NFC East: Emmanuel Acho
HOUSTON -- Nick Foles was in the locker room, getting X-rayed. Mark Sanchez, the onetime star quarterback for the New York Jets, was playing quarterback for the Philadelphia Eagles for the first time against the Houston Texans.
For Sanchez's first play, Eagles coach Chip Kelly called for a deep throw to wide receiver Jeremy Maclin. Sanchez dropped back, stepped into the throw and caught Maclin in stride for a 52-yard gain.
Eagles left tackle Jason Peters turned around, expecting to high five Foles. There was Sanchez.
"I didn't even know Foles was out," Peters said. "I saw the bomb to Maclin and I turned around to congratulate him and it was Sanchez. I didn't even know the guy was out. For Sanchez to come in for Foles was big-time."
That's how this season is going for the Eagles. On Sunday, they lost Foles to an injury in his shoulder area and inside linebacker DeMeco Ryans went down in the fourth quarter with what was reportedly an injury to his Achilles tendon. (UPDATE: Foles has a broken collarbone.) Center Jason Kelce returned after missing four games, only to have left guard Todd Herremans (who was playing with a torn biceps) leave with an ankle injury.
In spite of all that, the Eagles beat the Texans, 31-21, to move into first place in the NFC East.
"We're winning," Peters said. "That means we've got depth. Bench has got to step in. When one goes down, the next goes up. You just keep rolling when someone goes down."
It doesn't matter whether it's a guard or the quarterback. The way Kelly runs his practices, every player gets a fair amount of practice time. So even though he had not appeared in a game since the preseason, Sanchez was comfortable stepping into a game against the Texans' ferocious pass rush and was familiar with his receivers.
"I was expecting maybe a handoff or a quick screen," Sanchez said. "Ease my way in, but you know Coach Kelly. I said it to [TV personality] Tony Siragusa. If he was a basketball coach, he would bring you off the bench shooting 3-pointers. That's the way it goes. You have to be ready."
Last season, Foles hit his stride after taking over the starting quarterback job from Michael Vick. In the second half of the season, Foles led the Eagles to a 7-1 record. They finished 10-6 and won the NFC East title.
This year, in spite of injuries and a rash of turnovers, the Eagles are 6-2 at the halfway point. If they can get by without Foles and Ryans, the latter likely for the rest of the season, they are in position to have a really special season.
Casey Matthews stepped in for Ryans. Now that Mychal Kendricks is back from his calf injury, Matthews and Emmanuel Acho will be able to fill in for Ryans.
Sanchez, who has a few of those on his resume, turns out to be just the right guy to back up Foles. He was comfortable being the No. 2 guy, but prepared to step in.
"It's been a while," Sanchez said. "It all comes back quickly. I don't want to use the phrase 'it's like riding a bike.' I wish it was that easy, and that defense didn't make it that easy. It just felt good to get back out there. It felt good to make some calls, to scramble a little bit, get hit a little bit. All that stuff was really fun."
Sanchez opened with the 52-yard throw to Maclin. He finished with an 8-yard touchdown pass to Maclin that capped a 15-play, eight-minute, clock-devouring drive. In between, Sanchez threw a couple of interceptions. There is room for improvement, but he did enough for the Eagles to win.
Come to think of it, no wonder Peters couldn't tell that Foles was gone. That's how he's been winning all season long.
Here's how the roster shapes up:
Unrestricted free agents: Wide receivers Riley Cooper and Jeremy Maclin; safeties Nate Allen, Kurt Coleman and Colt Anderson; quarterback Michael Vick; defensive end Clifton Geathers, punter Donnie Jones.
The Eagles could lose all of those players without taking a major hit. That doesn't mean those players aren't valuable, merely that they're not irreplaceable. It's not as if LeSean McCoy or Mychal Kendricks or Jason Kelce were free to leave.
My guess is general manager Howie Roseman will make solid market offers to Cooper, Maclin, Allen, Geathers and Jones. He will not overpay for any of them. If some other team does, the Eagles will move on without the player in question.
