NFC East: Philadelphia Eagles
ESPN.com New York Giants reporter Dan Graziano makes his game-by-game picks for the 2014 season.
Week 1: at Detroit Lions
The Giants are coming off a mess of a preseason, undermanned and overwhelmed, with the offensive line still a mess and the new offense not clicking at all. No one will pick them to win this game. Except me. Prediction: Win
Week 2: Arizona Cardinals
This one's a comedown off the Week 1 surprise, as Arizona's banged-up defense still manages to flummox Eli Manning and collect a few interceptions. It's a bummer of a home opener as reality begins to set in. Prediction: Loss
Week 3: Houston Texans
Houston's defense is as liable as Arizona's to make life miserable for Manning and the offensive line. But Houston has bigger questions on offense than even the Giants, and this is a win for the New York defense against Ryan Fitzpatrick. Prediction: Win
Week 4: at Washington Redskins
Week 5: Atlanta Falcons
The pattern continues, and the Giants overcome two Osi Umenyiora sacks to outscore the Falcons with a furious Manning comeback in the final minutes. The Giants poke their heads over the .500 mark as they make the turn into the most brutal stretch of their schedule. Prediction: Win
Week 6: at Philadelphia Eagles
The Giants don't have Matt Barkley to kick around this time when they visit the City of Brotherly Love. Chip Kelly and the Eagles show them what a truly innovative offense looks like. Prediction: Loss
Week 7: at Dallas Cowboys
The season-long debate about what gives when an anemic Giants offense meets a pathetic Cowboys defense tilts in Dallas' favor in the first meeting. Tony Romo & Co. have more than enough weapons to outscore Manning and his bunch, and the Giants hit the bye with a 3-4 record. Prediction: Loss
Week 9: Indianapolis Colts
After a long break before the Monday night home game, the Giants get taken apart by Andrew Luck, Hakeem Nicks & Co. at MetLife Stadium for a third straight loss. The offense is starting to run more smoothly, but it still doesn't have enough playmakers to outscore one of the league's better offenses. Prediction: Loss
Week 10: at Seattle Seahawks
You're kidding, right? Prediction: Loss
Week 11: San Francisco 49ers
The Giants have obviously handled the Niners in recent years and in some high-profile situations. But by this point in the season, San Francisco's defense is back to full strength, and the 49ers can't afford to lose ground to the Seahawks by failing to beat the team Seattle just beat the week before. Prediction: Loss
Week 12: Dallas Cowboys
A sixth straight loss is by no means out of the question here, as Romo and his crew still have the potential to outscore anyone in a given week. But from this far out, I'll forecast that something goes wrong for Romo late in this game, and the Giants get a gift. Prediction: Win
Week 13: at Jacksonville Jaguars
This is where the schedule starts to soften up, when the Giants start playing teams that insist on not starting their best quarterback. It's unfortunate they're 4-7 at this point and just about out of the playoff hunt, but they will get it going against the bottom-feeders. Prediction: Win
Week 14: at Tennessee Titans
I think the Titans are going to be dreadful this year, and by December they won't be very difficult for anyone to beat, even at home. A third straight victory keeps the Giants' hopes alive. Prediction: Win
Week 15: Washington Redskins
Have to be honest: The NFC East is so unpredictable that, when doing these predictions, I just decided to give the Giants a 3-3 division record with victories in all three home games and losses in all three road games. It's as fair a way as any to do it, I believe. Prediction: Win
Week 16: at St. Louis Rams
After moving back to .500 with four straight wins, the season falls apart at the hands of the St. Louis pass rush. An offensive line that has once again been the Giants' biggest problem all year can't protect Manning in a must-win game. Prediction: Loss
Week 17: Philadelphia Eagles
Tom Coughlin's teams can always find a way to play for pride. The Giants' playoff hopes are extinguished, but they still manage to end the season on a high note and with a .500 record. Prediction: Win
Predicted Record: 8-8
That’s a reflection of coach Chip Kelly’s approach. Kelly values the time spent by coaches and players to develop within his offensive and defensive schemes. To bring in entirely new players would be to disregard all the work that’s been done in scouting, acquiring and coaching the players that spent training camp with the team.
