On the bubble: Five Eagles in need of a strong pre-season

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Pre-season is almost upon us which means Football is FINALLY back. For the Eagles, there is still much to be decided. From the entire cornerback depth chart to an emerging war in the slot and positional battles all over the roster, the shape of the Eagles roster will begin to fall into place on Thursday night when the team travel to Green Bay. Naturally, there are some who need a big showing at Lambeau field if they are to secure their place on the roster. Here’s a breakdown of five players who simply have to step up when their time arrives.

Patrick Robinson
Since being drafted by the Saints in the first round of the 2010 NFL Draft, Robinson’s career has been a rollercoaster. From sone tantalizing highs such as his 55.9% completion rate allowed in 2015, to some injury plagued lows and inconsistencies, Robinson has seen it all in his 81 career games. After signing a prove-it deal with the Eagles, Robinson has had a wobbly start.

The most tenured cornerback on the roster, Robinson was expected to come in and lead a unit both young and hungry. But since being named a starter on the outside, Robinson’s time at Camp has been anything but consistent. The corner has held himself accountable, but when the pressures of pre-season rolls around, he simply has to shine.

The presence of Corey Graham who has the skillset to move into a corner role if necessary may cause Robinson to double take when looking over his shoulder. His prove-it contract means that he’s in no way guaranteed to make the final 53…and if his struggles containing wideouts on deep routes continue, then not only will his own future be called into question, but the future of the entire CB position, who could be realistically looking at a former seventh round pick and this year’s third round pick as their outside starters. The Eagles need Robinson to step up, just as much as he needs them.

 

Shelton Gibson
Drafted in the fifth round of this year’s draft, Gibson hasn’t had the smoothest transition into the NFL. A bumpy Training Camp has seen Gibson struggle with caching the ball consistently. Drops have been the narrative, but the former WVU wideout has long been known as a player to show up when it counts. Well as we head into a showdown against Green Bay, it counts more than ever.

The 5’11, 190 lbs, Cleveland, Ohio native, was an issue for opposing defenses at West Virginia, playing in both the slot as well as from the outside. The rapid wideout ended his collegiate career with 84 receptions, 1,898 yards and a whopping 17 touchdowns, all while averaging 22.6 yards per reception.

Gibson will need to tap into that potential if he is to re-sink his teeth into a roster spot that’s currently being hounded down by the likes of Marcus Johnson and Greg Ward Jr. If Gibson is going to prove that he can be a big time player for the Eagles just as he was at West Virginia, it simply has to be now. Confidence has been increasing and the positive plays along with it, but Gibson is still very much on a lifeline…and one he will need to fight through in pre-season to prove his value.

 

Jaylen Watkins
After signing a tender with the Eagles, Jaylen Watkins looked like a strong candidate to act as a role player on the Eagles Defense, especially after playing in 38% of defensive snaps in a career year in 2016. The arrival of Terrence Brooks has somewhat thwarted those hopes.

A big interception against the Giants last year saw Brooks flash in front of his fellow DB’s, earning the praise of Malcolm Jenkins along the way. Training Camp has seen Brooks earn praise from all areas. Some big hits, even bigger plays, and a run of interceptions that just never seem to end, Brooks is now the favorite to land that backup role heading into pre-season…or is he?

The arrival of Corey Graham makes life a little more challenging for Brooks, but for Watkins it presents an entirely different challenge. A proven veteran who rarely misses a game, Graham gives the Eagles a chance to reliably roll into their Pony package (with 3 safeties on the field) without a drop off in coverage prowess over the top. For Watkins, it’s a do-or die scenario.

The Eagles are suddenly loaded with options at Safety and Jaylen Watkins is falling further and further down that list. A few big plays in pre-season may just see him surge back into contention to snatch a spot at the last gasp.

 

 

Corey Clement
UDFA RB Corey Clement has hit the ground running at Training Camp. The physical back has turned heads on several occasions. Before the vets arrived, Clement made the most of the spotlight…but once they did, he continued to showcase the bruiser type style embodied by LeGarrette Blount. Not only that, but Clement has also been juking on defenders and catching passes reliably out of the backfield.

Flashing back to his Wisconsin days in which he dominated defenses as a downhill runner, it’s perhaps acted as a catalyst for Wendell Smallwood. The former teammate of Shelton Gibson has had a complete change in mindset and is attacking more than ever. Bowing his head as tacklers arrive, lowering his pads and pushing through blocks, Smallwood has been beyond impressive in showcasing the skillset that Duce Staley now wants to see out of his workhorses.

After gaining the upper hand early, Clement may be on the back foot once again. If he can lead the Eagles in pre-season rushing yards or make a big splash when called upon, it could be his best chance of proving to the Eagles he too can shine in the limelight.

 

Mychal Kendricks
After telling the media of his trade request at the start of Training Camp, it’s clear there’s some tension between Kendricks and the Eagles. After all, he did have a huge role to play in Defenses prior to the schematic shift to a 4-3. His snap counts have dropped drastically and ever since being made to play in the team’s fourth pre-season game last year, it’s been a slippery slope for the former pass-rusher.

Kendricks is in no-man’s land. There’s an abundance of talent at linebacker including Joe Walker, Nate Gerry, and Kamu Grugier-Hill. All of whom bring something different to the table…be that special teams presence, a sideline-to-sideline skillset, or a hybrid safety playing style. The future certainly doesn’t look bright for the linebacker who has fallen from grace…but if last year is anything to go by, he may find himself playing in plenty of pre-season snaps.

If that is the case, Kendricks has one last chance to prove to the team and others potentially looking to acquire his services that he can add value to a Defense. Kendricks has to attack pre-season more than ever before…because if he doesn’t, the future does not look bright…at all. Especially after the Eagles acquired a veteran safety with the intention of implementing different varieties of 5-DB formations, meaning only two linebackers are on the field.

 

Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

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