Players due for contract extensions: Defensive end Cedric Thornton (exclusive rights free agent) and center Jason Kelce.
Let's project to the year 2022. The 35-year-old Kelce announces he is playing his final season after 13 years with the Eagles. That's how things should go with this guy. He's smart, physical, athletic and exactly the kind of player teams should commit to. So yes, extend Kelce.
Thornton was one of the delightful surprises of 2013. An undrafted rookie from Southern Arkansas, he hung around for a couple years without anyone paying much mind. But he's living proof of Chip Kelly's no-expectations approach. Kelly judges based on what a player does, and Thornton was very good this year.
Players who could be gone: Vick, Anderson, Coleman, wide receiver Damaris Johnson, kicker Alex Henery, linebacker Brandon Graham, safety Patrick Chung, linebacker Phillip Hunt (restricted free agent on IR), wide receiver Arrelious Benn, offensive lineman Dennis Kelly.
Mostly self-explanatory. Vick wants to find a place where he can start. Even if he doesn't, the Eagles really like Matt Barkley and may well prefer a younger (read: cheaper) No. 2 behind Nick Foles.
Henery will have competition for the kicking job next summer. Not sure he'll answer that bell. Graham belongs at end in a 4-3 defense and may get a chance to return to one. The Eagles tried to replace Chung over and over but injuries kept him in the lineup.
Johnson lost his return job and never played on offense. Anderson has been a solid special teams guy, but Kelly likes versatility and may prefer a replacement who can fill in on defense, too.
Veterans on the salary-cap bubble: Tight end Brent Celek, linebacker Trent Cole, guard Todd Herremans, wide receiver Jason Avant. They are all good enough players to stay. That, not their cap numbers, should be the deciding factor.
Youth movement: The Eagles signed their practice squad and one other player to futures contracts. They are linebackers Emmanuel Acho, Josh Kaddu and Travis Long; offensive tackle Michael Bamiro; defensive end Brandon Bair; wide receivers Will Murphy, B.J. Cunningham and Ifeanyi Momah, and tight end Emil Igwenagu.
The takeaway here: The Eagles staff spent a lot of time coaching these guys and one or three of them just might become contributors.
Going into their Sunday night game against the Chicago Bears’ high-powered offense, the Eagles have serious issues with four of their safeties, plus nickel corner Brandon Boykin.
Rookie starter Earl Wolff, who injured his knee six weeks ago in Green Bay, said he expects to play.
“I’ll be probable, which means I’ll probably play,” Wolff said. “If the game was today, I would play. On Sunday, it just didn’t feel right. I thought this would be three or four weeks. I didn’t think it would be this long.”
Safeties Kurt Coleman (hamstring) and Colt Anderson (knee) were injured Sunday in Minnesota. Both are also important special-teams players. That is the role Johnson likely would fill if he is active for the Bears game.
“Right now, it’s just about trying to get healthy and help this team out,” Coleman said. “We’re trying to make a push for the playoffs. I’ve got to get better as fast as possible because we need everyone out there.”
The other safety with issues is veteran Patrick Chung. In his case, the issues are related to performance, not any injury. Eagles defensive coordinator Bill Davis said Chung was in “a slump” that had the coaches moving Coleman into the lineup before he was hurt.
“Until they separate themselves,” Davis said, “I’ll let the competition get the best out of both of them.”
Wolff had separated himself from Chung earlier in the season before getting hurt.
“He was starting to really show some playmaking ability,” Davis said. “He got injured and has been out for a while. We have to crawl him back into the mix as we go.”
Boykin was knocked out of the Minnesota game with a concussion. He was out on the practice field Tuesday, which is a positive sign, but he still has to be cleared according to the NFL concussion protocol. If Boykin can’t play, Davis said, either Chung or cornerback Roc Carmichael would move into his role in the slot.
“For me, I like playing outside more,” Carmichael said. “That’s what I’ve done my whole career. But going into the inside, it’s still a defensive-back position. Playing man will be the same, but now I have to learn more of the zones – which 'backer do I have to help, is the end going to drop, little things like that.”