The practice squad includes linebacker Emmanuel Acho, offensive linemen Josh Andrews and Kevin Graf, defensive lineman Wade Keliikipi, wide receivers Will Murphy and Quron Pratt, safety Ed Reynolds and running back Matthew Tucker.
The Eagles have two spots remaining, if they choose to fill them.
Reynolds was the Eagles’ fifth-round pick in this year’s draft. Because he went to Stanford, which operates on the trimester system, he was not able to report to the Eagles until well into the June practice sessions. Reynolds wasn’t able to make up for the lost time, but will get a chance now to practice with the team without the deadline for forming the 53-man roster.
Acho and Tucker were with the Eagles last season. Acho played in six games with the team and Tucker dressed for two games. Tucker clearly earned higher evaluations from the Eagles than running back Henry Josey, who was not brought back to the practice squad.
The Eagles begin practicing Tuesday for next Sunday’s regular-season opener against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
- Roseman dismissed the idea that coach Chip Kelly favors players from the University of Oregon. A total of five former Ducks made the Eagles’ roster. “He doesn’t do anything any different than he does with players from any other school,” Roseman said. “It’s really not fair that he gets hit on some of this stuff. The guys we’re keeping, we’re keeping because they’re good players and can contribute to our football team. He wants the best players. He wants to win games. He’s very selfish in that regard.”
- The Eagles kept only three running backs: LeSean McCoy, Darren Sproles and Chris Polk, who missed the entire preseason with a hamstring injury.“We opened last season with three running backs,” Roseman said. “I think you’re talking about three good players there. Chris Polk certainly has a body of work. He’s done a really good job for us on special teams. He’s 220 pounds, he’s been successful in the NFL. That’s not to shortchange some of the guys we let go who had good camps. It was looking at that body of work.”
- Safety Ed Reynolds, this year’s fifth-round draft pick from Stanford, was released. There’s a chance Reynolds could be signed to the Eagles’ practice squad on Sunday. “I think it’s a numbers game,” Roseman said, “where you’re going to go light, where you’re going to go heavy. For us, we had to make some sacrifices somewhere. We went a little heavier on the offensive and defensive line, but those are priorities. Those are hard to find as you look around the league. Not that it’s not hard to find a safety.” Because Stanford is on the trimester calendar, Reynolds missed much of the May and June work done by the team. Roseman said it’s “hard for a guy like that, you have to catch up.”
- Roseman believes the team has more depth this season than it did in 2013. Last year, the Eagles were fortunate not to have too many injuries. Their entire offensive line, for example, was available for all 17 games, including the playoff game. “We needed to get better all over our roster,” Roseman said. “We felt very fortunate about the injury situation last year, but you certainly don’t want to count on that, either. You want to improve your depth, you want to improve the back end of your roster. As we look at it now, I do think we’ve improved our depth.”
- Roseman and his staff will spend the rest of Saturday scanning the waiver wire and preparing lists of players to consider for addition to the roster or the practice squad. There are two new spots on the practice squads with fewer restrictions based on experience. “With the two exemptions, it’s a whole different pool of players that you have to look at,” Roseman said. “By the same token, there are guys on your roster that you may have felt like, if they weren’t on your 53, you had no chance to get them back because they’re not practice-squad eligible. So I think it’s part of the whole process in the next 24 hours.”
Kicking change: The Eagles are taking a bit of a leap of faith with rookie Cody Parkey, who displaced fourth-year veteran Alex Henery. But that's a sign of their lack of faith in Henery, who missed two-of-three field goal tries during the preseason. Parkey made two field goals longer than 50 yards in Thursday night's preseason finale. His kickoffs are also more consistently deep than Henery's, a point of emphasis for the Eagles this year. The stakes are high on this one, but the alternative plan isn't that bad. There are always a handful of experienced NFL kickers available for emergency service.
