As Philadelphia Eagles training camp continues, the contenders and pretenders for roster spots are starting to separate themselves a little bit. Nothing is settled yet, of course, but there are a few new players who have a legitimate chance of making this team.
By new players, I’m not referring to any of the Eagles’ draft picks because for the most part, they are all virtual locks for the roster (except for maybe the late-round guys). Instead, I’m talking about undrafted free agent rookies as well as first year guys and veteran additions this offseason.
In other words, any non-draft pick that is new to the team this year.
There is some excellent competition happening up at Lehigh right now. Once the preseason games start, players will have an even better chance at separating themselves from the pack and earning a spot on the 53-man roster.
There really aren’t that many positions open, but here are the guys that have a better shot than most…
TE Brett Brackett
Brackett is a 6′ 5″ former Penn State wide receiver who was signed as a UDFA last year by the Miami Dolphins. He ended up on their practice squad but was released after suffering a broken hand.
He was then signed to the Jaguars’ practice squad last season until he was ultimately invited to join the Eagles this past offseason.
Brackett has been a standout at camp so far and is making nice plays seemingly every day. In contrast, his main competition, Clay Harbor, has had a relatively quiet camp and is not helping his cause to remain the No. 2 tight end behind Brent Celek.
Last season, the Eagles only kept two tight ends on the roster. That could change this year as they have kept three in the past. However, based on their performances in camp so far, Brackett could edge-out Harbor if they only keep two.
WR/PR Damaris Johnson
Johnson is a speedy 5′ 8″, 175 lbs undrafted free agent rookie wide receiver out of Tulsa. Basically, he’s a faster version of Chad Hall, which, by the way, is his main competition in camp.
There’s no way the Eagles will keep both Johnson and Hall as they both bring relatively the same things to the table. However, it’s possible that they keep neither of them as well.
The Eagles typically keep five wide receivers on the roster, but there was a period of time last season that they carried six of them. It’ll be a numbers game and will rely on how strongly Andy Reid wants to have a “play toy” for the offense.
DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, Jason Avant and Marvin McNutt are all locks to make the roster and Riley Cooper is pretty much a lock as well. They’ll be the five wide receivers so Johnson’s chances will depend if they keep six.
The best thing Johnson has going for him is his ability to return punts. He’s been given first crack at it in training camp, which is a sign that the team really wants to see what he can do.
He’s still currently the No. 1 punt returner in camp.
After having impressive mini-camps, Johnson has somewhat drifted into the background in training camp a little bit. He will need to have a good preseason to keep his name in the forefront of the coaches eyes when it comes time for cuts.
With that said, he certainly stands a puncher’s chance.
If he proves to be a good punt returner, the Eagles could keep six receivers and Johnson would assume the role of Chad Hall.
CB Cliff Harris
Harris is a 5′ 11″, 180 lbs cornerback who last played a full season in 2010 for the University of Oregon. He was suspended and ultimately dismissed from the football team for the 2011 season due to a series problems with the law.
However, in 2010, Harris had a great season in intercepting six passes and having 17 PBUs (pass break-ups). He also also averaged an excellent 18.8 yards on 29 punt returns, including four for a touchdown.
The Eagles are getting their first real look at Harris during training camp since he missed the May mini-camps due to school rules. So far, he has not disappointed.
He’s been getting tremendous buzz for several PBUs and interceptions, as well as showing no fear when tackling a player much bigger in size.
Plus, on the day I was there at camp, I watched him go step-for-step with DeSean Jackson down the sideline and break up a pass from Michael Vick. I’m not sure how many CBs can hang with Jackson one-on-one in a foot-race down the sideline.
Color me impressed!
With his punt returning acumen, I have to wonder if we’ll see him do this during the preseason games, even though Damaris Johnson is currently the No. 1 guy.
The Eagles usually keep nine defensive backs and split them up with five CBs and four safeties. They have four corners who are locks to make the squad: Asomugha, DRC, Brandon Boykin and Curtis Marsh.
If they only keep five, Harris will be a serious threat to Joselio Hanson, Brandon Hughes and Trevard Lindley.
P Mat McBriar
The long-time Dallas Cowboy is now an Eagle. He was brought in to challenge Chas Henry and this will be a true battle of whomever plays better wins the job.
McBriar is a two-time former pro bowl punter (2006 and 2010). Last year, his stats were only slightly better than Henry’s but that could have been due to his being affected by a nerve injury in his foot all season (which landed him on IR).
In 2010, McBriar led the league in punting in both gross average per punt (47.9 yards) and net average per punt (41.7 yards). He also had 22 punts downed inside the 20.
He just turned 33 years old so he still has some gas in the tank as far as punters go. He’ll be a serious challenger to Henry and could ultimately overtake him.
Those are my four best challengers out of the “new birds.”
A few other new guys to keep an eye on are C/G Steve Vallos and LB Monte Simmons. However, both of these guys face stiffer competition and haven’t stood out as much as the other guys.
Vallos will have to overcome strong competition from players like Brandon Washington, Julian Vandervelde, Dallas Reynolds and Dennis Kelly for a backup offensive lineman spot.
Simmons may stand a slightly better chance, especially if he can overcome someone like Keenan Clayton, who hasn’t been too impressive thus far.
We’ll know more once we see how these players perform in live game action during the preseason…which is something I’m definitely looking forward to.