The 5-foot-11, 212-pound Johnson was in training camp with the Miami Dolphins. He signed to the Eagles' practice squad in September.
Defensive end Clifton Geathers' status is unknown. Geathers missed the past three days' worth of practices for unspecified personal reasons. The 6-foot-8, 340-pound Geathers has been on the field for 21 percent of the team's defensive plays this season.
Wolff will miss his third game after injuring his right knee in Green Bay last month. Veteran Patrick Chung, who has made as much impact crashing into teammates as opponents, will start in Wolff's place.
With Goode out, linebacker Emmanuel Acho has a chance to be active.
Wide receiver Jeff Maehl cleared the concussion protocol and was listed as probable. Tight end Zach Ertz (shoulder), defensive tackle Bennie Logan (neck) and defensive end Damion Square (back) were also listed as probable.
The Eagles have enjoyed good health all season. Coach Chip Kelly said the other day that it might be attributable to a combination of luck and the team's devotion to sports science.
“You break a bone, you break a bone,” Kelly said. “I don't know if there is a science behind breaking a bone. There are certain injuries that it doesn't matter how fit you are, how trained you are, that if that happens, that happens. But I also think there are some little things we do on a weekly basis here from a training standpoint that I think has benefited us. So we'll continue. But it's not something that we can say if all of a sudden two or three guys get hurt next week you're like, ‘You guys are wrong.' It's not. I think we're doing the right thing.”
One possible reason for the relatively light activity: The Jacksonville Jaguars, who are two spots higher than the Eagles on waiver claims, were awarded a stunning seven players. That included two players, DE/LB Chris McCoy and TE Clay Harbor, who were released by the Eagles.
Prater is 5-foot-10, 190 pounds. A fifth-round pick out of Iowa last year, Prater spent his rookie season on injured reserve with patellar tendinitis. He is not expected to be a factor right away. The Eagles will roll with Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher (who played with Prater at Iowa) outside and Brandon Boykin in the slot.
But at least Prater can practice and play. To make room for him, the Eagles released Curtis Marsh, another member of their disastrous 2011 draft class. Marsh had surgery on his broken hand last month and was not available for the last two preseason games.
A couple of other roster-related notes:
- The Eagles signed four players to their practice squad, all of whom were released over the weekend: OT Michael Bamiro, RB Matthew Tucker, WR Greg Salas and LB Travis Long. They have four more spots to fill.
- Didn’t do too poorly on my projected 53-man roster, which was posted Friday morning. I had 48 players right. And where I was incorrect, I might have been right in a couple of spots where the Eagles turn out to be wrong.I had McCoy staying and Casey Matthews going. We’ll see how that one turns out.
I had Salas and Russell Shepard among six wide receivers. The Eagles kept five, including Jeff Maehl. That’s two Oregon guys who made the team that I didn’t expect.
I thought they’d keep 10 offensive linemen, including Matt Tennant. They went light there, cutting Tennant, and kept one more tight end than I expected: Emil Igwenagu.
Finally, they kept two more DBs than I expected. One was Colt Anderson, who will play only on special teams. The other was Marsh, who was released today. So maybe I had 4.5 players wrong.
- Roseman made two trades involving a running back for a linebacker. He got Emmanuel Acho, who made the team, for Dion Lewis, who is on IR in Cleveland. And he got Adrian Robinson, who was cut Friday, for Felix Jones, who made the Steelers roster.
- The Eagles were off today and have some conditioning work scheduled for Monday. They’ll be off again Tuesday. The practice week for Monday night’s game at Washington begins in earnest on Wednesday.
Wide receivers Greg Salas and Russell Shepard both had very good training camps. With so many injuries at the position, including projected starter Jeremy Maclin, they looked like candidates to make the team. Both were released. That means Jeff Maehl, who played for coach Chip Kelly at Oregon, made the 53-man roster. Clay Harbor, the tight end who attempted a midsummer conversion to wideout, was also released.
Outside linebacker Chris McCoy, who stood out in Thursday's preseason finale against the Jets, was cut. Emmanuel Acho made the team, as did reserve inside linebacker Casey Matthews. Another linebacker, Travis Long, was cut.
