OK, it’s getting serious now. And Cody Parkey (above) is smiling. The Eagles cut down to 76 players days ahead of the Tuesday deadline and handled it with class. (Their final cut to 75 was an injury waiver for backup center Julian Vandervelde on cut day.) Final cuts to 53 players are due by tomorrow (Saturday).
The early releases were in part to give guys a chance to catch on elsewhere, and four have already signed with other teams. The team also had coach Chip Kelly, the position coach and their offensive or defensive coordinator meet with each player on their way out.
I suppose it’s possible that they were threatening death and torture if the player revealed sports science secrets, but more likely it was just a professional courtesy and mark of respect.
No big surprises so far, though it was a shame that Army Ranger Alejandro Villanueva didn’t work out. As a 6’9,” ripped and boyishly handsome war hero — he has a Bronze Star — Villanueva should probably should go straight into action adventure movies anyway. If Dolph Lundgren and Carl Weathers can make it, he should have a major franchise movie out by Christmas.
There will be much tougher choices among the next 22 cuts, and last night’s final preseason game, otherwise meaningless, was the final chance for the players on the bubble to show their worthiness.
Several ex-Ducks are on the bubble. Kenjon Barner is competing for the last running back slot with Chris Polk (from the University of Washington), Matthew Tucker and Henry Josey.
Polk seemed to be a lock for the third RB position after great production last year; in only 11 snaps, he gained 98 yards with three touchdowns and another five first downs. Plus he caught four passes on five targets for 61 yards, and made four tackles on special teams. You would think that was enough to earn more playing time this year.
This summer though, he has been injured (partially torn hamstring) and unable to play or practice until this week. Kelly himself has said very directly that Polk needs to get back on the field if he wants to make this team. As the saying goes, “You can’t make the club in a tub.” And Polk didn’t even suit up last night, despite Chip’s urging.
Barner, Tucker and Josey have all looked very good so far, so this will be one of the toughest decisions for the club to make. They may keep four RBs (LeSean McCoy, Darren Sproles and two of the other four) or even five, but there is no way they can keep six. Josey is a strong runner (22 for 121 yards against the Jets) but weak on special teams; Barner hurt his ankle last night and will cost the team a 7th round pick if he sticks. Injured reserve or practice squad seems to be his likely destination.
At wide receiver, three ex-Ducks are in the mix with third round pick Josh Huff a lock, Will Murphy an extreme long shot, and Jeff Maehl right on the bubble. Maehl and LB Casey Matthews were surprises to stick last year, probably based more on their special teams skills than any Oregon bias. (After tons of complaining from fans about his play, Matthews did recover a fumble in the second game of the year.) Maehl caught four passes for 84 yards last night, and Matthews had five tackles, three solo. DE Brandon “Papa” Bair probably cemented his roster slot by recovering a fumble.
The biggest competition left is at kicker, which as always is Kelly’s Achilles heel. The team thought that Alex Henery, the much maligned incumbent, had been rehabilitated with training that extended his kickoffs deeper into the end zone. Then he started missing field goals in preseason games, ending up 1-3.
The 47-yarder against New England was bad enough, but forgivable. But when he missed an easy 31-yard field goal against the Steelers last week, panic set in. The team has already released Carey “Murderleg” Spear, who arrived with tons of excitement over his hard hits in kick coverage, but left meekly after his own kicks proved to be shorter and less accurate than Henery’s.
The Birds picked up rookie Parkey from the Colts last week, and the Jets game became his only chance to stake a claim. Completely untested rookie, or crumbling veteran? Sounds like two bad choices for special teams coach Dave Fipp, but Parkey may just have snuck away with a starting kicker job Thursday night. He scored 11 points, including field goals of 54 and 53 yards — both longer than Henery’s career best of 51. He also got touchbacks on his last two (of four) kickoffs, seemingly gaining strength with every kick.
We all say that preseason games mean nothing, especially when our team loses. But the Eagles looked very strong in their last two games, for two good reasons — a strong second team offensive line and exceptional depth among skill players. Both will help a lot when games start to count – on September 7th.
Feature photo by au_tiger01, from Flickr.com.
Mark Saltveit’s second book, “Chip Kelly’s Controlled Chaos,” will be released in late September by Diversion Books of New York.
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