What's next: The Eagles will form a 10-man practice squad that likely will feature many of the players released in the past week. Candidates include Josey and Barner, safeties Ed Reynolds (this year's fifth-round pick) and Keelan Johnson, wide receivers Ifeanyi Momah and Quron Pratt and quarterback G.J. Kinne. Typically the practice squad includes players who have been waived by other teams, as well.
Eagles' moves: Released LB Emmanuel Acho, OL Josh Andrews, RB Kenjon Barner (injured), CB Roc Carmichael, OL Kevin Graf, K Alex Henery, WR Damaris Johnson, S Keelan Johnson, RB Henry Josey, LB Josh Kaddu, DT Wade Keliikipi, QB G.J. Kinne, CB Curtis Marsh, WR Ifeanyi Momah, WR Will Murphy, WR Quron Pratt, S Ed Reynolds, DT Damion Square, RB Matthew Tucker. Placed WR Arrelious Benn and LB Travis Long on injured reserve. Placed OT Lane Johnson on reserve-suspended list.
Kelly and his staff worked to whittle their roster down Friday. Final cuts aren’t mandatory until Saturday at 4 p.m. Names trickled out as players were informed of their fates.
According to reports (credit in parentheses), the Eagles released running back Henry Josey (ESPN’s Adam Caplan), quarterback G.J. Kinne (CSN Philly), offensive lineman Josh Andrews (his agent, Brett Tessler) and wide receivers Ifeanyi Momah and Quron Pratt (the Philadelphia Inquirer). Wide receiver Arrelious Benn will be placed on injured reserve, according to Aaron Wilson of the Baltimore Sun.
Several outlets reported that the Eagles were trying to trade wide receiver Damaris Johnson, which would likely mean he’ll be released if that effort is unsuccessful.
If all reports are correct, it would bring the Eagles roster from 75 to 68, meaning 15 more players must be removed by Saturday afternoon.
Until all the results are in, it’s hard to draw too many firm conclusions. But the trimming of four wide receivers does bring some clarity to that group. It means Jeff Maehl is in good position to make the team. Starters Riley Cooper, Jeremy Maclin and Brad Smith are locks. Draft picks Josh Huff and Jordan Matthews are safe, too.
The running back picture is clouded by injuries. Chris Polk missed the entire preseason with a hamstring injury. While that allowed players like Josey to make cases for themselves, one suspects Kelly believes his offense is responsible for some of that production. If that’s true then more weight would be given to skills such as pass blocking and receiving. That would explain why Polk, Matthew Tucker and Kenjon Barner were ahead of Josey.
Tucker left Thursday night’s game with a shoulder injury. The severity was not immediately known.
The most suspenseful competition is at kicker. Did rookie Cody Parkey’s 54- and 53-yard field goals Thursday night give him the edge over incumbent Alex Henery? The results will be in soon.
The Eagles’ versatile running back led the NFL in rushing and all-purpose yards in 2013, his first season in coach Chip Kelly’s offense. But McCoy landed at No. 8 in ESPN’s NFL Rank project. That left seven players -- including McCoy’s primary quarry, Adrian Peterson -- ahead of him.
So four of those players are Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks. One is Jimmy Graham, who had to have his position defined by an arbitrator because he’s so productive. One is so good they just call him Megatron.
In other words, McCoy is clearly in some elite company. But part of what makes him so good is that he won’t be satisfied until he has no company. As long as he’s playing football, McCoy figures he might as well be striving to be the best player there is.
“I really try to see the limitations I have for myself,” McCoy said earlier this month. “Can I go past that? How good could this team be? What can I do to help the team be better? Running the ball, controlling the game, making plays does that. I always try to better my teammates and kind of get going.
“The biggest thing is winning. That’s the main goal. Last year, I was successful and productive, and we still were winning. The main goal is always winning. I just like to have fun with it.”
When the Eagles practice against the Patriots earlier this month, McCoy chatted with quarterback Tom Brady (No. 7!) for a bit one day. It was just a friendly talk, McCoy said, wishing each other luck. That sort of thing. But as the NFL Rank chart shows, it was also a show of mutual admiration from a couple of elite players.
That’s the company McCoy is keeping these days. We can quibble about exactly where he should be, but No. 8 is pretty darn good.
RUNNING BACKS (4)
If Chris Polk stays despite missing the entire preseason with a hamstring injury, that pretty much tells you the other guys were wasting their time out there. Josey played really well Thursday night, well enough to stay. If Polk stays, Josey could be on the practice squad.
WIDE RECEIVERS (6)
Going with six receivers now and dropping an offensive lineman. But this list is probably off because there's no Jeff Maehl. He appears to be bulletproof, even though Benn looked much more compelling Thursday night against the Jets.
TIGHT ENDS (3)
Trey Burton made a strong case for himself Thursday night as both a receiver and a blocker. But with these three in place, it appears Burton could be looking at the practice squad this year.
OFFENSIVE LINE (9)
- Jason Peters
- Evan Mathis
- Jason Kelce
- Todd Herremans
- Andrew Gardner
- Allen Barbre
- Matt Tobin
- Dennis Kelly
- David Molk
The ankle injury sustained by Tobin could change this list. The coaches really like Tobin as the four-position backup with Barbre starting for Lane Johnson. As it is, someone is holding a place until Lane Johnson gets back in Week 5.
DEFENSIVE LINE (7)
Damion Square could still go on the practice squad if he doesn't make the cut. He's the one guy who could change this list. But Logan and Allen seem pretty well established as nose tackles right now.
- Connor Barwin
- DeMeco Ryans
- Mychal Kendricks
- Trent Cole
- Marcus Smith
- Brandon Graham
- Bryan Braman
- Najee Goode
- Travis Long
This may be heavy, but Long and Emmanuel Acho are making it pretty tough to cut down to eight. This still has Casey Matthews on the outs, and he's another guy who has appeared bulletproof before now. We'll see.
One more linebacker means one less safety. It's math, people. Ed Reynolds could be on the practice squad.
This is another tough group to figure out. Roc Carmichael has played well at times and was here last year. Curtis Marsh has gotten a long look this summer. But the addition of Carroll and the rookie Watkins simply makes roster space tight.
It may seem rash to put Parkey ahead of Alex Henery based on one preseason game, even if Parkey hit two beyond-50-yard field goals. But the inclination to upgrade at this position has been building for months, and now is the time to act.
PHILADELPHIA -- If you blinked, you missed Michael Vick’s return to Lincoln Financial Field. But then, this was not a game for the household names on either team.
Vick played exactly one snap for the New York Jets. Neither Mark Sanchez nor Nick Foles played even that much. This was about the guys on the bottom of the roster competing one last time, and that’s how the Eagles’ 37-7 victory played out.
Quarterback Matt Barkley got a long look, with mixed results. Barkley threw an interception in the end zone, although it appeared wide receiver Damaris Johnson stopped his route. Barkley threw four interceptions and zero touchdowns in his emergency duty last season.
Barkley also had an odd moment in the second quarter. He rolled to his right and jumped, but he didn’t throw the ball. After landing (and no, he wasn’t called for traveling), Barkley overthrew Will Murphy in the end zone.
But Barkley looked sharp on a 43-yard touchdown pass that caught Arrelious Benn in stride. And his back-shoulder throw to Jeff Maehl was good for a 32-yard gain in the second quarter. Barkley later overthrew a wide open Quron Pratt in the second quarter.
