Taking a deeper look into the Eagles’ biggest roster cutdown decisions

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Hollins over Ward and Michel?

After Greg Ward and Marken Michel both scored long touchdowns and took turns leading the team in receiving yards this preseason, there was a debate abound as to who deserved what was possibly the last available receiver slot. Mack Hollins didn’t see much of the field and didn’t exactly impress when he did. The competition was certainly hot, and everyone seemed to have a valid opinion as to who was the better option.

Originally, Philadelphia fell in love with the rookie who rode his bike to work and was always seen with a smile on his face. However, after a season lost to a still-mysterious injury, fans were hoping to see something this preseason that would calm their fears about Hollins’ status. They were left disappointed. Even given a lengthy run in the final preseason game, Hollins only managed one reception. Still, as a former fourth-round pick the Tar Heel had the inside track and ran it all the way to the final 53.

The truth is Hollins lack on production on the offensive side of the ball didn’t hamper his odds, because the decision on which receiver would be the team’s fifth was never about the offense. When asked about the choice to cut Greg Ward, Howie Roseman put it very simply: this was a move for the special teams unit.

“Greg’s done a tremendous job and really I don’t have an answer what he could have done more other than we’re trying to balance everyone we have at every position and what we’re looking for offensively, defensively and on special teams, and sometimes it just comes down to looking for a specific role for a specific spot, and when we look at the wide receiver room and what we were looking for and what Greg had done on special teams and maybe what we were looking for from that fifth receiver spot on special teams, it was just not something that he had done. But Greg had a tremendous summer.”

Howie Roseman on the decision to cut Greg Ward

So, that’s that. It wasn’t a flashy move, but the Eagles decided to take the player that will improve them in a phase of the game they were once heralded for. After finishing in the top ten for special teams efficiency rating from 2014 until 2016 (per Football Outsiders) — which included a 1st and 2nd place finish in 2014 and 2016, respectively — the Eagles ranked in the middle of the pack the last two seasons. Even in college, Mack has been lauded for his special teams prowess.

In a drastically improved receiver room, and a part of a very talented offense as a whole, the fifth in line was never going to get that many snaps on offense anyway. Still, doubters may have forgotten that Mack Hollins is still a talented receiver in his own right. He may not be as athletically gifted as newcomer J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, or as flashy as fan-favorite DeSean Jackson, but Hollins can fly.

As a situational deep threat to spell the aging Jackson, Hollins is more than capable. The other thing to consider is that Greg Ward is a slot receiver. While the Eagles don’t have a slot receiver on the roster outside of Nelson Agholor, they love to flex their tight ends and running backs. Zach Ertz, Dallas Goedert, Darren Sproles, Corey Clement, and Miles Sanders will all likely take snaps out of the slot. It is unlikely that any of them are used as a deep threat on the outside — where Hollins is best used.

It may sting, but this was the best decision for the team as a whole. Still, if Hollins can’t prove his worth, or succumbs to injury early in the season, let there be no doubt that the Eagles will be quick to call up Ward from the practice squad.

Rookie Herbig over the veteran Wis?

This one can be easily explained away by Wisniewski’s dreadful preseason performance, but the real question is: why Herbig? Although there were rumors that the coaching staff was very high on the rookie out of Stanford, he was always considered a long shot to make the final roster. After an injury-shortened season in college, Herbig, to much guffawing, decided to move on to the pros and was overlooked by all 32 teams at the draft. So, why have the Eagles spent a valuable spot on an unknown interior lineman that many didn’t see as draft-able?

The most solid answer to this question is positional depth. The Eagles desperately need a reliable option at center if Jason Kelce misses time. While Isaac Seumalo is a very capable replacement, moving him out of his left guard position causes quite a shuffle along the offensive line. With Brandon Brooks already slated to miss time early in the season, the Birds can’t afford to seriously weaken themselves at the guard position.

Nevertheless, at the very least, the Eagles have some options at guard. Halapoulivaati Vaitai has made the conversion from tackle to guard to take up the right guard spot until Brooks’ return. Andre Dillard has done some cross-training in the offseason, and Matt Pryor has the physical tools to bang bodies on the inside. None of those players have oodles of experience at center. To tell the truth, neither does Nate Herbig. However, he picked it up incredibly fast this summer and OL Coach Jeff Stoutland loves a project. If nothing else, Stoutland gives brownie points for intelligence and desire. While he wasn’t a star prospect in college, two of Herbig’s biggest selling points were his football IQ and nasty edge.

Continued on the page below.

Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

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