While running back Matthew Tucker looked very good all summer, the Eagles kept just three backs. Tucker, Shepard and tackle Michael Bamiro, a 6-foot-8 behemoth, could all wind up on the practice squad.
The 53-man roster looks like this, pending late additions via trade or the waiver wire:
Quarterbacks (3): Matt Barkley, Nick Foles, Michael Vick
Running backs (3): Bryce Brown, LeSean McCoy, Chris Polk
Wide receivers (5): Jason Avant, Riley Cooper, DeSean Jackson, Damaris Johnson, Jeff Maehl
Tight ends (4): James Casey, Brent Celek, Zach Ertz, Emil Igwenagu
Offensive Line (9): Allen Barbre, Todd Herremans, Lane Johnson, Jason Kelce, Dennis Kelly, Evan Mathis, Jason Peters, Matt Tobin, Julian Vandervelde
Defensive line (7): Fletcher Cox, Vinny Curry, Clifton Geathers, Bennie Logan, Isaac Sopoaga, Damion Square, Cedric Thornton
Linebackers (8): Emmanuel Acho, Connor Barwin, Trent Cole, Brandon Graham, Mychal Kendricks, Jake Knott, Casey Matthews, DeMeco Ryans
Defensive Backs (11): Nate Allen, Colt Anderson, Brandon Boykin, Patrick Chung, Kurt Coleman, Bradley Fletcher, Brandon Hughes, Curtis Marsh, Jordan Poyer, Cary Williams, Earl Wolff
Specialists (3): Jon Dorenbos, Alex Henery, Donnie Jones
Kelly will sit down with his Philadelphia Eagles coaches and with general manager Howie Roseman and the personnel staff. By the end of the day, they should know which 22 players will be released to reach the final 53-man roster limit by Saturday at 6 p.m. ET.
This game will be but a small part of the evaluation process. A total of 22 players didn’t even dress; they are the starters held out to avoid injury risk. If anything, this game will serve as a tie-breaker for a few spots at the bottom of the roster.
“It gives us another opportunity to evaluate,” Kelly said. “Some guys are in situations where we haven’t got a ton of snaps for them. Some of those guys played an entire game tonight.”
For those on the outside of the meeting rooms, the game and Kelly’s comments offered a few insights into where some of those competitions stand:
- Matt Tobin, an undrafted rookie out of Iowa, has a better chance of making the team than former first-round pick Danny Watkins. Kelly played Tobin nearly the entire game at left tackle and praised him for having a strong summer.
Watkins? “Danny’s competing like the rest of those guys,” Kelly said. “There’s always some good out of Danny, but there’s always some mistakes out of Danny.”
- Emmanuel Acho made a very compelling case to be the first linebacker off the bench. He and Jake Knott thoroughly outplayed veteran Casey Matthews, in this game and throughout the preseason.
- Chris McCoy is probably the second-most-complete outside linebacker on the team after Connor Barwin. Brandon Graham and Trent Cole continue the transition from defensive end and struggle with the pass-coverage aspect of the job. McCoy looked very good in a starting role.
- Outside linebacker Everette Brown could sneak onto the roster. He recorded a sack for the second week in a row. Kelly volunteered his name when listing defensive players who stood out.
- Nobody really seems interested in claiming the open starting-safety job. Nate Allen, the incumbent, managed exactly one tackle. Rookie Earl Wolff had three. Neither did what McCoy, Acho and Brown did -- make a big play or two in their final opportunities to stake a claim.[+] EnlargeAP Photo/Bill KostrounLinebacker Chris McCoy (94) turned in a solid performance as a starter in Thursday's finale.
So with all that, here’s a somewhat educated guess on how the 53-man roster will look Saturday at 6 p.m. Expect a couple of changes in the next days as Roseman and his staff look for help on the waiver wire.
Quarterbacks (3): Michael Vick, Nick Foles, Matt Barkley. No explanation necessary here.