Barkley looked most in command on a 15-play, 80-yard touchdown drive in the second half. Barkley finished the drive with a 7-yard touchdown run. He dropped back to pass, but the whole right side of the field was wide open and Barkley took advantage. It was his last play of the game.
Some other observations:
- Cody Parkey, acquired in a trade last week with the Colts, made a 54-yard field goal late in the first half and hit a 53-yarder in the third quarter. Incumbent kicker Alex Henery’s career-long kick was 51 yards. Henery missed a 31-yarder last week against the Steelers. Parkey also made a 25-yarder on the last play of the first half.
- Damaris Johnson is a pretty good running back for a wide receiver. Johnson got some carries during the preseason and broke one for a 46-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter. Johnson took the handoff from G.J. Kinne, started to his left and then cut back to his right. Johnson’s speed might be enough to keep him on the roster.
- It wasn’t planned, but Matt Tobin's night lasted just a couple plays longer than Vick’s. The Eagles’ offensive lineman -- their main backup at both guard and tackle -- injured his left ankle on the Eagles’ third play from scrimmage. Tobin did not return to the game, although X-rays on the ankle were negative. Kevin Graf replaced him at left guard.
- Chris Polk, who was iffy with a hamstring injury, did not play. Polk missed all four preseason games. He will have to hope the coaches have fond memories of his play last season. He was not helped by the performance of the backs who did play. With LeSean McCoy and Darren Sproles healthy scratches, Matthew Tucker and Henry Josey ran the ball very effectively. So did Kenjon Barner, who left in the second quarter with an ankle injury. Tucker left with an injury to his left shoulder.
- It was unorthodox, but the Eagles got quite a punt off in the second quarter. With the ball at the Eagles 12, Donnie Jones punted from his own goal line. The punt travel nearly 60 yards in the air. Linebacker Bryan Braman arrived at the Jets' return man at about the same instant as the ball. With assistance from Emmanuel Acho, they tackled the returner for a 9-yard loss. Throw in a penalty on the Jets and New York started the next drive at its own 15 -- a 73-yard swing.
- Benn celebrated his 43-yard touchdown catch in the first quarter by leaping into the stands behind the end zone. Benn played in Tampa Bay, not Green Bay, before coming to Philadelphia, but his modified Lambeau Leap looked pretty authentic. Benn’s finest moment -- a leaping catch between two defenders in the back of the end zone -- didn’t count. He came down out of bounds.
- Two Eagles draft picks got burned on the same Jets touchdown. Cornerback Jaylen Watkins was covering wide receiver Clyde Gates in the third quarter, and safety Ed Reynolds was in the middle of the field. As Tajh Boyd’s pass rifted down, Reynolds seemed to have a bead on it, but the ball went through his hands and Gates was able to catch it as he crossed the goal line.
- Chris Maragos had the ball in his hands twice. Both near fumbles were ruled incomplete passes, however.
- Curious moment in the second quarter: The Eagles had a fourth-and-1 deep in Jets territory. Chip Kelly decided to go for it, but a keeper by Barkley fell short. With few opportunities to compare Parkey and Henery, it seemed strange Kelly didn’t try a field goal. Then again, any attempt within 30 yards isn’t going to tell you much, anyway.
Shift at center: The Eagles released Julian Vandervelde late Tuesday afternoon with an injury settlement, getting their roster to 75. Vandervelde, the backup to center Jason Kelce last season, had surgery on his back earlier this month. But even before he was injured, Vandervelde’s job was in peril. David Molk, whom the Eagles signed back in January, had impressed Chip Kelly and the coaches with his smarts and his agility. The Eagles have been very pleased with the play of their second-team offensive line, and Molk has been a big part of that.
What’s next: The Eagles held on to all of their running backs and cornerbacks and most of their wide receivers and linebackers. Those cuts will be tougher because of special-teams considerations. The Eagles wanted to give the players one more opportunity to show their worth in the preseason. And with the starters already working on the season opener against Jacksonville, there is plenty of playing time against the Jets available.
