The Philadelphia Eagles have gone through the entire off-season with no roster changes at all. Then boom! Heading into preseason Game 3, Chip Kelly and GM Howie Roseman moved decisively.
First they released Jason Phillips, a special teams ace who never came back from an ACL tear. Then the team traded a conditional 7th-round draft pick for former Oregon star Kenjon Barner, who never really found a role at Carolina.
Next, they waived undrafted free agent RB David Fluellen. Then, two hours later, they traded Fluellen for Colts kicker Cody Parkey.
Wait — they traded a guy they’d already waived? Yes. That’s how smart Roseman is. Waivers don’t take effect for a number of hours, and Baltimore had already put Parkey in for waivers.
Both will probably get waived again, but returning kicker Alex Henery remains shaky — he missed another easy field goal last night, wide right — and Carey “Murderleg” Spear has been kicking terribly in camp. He missed several field goals in a row at one joint practice with the Patriots.
Against Pittsburgh, Parkey kicked off twice, once three yards deep (returned to the 15) and one very nearly out the back of the end zone, downed nine yards deep.
The Eagles are probably stuck with Henery for now, but the team gets a close look at a rookie they might pick up at some point in the future.
What about Barner? Kelly likes his running backs short and tough, and his wide receivers big and tough. That might be why he insists Darren Sproles is a RB, even though we know he’s going to catch more screens and short passes than he’ll run this year. At Oregon, Barner was also good catching passes out of the backfield, and if he makes this team, he could sub in effectively, replacing either Sproles or LeSean McCoy.
Josh Huff had a rough Game 2. One week after taking a kickoff to the house, he was injured trying to run back a very deep kick. The team said he had an “AC sprain,” which is essentially a separated shoulder. He’s likely to be out a month at the very least; some Eagles beat writers speculated that, given his lackluster preseason, the team might put Huff on the injured reserve list for an unofficial redshirt year.
Aside from the TD return, he didn’t show much as a receiver — lots of drops — and Jimmy Kempski argues that even his big return came from a huge hole he took advantage of. I think that’s too harsh. Lots of returners see big holes, but only a handful can hit the hole with the right timing and then have the speed and physicality to finish, as Huff did in shoving aside the last tackler.
However, he’s going to have to make a better adjustment to the NFL. Toughness doesn’t help you if you get injured by disregarding danger.
I also don’t think Barner is going to be Huff’s replacement as a returner. Sure, Chip would love to see that, but he knows full well that Barner hasn’t returned much at all since the devastating hit he took against Washington State in 2010. Barner is a very tough player, but many of you may recall him leaving the field via ambulance that day. A year later, he told an Oregonian reporter that his parents wouldn’t even talk about “the hit.”
Frankly, Barner is a long shot to make this team (as he was at Carolina). The Eagles have to give the Panthers that 7th-round pick only if he plays four games this year, so it’s a no-risk live tryout.
Last night he looked strong but not amazing — one solid 22-yard return and another he muffed, a couple fair catches, and seven carries for 42 yards (including a 16-yard pickup). Frankly, Henry Josey, an undrafted rookie coming back from a horrible knee injury, has looked stronger.
Among ex-Ducks, Brandon Bair has a much better chance of making this team than Barner. Most Eagles beat writers think he’s a lock, based on playmaking flashes in the first and third preseason games. Last night against Pittsburgh, he penetrated the pocket as part of a resurgent Eagles’ pass rush, and batted down a pass to force a punt.
Bair is an interesting case. He’s 30 and hasn’t played a regular season snap in the NFL due to his Mormon mission and hanging around the bottom of NFL rosters at Kansas City, Oakland and Philadelphia the last three years. Honestly, he has flashed more than Taylor Hart, who has also looked good, but both are pretty solid to make this team.
Fully 9-of-90 players on the Eagles’ roster are ex-Ducks, and some reporters (including Kempski) are complaining. I’m with Tommy Lawlor, who sees nothing to worry about because several are camp bodies – there just to help others practice right.
Will Murphy, Josh Kaddu and Wade Keliikipi are just not going to make this team. Period. Huff, Hart and Bair look solid. The Ducks on the bubble are Jeff Maehl and Casey Matthews, marginal NFL talents who keep hanging on with sharp special teams work, and Barner.
As Chip pointed out, though, the Ducks are an elite team. They’ve been in the top five for years. Nobody complains about all the Alabama, Stanford and USC players on teams. And arguably, the Pac-12 is undervalued by the rest of the league. Look at coaches such as Kelly, Pete Carroll and Jim Harbaugh as well as quarterbacks such as Nick Foles, Aaron Rodgers, Andrew Luck and Mark Sanchez (who continued a great preseason last night going seven-of-nine for 85 yards and no interceptions).
Preseason games don’t matter, except to help decide who stays and who goes, but dang, the Eagles looked good last night. Foles started cold and threw an interception but finished strong. Sanchez continued his hot streak. Sproles looked great and did run mostly, as Chip promised (and no one believed). Brent Celek was tough and strong, Zach Ertz looked good, Jeremy Maclin did well despite an injury scare. All told, the offense piled up 482 yards and the defense stepped up with an interception (by Nolan Carroll) and a strong pass rush that rattled Ben Roethlisberger and kept the Steelers out of their rhythm until the third quarter.
Next Tuesday is the first cut from 90 to 75 players. The final preseason game — the one that doesn’t matter — is next Friday, the 29th, and the next day teams must make their final cuts. We’re spending a lot of time fretting about those last five roster slots.
But it can be very important when injuries strike. Bradley Fletcher was just competent for the Eagles last year at cornerback, but when he was injured, his replacements were picked apart. Patrick Chung lost his starting job but had to come back when Earl Wolff got injured, and touchdowns poured down like Multnomah Falls. The difference between an 8-8 also ran and a 10-6 division winner is often those depth players who step up and save a game.
I’d love to see the last of Roc Carmicheal, Curtis Marsh, Damaris Johnson and even starting kicker Henery. Others have different anti-favorites, and we’ll all argue about it online. But Chip made a number of controversial cuts last year — Emmanuel Acho and Russell Shephard come to mind — and I can’t think of anyone who has proved him wrong, just look at the results.
The Eagles performed very well tonight, got a lot of tape on their competing players and seemed to unlock the pass rush. Now if Coach Kelly can only figure out how to get a kicker …
An earlier version of this column incorrectly identified Cody Parkey’s previously team.
Feature photo by by John Martinez Pavliga (Wikimedia Commons)
Mark Saltveit’s newest book is “Controlled Chaos: Chip Kelly’s Football Revolution” (Diversion Books, NY) has been recently released. He is the author of “The Tao of Chip Kelly” (2013) and writes on science, religion, wordplay and political scandals. He is also a standup comedian and the world palindrome champion.
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