Running backs (3): LeSean McCoy, Bryce Brown, Chris Polk. It’s a high-attrition position, so it wouldn’t shock me to see Matthew Tucker stick and Kelly go light elsewhere.
Tight ends (3): Brent Celek, James Casey, Zach Ertz. If Casey’s hamstring injury is a problem, Clay Harbor could wind up back in the TE meeting room.
Wide receivers (6): DeSean Jackson, Riley Cooper, Jason Avant, Damaris Johnson, Greg Salas, Russell Shepard. That might be a little high, but Kelly likes to have a lot of options.
Offensive line (10): Jason Peters, Evan Mathis, Jason Kelce, Todd Herremans, Lane Johnson, Allen Barbre, Matt Tobin, Julian Vandervelde, Dennis Kelly, Matt Tennant. Could Watkins edge out Tennant? Sure, but I see Eagles cutting another tie to the Andy Reid era.
Defensive line (7): Fletcher Cox, Isaac Sopoaga, Cedric Thornton, Bennie Logan, Vinny Curry, Damion Square, Clifton Geathers. Went with Geathers over Antonio Dixon, but could go either way.
Linebackers (8): Connor Barwin, Mychal Kendricks, DeMeco Ryans, Trent Cole, Brandon Graham, Chris McCoy, Jake Knott, Emmanuel Acho. It was hard to leave Everette Brown off. It wouldn’t be a shock if Eagles went heavy here: Linebackers make key special-teamers.
Defensive backs (9): Cary Williams, Bradley Fletcher, Brandon Boykin, Jordan Poyer, Patrick Chung, Nate Allen, Earl Wolff, Kurt Coleman, Brandon Hughes. This group is subject to the most change after deadline.
Specialists (3): K Alex Henery, P Donnie Jones, LS Jon Dorenbos.
- Maybe the most significant thing that happened for the Eagles was the hamstring injury that sent tight end James Casey to the locker room in the first half. The severity wasn’t immediately known (and given Chip Kelly’s casual approach to dispensing injury info, may never be known), but staying healthy is the No. 1 priority in a fourth preseason game. So an injury to a guy expected to be a key part of the offense can’t be good.
- This one last chance to impress before roster cuts resulted in more impact defensive plays than in the first three preseason games combined. If coordinator Bill Davis is looking for reserves who can step in and make an impact, he had to like what he saw from:
-- Inside linebacker Emmanuel Acho, who sacked Jets QB Matt Simms on a blitz, played solidly against the run and forced a Konrad Reuland fumble in the second quarter. In the first half alone, Acho was credited with eight tackles. Acquired from Cleveland in the Dion Lewis trade, Acho sure looks like the third-best ILB on the team right now behind starters DeMeco Ryans and Mychal Kendricks.
-- Brandon Graham, who bull-rushed Simms on the Jets’ first possession and wrapped him up in the end zone. Simms threw the ball away, an intentional-grounding play that resulted in a safety. Graham still needs work on his pass drops (an understatement), but he can get to the QB from the OLB spot.
-- Chris McCoy, who started at the ROLB spot and tormented Jets tackle Jason Smith. McCoy dropped an interception on the first play from scrimmage -- a negative, sure, but he was in position to make it -- and sacked Simms for a 6-yard loss on the third play. McCoy got around Smith and hit Simms from behind, knocking the ball loose.
-- Everette Brown, the guy singled out by Pro Football Focus for his play against Jacksonville, ended the first half by sacking Simms and knocking the ball out of his hands when the Jets were in the red zone. Eagles fans would recognize the failure to get even a field-goal attempt from Marty Mornhinweg’s days as Andy Reid’s lieutenant.
- On the other side, a few of the veterans who are trying to stick just did not impress. Safety Nate Allen gave up a 23-yard completion to Zach Rogers on a third-and-19 play. He had decent coverage on Michael Campbell on a later Jets possession, but did not make any real impact. Of course, neither did fifth-round pick Earl Wolff, who started alongside Allen.
