The Eagles have their final preseason contest of the year against the New York Jets 6:30 on Thursday night.
The starters will not be playing, sure, but significant players will be vying to make the cut from the 75- to 53-man roster that will occur on Friday night at 9 p.m.
Here are some key players to watch.
Marvin McNutt: After Andy Reid confirmed that Riley Cooper will be a long shot to return to the team by their September 9th regular season debut, the fourth wide receiver spot has become a key question mark for the team.
The Eagles are likely to keep five wide receivers, and DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, Jason Avant, Riley Cooper, and Damaris Johnson, who will make the roster mostly because of his ability to return punts, seem have the spot locked down.
That scenario leaves McNutt contesting against Mardy Gilyard, who will most likely not make the team, and Chad Hall, who, even though he has experience playing with the Eagles, is a likely roster cut. Can McNutt turn heads like Johnson has done? If he can, would the Eagles be willing to carry six wide receivers or cut Riley Cooper?
The Eagles used a sixth-round draft pick on him, so it seems that they should be unwilling to part ways, but, on the other hand, the Eagles have a deep pool of talented wide receivers.
Mat Mcbriar and Chas Henry: The punting spot is a highly contested spot for the Eagles this preseason. Last season, Chas Henry, an undrafted 2011 addition to the team, was the undisputed starter at the position, and he finished 25th in the league in gross average (42.9) and 27th in net average.
He had ten touchbacks, ranking second-most in the league in that category, and 19 punts inside the 20-yard line. So, this year, they decided to bring in two-time Pro Bowl punter Mat McBriar from the Dallas Cowboys to challenge him. McBriar, 33, suffered an impairment called drop foot, a nerve injury, that caused him to lose some accuracy in his kicks before the Cowboys put him on injured reserve in late December.
In the offseason, he had surgery to remove a cyst before signing with the Eagles, so he is still regaining his health. Currently, McBriar seems to have the inside track due to experience, but the punting position will be one of the key last-minute decisions for the Eagles as the roster gets cut down to 53 one day after their final preseason game.
Akeem Jordan: Brian Rolle was recently demoted from the starting weak-side linebacker position, where he started 13 games last season, and, in his place, Jordan has been given the start. Jamar Chaney, who started the first two weeks as the strong-side linebacker before moving to the middle linebacker spot for the following 14 games, would have probably been given the nod if a hamstring injury had not limited his time on the field this summer.
Akeem Jordan, who has been with the Eagles for five years, has been under the radar for a majority of his career as he has never fully become a standout linebacker with the capability of elite status, but he consistently manages not getting cut by the team, and he has started at least one game in all five years with the team.
Oshiomogho Atogwe: The Eagles signed Atogwe, a free-agent from the Washington Redskins, to a one-year deal on June 20th as a veteran presence/possible backup for Nate Allen or Kurt Coleman if they should suffer an injury. Since injuries have limited his time on the field this preseason, however, the Eagles have not been able to accurately appraise the eighth-year safety. Jaiquawn Jarrett has had another troubling series of games this preseason, and, as a result, Jarrett could be cut either this season or next if he does not improve.
Colt Anderson still has not returned to the field after undergoing surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament in the preseason, but he has also never started a game for the Eagles at the safety position, so he still needs to prove himself to be a reliable starter. He will probably be added to the Physically Unable to Perform list, so he will not cost the Eagles a roster spot.
However, because the depth of players at the safety position is thin — the thinnest spot on the defense — Atogwe has an opportunity to become a key veteran presence if he plays well Thursday. Sure, he has been limited by injury recently, but, since 2006, his 24 interceptions are second-most among all safeties and fifth-most in the league.
Trent Edwards: Nick Foles will start for the Eagles on Thursday night, and Edwards will play the next three quarters. Edwards is trying to make a point for staying on the roster, and Mike Kafka, who will not play Friday, has a question mark in his future, too. If the Eagles were to cut Edwards, he could probably be re-signed at a later point in time, considering he sat out all of the 2011 season, and that may be the road the Eagles take.
However, he has performed well this preseason. Will he be able to give a convincing argument for staying on the team?
Bryce Brown and Chris Polk: Brown and Polk have displayed the skills required of becoming roster additions this summer, but, being behind LeSean McCoy and Deion Lewis, who has a touchdown catch to go with favorable numbers on the ground, the two players will have few touches in the regular season if they are kept. Brown may have the inside track because the Eagles used a draft pick on him (the seventh-round pick they acquired from the Asante Samuel trade), and he has had more notable runs in the preseason games.
Nonetheless, either one of these players could make a case for making the team by having a good game Thursday night.
Demetress Bell and King Dunlap: That Bell has not been quick to pick up Howard Mudd’s offensive-line technique has been a worrying sign for the Eagles this summer, for, after losing left tackle Jason Peters, the left side of the line could be a tender spot for the team.
Sure, the right tackle is the player charged with covering Michael Vick’s blind side now, but, if the oft-injured quarterback were to suffer an injury, guess who would be covering the blindside of either Nick Foles, Mike Kafka, or Trent Edwards?
Anyone on the defensive line: The Eagles’ defensive line has been bruising this season, and the most amazing aspect of its performance is that so many players have contributed. Sure, the starters are not going to play much Friday, but, because the Eagles have so much depth in this area, the Eagles can still generate pressure with their backups.
Of the 12 sacks the Eagles have generated this preseason, nine players — Phillip Hunt (2.5 sacks), Brandon Graham (2.5 sacks), Derek Landri (1 sack), Frank Trotter (1 sack), Xavier Brown (1 sack), Monte Taylor (1 sack), Cedric Thorton (1 sack), Brian Rolle (.5 sack), and Darryl Tapp (.5 sack) — have all taken down the quarterback, and a combined team sack fills out the final take down.
Even though a few players from the list have been cut since earning the sack, the players who led the team in sacks last season, Jason Babin (18) and Trent Cole (11), are not on the list. The Eagles have been maintaining constant pressure on opposing quarterbacks, and, at times, the defensive line seems to be in the opposing team’s backfield more than their halfbacks.
As the defensive line is the position with the deepest depth, the linemen, once again, should come out swinging Thursday night.