The Eagles are inundated with injuries heading into Pre-season after what has been a physically intense two weeks of Training camp. A total of nine players will be sidelined during the pre-season opener against the Bucs, including four starters. This means that the stage is set for some under-the-radar performers to really make an impact.
It’s also interesting that the positions where the Eagles have suffered injuries, are typically ones where competition levels are extremely high:
LT Jason Peters ,
RB Wendell Smallwood,
WR Jordan Matthews ,
WR Hunter Sharp,
WR Marcus Johnson,
LB Mychal Kendricks,
DE Marcus Smith,
DT Mike Martin,
CB JaCorey Shepherd,
S Malcolm Jenkins.
So the question is, who can step up to the plate when the lights are on, this Thursday night?
RB- Byron Marshall:
The Eagles running backs are primed to be a focal point of Pederson’s West Coast-hybrid Offense, but in Pre-season, it’s a very different story. With Ryan Mathews coming off of an injury sustained before camp, Darren Sproles not returning punts in order to stay fully healthy and Wendell Smallwood out with a quad strain..the backfield is somewhat depleted.
So surely, the attention turns to the quietly hyped Kenjon Barner? Not quite. Barner was evaluated for a quad injury yesterday, an evaluation where if he passed..he would merely be returning punts with Paul Turner.
So..the committee backfield will now likely feature a heavy dose of undrafted rookie free agent Byron Marshall. The former Oregon Duck who rushed for 1,000 yards and received for 1,000 more last season could see a huge workload with the Eagles wanting to keep their starters fresh and unable to rotate their backups as much as they’d like.
This is the perfect opportunity for Marshall to prove his worth to Doug Pederson. The Eagles could be looking to keep four or five running backs on the roster, depending on what direction the team go. It’s up to Marshall to make the most of his increased workload, show his abundance of versatility and have a big game on Thursday in order to retain it for the second pre-season game against the Steelers.
WR: Josh Huff
With Jordan Matthews out for a few weeks, Nelson Agholor and Reuben Randle will see themselves becoming the top two receivers on the depth chart..and with two further injuries further down the chart, it’s the perfect opportunity for Josh Huff to explode onto the scene, making up for a disappointing Training camp and OTA period.
Huff has suffered with drops since the depths of the 2015 regular season..and the problem still continues to haunt him. His spot on the roster has become increasingly unstable as the guys around him persist to step up and make plays..so this has to be a big pre-season for Josh Huff. With it all on the line and guys like T.J Graham waiting to pounce on some more snaps..Huff has to impress on Thursday night.
DE: Bryan Braman
Braman is a guy I’ve been backing for a long time now. From his sack on Drew Brees to his near FG-block attempts, Braman just screams a perfect fit for the Schwartz Defense, but it’s been a quiet camp for the ruthless special teamer who hasn’t been able to carve out a secure role just yet.
Marcus Smith is sidelined with a concussion and rotation at the position is expected to be heavy, especially considering that it’s Pre-season. Braman was listed behind Alex McCalister on the team’s first unofficial depth chart..and he’ll need to make some more monster plays if he is to change that and help secure his spot on the final 53-man roster.
S: Jaylen Watkins
The battle at Safety is proving to be an intense one..but not for the starting role. Rodney McLeod and Malcolm Jenkins are primed for a monumental first season together under Jim Schwartz, but behind them..the picture is murky. While sixth round pick Blake Countess is the favorite to earn the backup spot, Jaylen Watkins will be looking to throw a spanner in the works.
Jenkins will miss Thursday’s game, opening the window just that little bit further for Watkins to make an impression. After moving to Safety last week, Watkins had some huge performances at practice, making some impressive plays and constantly turning heads. I posted an All-22 on his 2015 play not too long ago,
highlighting his ability to shut-down some big name NFC East threats. He’ll need to showcase all of that and more on Thursday if he is to gain an advantage in this positional war..and has every chance to do so.
DT: Destiny Vaeao
The Eagles have a very clear direction at Defensive tackle. Fletcher Cox is the long-term starter and Bennie Logan is primed to secure a similar role if he enjoys another big year. Mike Martin appears to be the man leading the backup DT positional battle, but it’s anything but cemented.
Connor Wujciak was stripped of his rookie season after sustaining a Camp injury and with Martin injured, Vaeao has a real shot to s
Vaeao was a man in hot demand when it came to pre-draft visits and for good reason. 83 tackles (19 for a loss), 7 sacks, 2 interceptions and 2 forced fumbles during his time at Washington State made the 6’3, 298 pounder and interesting prospect.
During the Collegiate Bowl, Vaeao recorded a 35.5 vertical leap which at the combine would have tied him for second among defensive linemen.
His versatility and ability to help stop the rushing attack is what could sway the battle for Vaeao, but if he wouldn’t have had the chance to display these traits if the above injuries didn’t occur. It’s up to the former Washington State star to make the most of his extra snaps on Thursday and display the athletic dominance he showed a year ago.
Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports