drop him back into coverage. He's been by far the most impressive rookie and looks ready to have an immediate impact.
Nate Allen - The learning process is continuing for Allen, who is slated as the starting free safety next to Quintin Mikell. Based on these practices, Allen's strengths are his ability to get to the ball and cover. He also seems capable of picking up the mental side of things. Allen has shown good tackling skills when called on to help in run support, but that's an area to watch in the preseason.
Daniel Te'o-Nesheim - The coaches seem to love him, but we haven't seen a lot from Te'o-Nesheim in terms of production. I can tell McDermott is excited about the different ways he can use Te'o-Nesheim. Lined up as a traditional defensive end. Lined up inside in nickel situations. Standing up at the line of scrimmage like a blitzing linebacker. Dropping back into coverage. We've seen it all at camp. But most often, Te'o-Nesheim has lined up inside with the first-team nickel. He'll be a key part of the Eagles' defensive line rotation, but I'm not sold that he'll be an upgrade over the players he's replacing from last year.
Trevard Lindley - I like what I've seen from Lindley, but he may not have much of an impact as a rookie, unless the cornerbacks ahead of him suffer injuries. He seems like a hard worker and has received a lot of one-on-one attention from defensive backs coach Dick Jauron. Lindley looks like he does a good job of being physical with receivers and is bigger than the team's other cornerbacks. He also looks like he has good cover skills. Lindley will make the team, but might not see a lot of playing time as a rookie.
Keenan Clayton - He's a difficult one to figure out. Early in camp, I was impressed with his cover skills, and he was consistently getting reps with the second-team nickel. But he missed a few days due to personal reasons and has since been replaced by Tracy White in the second-team nickel. I still think Clayton makes the team, but he might only contribute on special teams.
Mike Kafka - Mentally, the coaches say he's farther along than they thought he'd be, but the truth is, if the Eagles had to count on Kafka to play in a real game, they'd be in big trouble. He'll make the team as the third quarterback, but will only get on the field if Kolb and Michael Vick go down. Actually, in that scenario, the Eagles would be more likely to sign a veteran. In other words, Kafka's not going to be a factor this season.
Clay Harbor - He's had a better camp than Cornelius Ingram and appears to be in a great position to take the No. 2 tight end spot - something I did not anticipate a couple weeks ago. Harbor, by all accounts, is a better blocker than Ingram, and he's shown pretty good hands. I don't expect him to be a major factor in the passing game, but he will get on the field with Brent Celek in two-tight end sets. Don't forget, though, only two teams used two tight ends less than the Eagles in 2009.
Ricky Sapp - Injuries have hampered Sapp, and I don't think he's going to make his way onto the 53-man roster. He's been practicing at defensive end, but hasn't had many bright spots. If he's going to have an impact with the Eagles, it will be in 2011 and beyond.
Riley Cooper - I've written about him at length. Cooper has been impressive. Tall, athletic, physical. He really set the tone that first weekend, standing up to Ellis Hobbs. Coming into camp, I thought Hank Baskett would be the Eagles' fourth receiver. But as of now, I think Cooper has the edge. He brings a different skill set to the table than DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin and Jason Avant. Only two teams had more four-receiver sets than the Eagles in 2009. Cooper could get a chance to make some plays for this offense.
Charles Scott - Can't say he's been very impressive here. Scott is a big body, but I've yet to see that signature play where he bowls someone over or drags defenders along with him. He's been OK, and has been getting reps at fullback behind Leonard Weaver. I think Eldra Buckley beats him out on the 53-man roster.
JaMar Chaney - He's one of the toughest ones on this list to evaluate. Chaney has been playing at middle linebacker with the third team. But he's also seen time with the twos when Stewart Bradley and Omar Gaither missed practice. The coaching staff will likely have a decision to make: Keep Chaney or keep a veteran like Gaither? Keep an eye on the linebackers in the preseason game. Pretty much every one has something to prove.
Jeff Owens - I don't see him making the team. His only chance would be if one of the other defensive linemen were to suffer a serious injury.
Kurt Coleman - He's the last player the Eagles selected and missed time in the spring when he wasn't allowed to participate in OTAs, but Coleman is in a great position to make the team as a backup safety. He's been getting all the reps with the second team next to Quintin Demps and has had some bright moments. Coleman is physical and has a habit of trying to rip the ball away from receivers, whether it's a full-contact drill or the players are just practicing in shorts. I wouldn't be surprised if he stood out on special teams.
Austin Howard - By my count, the Eagles have eight undrafted rookie free agents on their roster, and Howard is the only one with a chance to make the team. The Eagles' backup situation at tackle is confusing. Under normal circumstances, Todd Herremans would be the top backup if Winston Justice or Jason Peters were to go down with an injury. But Herremans hasn't practiced yet. Under normal circumstances, Stacy Andrews might be able to slide over. But we have no idea what to expect from Andrews, even at guard. That leaves the backups: Howard and King Dunlap. Howard has been manning the left side and Dunlap the right side with the second team. It's a numbers game, and I think Howard makes the roster.
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