- Inside linebacker Casey Matthews had a very rough night. If he makes the team, it is going to be because he’s that valuable on special teams. Matthews had gap control and a chance to tackle Kahlil Bell in the backfield, but ran into a teammate instead. Bell ran into the end zone for an all-too-easy 8-yard TD. Matthews had a defensive holding penalty two plays before that.
- The only significant competition on the offensive side is for the backup spots along the line. With the starters sidelined, it was interesting to see who Chip Kelly lined up out there. Allen Barbre, who played two games at left tackle in place of Jason Peters, was at left guard. Undrafted rookie Matt Tobin, a 6-foot-6, 300-pounder from Iowa, started at left tackle. With Dennis Kelly expected to miss at least a couple of regular-season games because of a back injury, there is an opportunity for a backup tackle. Michael Bamiro, the massive but raw rookie from Stony Brook, started at left tackle. He looked massive and raw, especially in the early going. Danny Watkins was at right guard. He looked like Danny Watkins. Julian Vandervelde looks very much like he’ll make the team as the backup center.
- There was no reason to ponder whether Nick Foles should have been given a longer opportunity to compete for the starting QB job. He did not have a great game. But then, he was playing behind a dreadful offensive line against a Jets defense that blitzed more than usual in the preseason. It was also clear that Kelly was using as little of his offense as possible. Foles fumbled the ball away on the first series. He succeeded in finishing the game, and the preseason, without an injury.
- By the second half, when Matt Barkley took over at QB, the line had settled in a little bit. Barkley engineered a 16-play, 80-yard touchdown drive. On the downside, he threw the Kevin Kolb-patented pick-six with two minutes left in the game. Barkley didn't get enough on an out to Jeff Maehl. Antonio Allen stepped in, intercepted and returned it for a TD.
- In the midst of a sea of vanilla, Kelly suddenly called one of the triple-option plays the Eagles frequently ran in a recent practice. Foles faked a handoff, started running to his left, then whipped an overhand lateral to wide receiver Greg Salas. Surprised Kelly put that on film. Also, that play seems certain to result in a turnover at some point.
- The injury plague continued at cornerback. Trevard Lindley limped off the field in the third quarter with a right ankle sprain. The Eagles have two corners, Curtis Marsh and Brandon Hughes, sidelined with broken hands. They are so thin there that safety Kurt Coleman was playing corner even before Lindley went down.
- Speaking of which, Coleman would seem to be one of the guys on the bubble here. The fact that he played both safety and cornerback could help his case for making the team. You never know when you’re going to be caught short in a game. On the other hand, it could mean Coleman is so far out of the running at safety that Kelly and Davis weren’t interested in seeing him there.
- If the cutdown to 75 was an indicator, Kelly is likely to do most of his roster work Friday, the day before the deadline to reach 53.
ESPN Insider Ed Werder weighs in on Doug Free's situation with the Cowboys in this ESPNDallas podcast.
Calvin Watkins revisits the sad case of former Cowboys receiver Sam Hurd, who is awaiting sentencing after buying cocaine and marijuana from an undercover police officer.
Former Michigan State running Le'Veon Bell was impressed after visiting with the Cowboys.
New York Giants
Justin Tuck says that losing defensive end Osi Umenyiora to free agency will be a "huge burden," according to ESPNNewYork's Ohm Youngmisuk. Tuck also talked about Victor Cruz and how he hopes the free-agent receiver participates in voluntary offseason workouts on Monday.
Paul Schwartz of the N.Y. Post writes that it's hard for Cruz to realize that he is not worth as much as he thinks he's worth.
The Eagles traded backup running back Dion Lewis to the Cleveland Browns for linebacker Emmanuel Acho. Les Bowen of Philly.com offers some thoughts.
Chip Kelly is already starting to clean house; he cut four players less than two weeks after the start of the offseason workout program.
Rex Grossman admits that running the option for him is, well, not an option.
Pierre Garcon says he'll be ready to start the season but added that "I can't say I'll be 100 percent, but I'll be back to there helping the team in any way possible."
Mike Jones of the Washington Post offers an update on safety Jordan Bernstine, who missed most of his rookie season after injuring his knee in last season's opener.