The Philadelphia Eagles finalized their roster this week, polished their trickiest schemes in closed practices and got ready for the season to actually begin.
The Eagles are 10.5 point favorites at home against the Jacksonville Jaguars, led by quarterback Chad Henne. Older fans will remember Chip Kelly’s second game as Oregon’s offensive coordinator in 2007 when the Ducks crushed the Henne-led Michigan Wolverines, 39-7. Since then, Henne has defined QB mediocrity as a pro with 55 touchdowns vs 62 interceptions. The Eagles beefed up their secondary with new safety Malcolm Jenkins and CB Nolan Carroll, so that ratio may be worse next week.
On the other hand, the Jaguars have beefed up their defensive line considerably, so Nick Foles had better be working on his quick passes in practice or he may have a long night. Pitches, bubble screens and wheel routes to new acquisition Darren Sproles seem like a pretty good place to start. It will be interesting to see if the Birds put him behind Foles alongside LeSean McCoy, who is also an excellent receiver. That would open up a lot of explosive plays and give defenses some difficult matchups.
The Eagles’ final roster was announced. Four ex-Ducks were cut, including Kenjon Barner (injured), Wade Keliikipi, Josh Kaddu and Will Murphy. Jeff Maehl and Casey Matthews hung on, though, igniting the anger of Eagles’ fans screaming “Oregon bias!” They got even madder when the practice squad was announced, which will include Keliikipi and Murphy. I discussed why the “Oregon bias” argument was weak in this article.
The biggest news was that the roster included rookie Cody Parkey of Auburn, who dazzled fans by kicking three field goals — including two 50-yarders — in the final preseason game against the New York Jets. Incumbent kicker Alex Henery — who was cut — groused that he could have made those two with the favorable tailwind that night, but his career best in four NFL years was 51 yards, so that seems unlikely. Henery also was weak on kickoffs, 27th of 34 kickers with 25 or more kicks last year with only 41.8%.
This led to a desperation pooch kicking strategy against the Vikings last year out of fear that Cordarelle Patterson would break a long return. You could argue that the strategy worked, since he didn’t and the Vikings’ starting position was only a few yards worse than his average return. The only problem with that argument is that the Eagles lost to a much inferior team that scored way more than it usually does. The game was in a dome, too, which made Henery’s inability to get touchbacks downright embarrassing.
Cody is not famed for his powerful leg, either, but Henery was 1-3 on preseason field goals and it would have been irresponsible to keep him over Parkey. Kelly personally instructed Henery on technique for kicking off longer last year, and special teams’ coach Dave Fipp had Henery doing better on distance. In fact, I wonder if the change in technique undermined Henery’s confidence on field goals, which clearly crumbled.
If Parkey doesn’t work out, there are plenty of passable veteran free agents sitting by their phones, such as Rob Bironas, who played for Tennessee last year. New Orleans picked up a free agent in mid-December whose last second field goal beat the Eagles in the playoffs after Henery missed a 48-yarder.
There were some unfortunate injuries this off-season including Josh Huff’s shoulder separation in the third preseason game. He is not practicing with the team and will probably be inactive for a few games. Travis Long (from the Washington State Cougars) was set to be a key backup as both an inside and outside linebacker, so his ACL tear was a tough break. He was out injured last year, too, recovering from an ACL tear on the other knee, leaving his NFL future in doubt.
Chris Polk just started to practice again and is expected to play Sunday, at least on special teams – as the third running back, he wouldn’t get more than a snap or two in a regular game anyway; he had a total of 11 last year. The Eagles kept only three RB’s on the roster, surprising some. But that ignores the versatility of Trey Burton, listed as the fourth tight end. Burton was recruited to Florida as a QB but ended up playing running back, wide receiver, h-back and tight end.
Jacksonville, up next, is generally considered a terrible team, so they shouldn’t give the Eagles too much trouble.
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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