Reuben Frank put out a list of the top ten roster battles heading into training camp. He hits on some of the biggest ones: Atogwe vs. Coleman, Rolle vs. Chaney, Hanson vs. Boykin. But he also lists a bunch of questionable ones:
- Dion Lewis vs. Bryce Brown? I’m excited to see if Brown can make the transition to the NFL. He clearly has 5x the physical potential of Lewis. But I’m not really seeing the competition for backup running back. There’s just no way Brown is going to come in after sitting out nearly all of college and immediately pick up the complexity of the Eagles offense and the intricacies of pass blocking, other essential bits. Then again, don’t read this as an endorsement of Lewis, who seems like a poor backup to one of the best players on the roster.
- Riley Cooper vs. Damaris Johnson? It’s unclear whether the Eagles will keep five or six wide receivers, but I don’t really see the big receivers competing against the smaller ones. Cooper and Marvin McNutt would serve similar roles on the roster, as would Johnson and Chad Hall. Those are the real one-on-one battles. Winners of each competition will be guaranteed a spot on the roster. After that, all they can do is hope the Eagles keep six guys.
- Clay Harbor vs. Brett Brackett? With the Eagles using more two tight end sets, the question is really whether Brackett can play his way onto the roster — not whether he can beat out Harbor, a more experienced player and much better blocker.
- Mike Kafka vs. Nick Foles? As with Lewis/Brown, this isn’t a ringing endorsement of Kafka. But Frank is the first person to suggest that Foles even has a shot to replace him in his rookie year.
Ahead of all of the above, I’d rate these battles: Demetress Bell vs. King Dunlap, Jaiquawn Jarrett vs. the Chopping Block, Derek Landri vs. Antonio Dixon vs. Cedric Thornton.
What the Eagles did: Basically, nothing.
Some people are obsessed with the rise of the two tight end formation (cough Domo cough). I’m not, but it’s become a mini-trend around the league, and the Eagles are no exception. In 2011, the Eagles backup tight end was on the field more than twice as much as their fullback.
So, logically, one might expect that the team would pursue some legitimate options to keep a third tight end, or perhaps even someone who could challenge Clay Harbor’s second-string role. But that didn’t happen. Instead, we have the same two tight ends we’ve seen the last two seasons, plus a pair of undrafted free agents — one from this year and one from last year.
It’s not like the two guys they added don’t have some raw athleticism and talent. 6’5”, 246 lb. Brett Brackett was a solid player at Penn State before going undrafted to Miami in 2011. Chase Ford, whom the Eagles signed after the draft ended this year, did next to nothing in two years at Miami after transferring from junior college, but he’s even taller: 6’6”, 245 lbs.
Neither player has the experience needed to serve as a backup in the NFL at this point, meaning their both probably competing for a practice squad spot.
What I would have done: It would be nice to see that the Eagles (a) had a backup plan in case either Harbor or Brent Celek injured themselves and (b) had some competition for Harbor’s job, a backup role that actually requires a good deal of playing time. But it was not to be.
Way-too-early prediction: Celek had a great rebound year in 2011. After a disastrous 57.5 percent catch rate in 2010, he jumped back to 66 percent — and had the highest yards after the catch per reception (8 yards) in the NFL. He’s no Gronkowski, but at 27 he still has more than a few years of above-average play ahead of him. Hopefully he can continue to improve and become more consistent going forward.
As to Harbor, I’m surprised the Eagles seem so confident in his abilities that they haven’t bothered to bring in competition. His play has been fine for a backup, and he’s improved as a blocker, but I haven’t seen anything that made me think he’s more than that. Perhaps the coaches know more than I do, and there’s actually reason to suggest that he’ll have a breakout season.
That would certainly make Domo happy.
Photo from Getty.