It was essentially a meaningless preseason finale with most of the Eagles regulars resting, but it was an efficient capper for Chip Kelly’s troops as they whipped the Jets, 37-7, on Thursday night. The story of the night, of course, was the kicker battle that seemed to have rookie Cody Parkey moving ahead of Alex Henery. He connected on field goals from 54 and 53 yards, while Henery was never given an opportunity. Here’s my column on the competition.
And here are ten other things we learned as the Eagles near 53-man roster cuts that must be made by Saturday 4 p.m.:
1. The competition for the backup running back spots got even hazier. Chris Polk, who had missed the first three preseason games with a hamstring injury, had planned on playing in the fourth. But when he went out for pre-game warm-ups, Polk said he realized he wasn’t ready. Kelly seemed to sympathize with Polk’s plight, but that doesn’t mean he won’t cut the guy. He needs healthy players and Polk just can’t seem to get to 100 percent. I still think he may get the nod, especially after Matthew Tucker (shoulder) and Kenjon Barner (hamstring) suffered injuries in the game. Tucker rushed six times for 39 yards, including a 19-yard scamper. Barner had five carries for 21 yards. He returned one punt for three yards and another he fair caught. Barner’s versatility may give him an edge, but he didn’t impress as much as Tucker and …
2. … Henry Josey the last two games. The undrafted rookie had another strong outing. The injuries played a part in the extra touches, but Josey finished with 121 yards on 22 totes (5.5 avg.). He also had one long rush called back by a penalty. Josey ran through some rather big holes opened by the Eagles line, but he’s also showed explosiveness and the ability to get skinny and pickup tough yards. I’m not sure why the Eagles never tried him as a returner. Kelly didn’t seem positive about his blocking. Still, he has made Kelly’s decision a tough one.
3. So, too, has Damaris Johnson, who once again helped out with the running game. Kelly doesn’t like small receivers, and Johnson is obviously small. But he has taken on a variety of chores this preseason and could sneak onto the roster. Kelly loves versatility almost as much as he hates (too strong a word?) small receivers. Johnson rushed five times for 69 yards and scooted 46 yards for a touchdown. He also caught two passes for 19 yards. And he averaged 17.3 yards on three punt returns and had one kick return for 20 yards.
4. If Johnson makes the team, it’ll knock out one of the following receivers: Jeff Maehl, Ifeanyi Momah and Arrelious Benn. That is, if the Eagles keep six receivers. The first five are set: Jeremy Maclin, Riley Cooper, Jordan Matthews, Josh Huff and Brad Smith. Some thought Smith could be on the bubble, but the veteran did not play along with the rest of the regulars.
5. Matt Barkley started at quarterback, as expected, and played the first three quarters. He had a solid final outing. He made some mistakes – the first quarter end zone interception was ugly – but also had a handful of strong throws. Barkley completed 21 of 33 passes for 253 yards. He tossed a 43-yard touchdown to a wide open Benn. He had just the one pick. He also ran seven yards for a score. Barkley and the offense looked shaky in the early going. The zone read plays where he kept the ball and ran were difficult to watch. But he mixed up his throws and hit a number of different receivers. Barkley is the clear No. 3 quarterback and G.J. Kinne (3 of 3 for 39 yards) is slated to be released.
6. The offensive line picture isn’t as clear after left guard Matt Tobin left with an early ankle injury. X-rays were negative, but he didn’t return. He told reporters after the game that it wasn’t too serious. But I think the injury could land Dennis Kelly on the roster. He hasn’t been as consistent as Tobin and Andrew Gardner, but he has improved as the preseason has progressed. If Kelly makes it, that gives the Eagles nine lineman (center David Molk is the other backup) until Lane Johnson returns from his four-game suspension.
7. To some surprise, Bennie Logan started at nose tackle. He was the only “starter” to play. He missed the first preseason game and hasn’t really stood out since, so the Eagles felt he needed some snaps. Beau Allen also played and was once again very active. The rookie will see plenty of time this season. Damion Square is squarely on the roster bubble. He has played well enough to make the team and can play both nose and end up front. But the numbers game – he would be the eighth linemen – make it hard to see him lasting past Saturday.
8. The Eagles aren’t set at linebacker either, although Travis Long is a lock after he added inside duties to his outside responsibilities. He even recorded a sack playing from the inside on Thursday. His versatility doesn’t bode well for Emmanuel Acho and Casey Matthews, who didn’t do much to strengthen their causes. Acho read a pass play and nearly had an interception, but the ball went right through his hands.
9. Many of the rookies got much-needed extensive playing time. Outside linebacker Marcus Smith was out there a ton. He wasn’t credited with one tackle on the official score sheet, although I do recall him making a run stop. His pass rush, to be generous, still needs lots of work. Cornerback Jaylen Watkins was up and down. He appears to have some talent. He makes some poor decisions, but also bounces back and makes plays. Safety Ed Reynolds was playing centerfield on one deep pass and was on the ball ready to record the pick, but it went right through his hands and the Jets scored. Reynolds should make the 53-man roster, but he could also be a practice squad candidate.
10. A few quickies … Safety Earl Wolff forced a fumble with a textbook tackle. He put his helmet on the ball and knocked the ball out. Nate Allen has the starting spot won, but Wolff should be a competent first man off the bench. … Rookie defensive end Taylor Hart led the Eagles with five solo tackles and also forced a fumble. … Outside linebacker Bryan Braman has been quiet all camp and preseason, but he recorded a sack and was active on special teams. ... The following subs didn’t suit up to play: Rookie receiver Jordan Matthews, slot cornerback Brandon Boykin, backup running back Darren Sproles, second tight end Zach Ertz, third outside cornerback Nolan Carroll and Smith.