Eagles’ cuts: TE Blake Annen, OL Michael Bamiro, OL Karim Barton, WR Kadron Boone, WR B.J. Cunningham, OL Donald Hawkins, TE Emil Igwenagu, LB Jake Knott, DE Joe Kruger, S Daytawion Lowe, DE Frances Mays, S Davon Morgan, K Carey Spear, OL Julian Vandervelde, DE Alejandro Villanueva.
For Thursday night’s preseason finale, Barkley is preparing as the starter while Nick Foles and Mark Sanchez have already begun preparing for the regular-season opener against Jacksonville.
“It’s a little different because our ones are getting their looks at the Jaguars,” Barkley said. “It’s kind of a split practice. But the fact that you know you’re going into the game, starting, and getting reps with the guys you’re playing with -- it does kind of feel like it was in the past. Different in ways, the same in some ways.”
The Eagles drafted Barkley out of USC in the fourth round of the 2013 draft. He spent the early part of his tenure here rehabbing from a shoulder injury suffered during the season. He also had a front-row seat for the competition between Foles and Michael Vick for the starting quarterback job.
Twice last season, injuries forced Barkley to finish games started by Vick and Foles. Barkley completed 61.2 percent of his passes (30 for 49), but threw four interceptions and no touchdowns.
When the offseason rolled around, Vick left for the New York Jets, and the Eagles signed Sanchez, the former Jets starter. He was supposed to come in and compete with Barkley for the No. 2 spot behind Foles, but there wasn’t much of a competition. Sanchez has had a very good preseason and locked down the No. 2 spot early on.
For Barkley, then, this game is his last chance to make an impression for a while.
“This is a really good opportunity for Matt,” Eagles offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur said. “He’s able to know days in advance that he’s starting, so he’s out here preparing to play the Jets just like it’s a regular-season game. That’s good for him, and we’ll be able to evaluate him in a really good way for a preseason game.”
Sanchez is under contract for only this season, so Barkley is still playing for his NFL future.
“He needs to play a good, efficient game at quarterback,” Shurmur said.
Barkley understands the stakes.
“I don’t have an agenda,” he said. “I want to be consistent, like I try to do every week. I’m going into this game just because I’m starting and getting more reps. I just want to be consistent. I think I’ve made big strides [since last season]. My knowledge of the offense has grown.”
“You know I’m durable,” McCoy said after practicing Sunday.
“Right now,” McCoy said, “I can’t do too much with (the thumb), as far as catching with it. I’ve got another two weeks for it to get better, and it will. The toe’s feeling good.”
McCoy said he won’t need the thumb wrapped by the time the games count.
“Catch with two hands, with one hand, spike the ball, do everything you can do,” McCoy said. “Blocking? Everything.”
The Eagles are counting on McCoy, the NFL’s leading rusher last season, to have another big season. If anything, McCoy should be even more comfortable in his second season in Chip Kelly’s offense. And Kelly has had a full year to think of new ways to unleash his running back.
“One of my favorite coaches was Andy Reid,” McCoy said. “When he left, it was hard to get over that. I was like, `Man, Coach Reid is gone.’ But that’s part of the business. I loved him so much. He pushed me a lot.”
But Kelly has different ways of getting the best from McCoy.
“He never yells,” McCoy said. “Never. He’s always talking, teaching. That’s like a challenge. I want to do it, perfect it so well, I want to get that acknowledgment. You did a good job. He’s very intelligent. He finds a lot of ways to challenge me. That’s why I like him as a coach.”
Ever since his rookie year, when he was just glad to be in the NFL, McCoy said he has sought new things to challenge himself.
“I’m always trying to find a challenge, something to compete against,” McCoy said. “I play against different running backs that people talk about all the time. I want to be one of the backs that people talk about. `How good is he?’ There’s always a challenge as players. You find ways to push yourself.”
McCoy caused a bit of a stir by declaring himself a better back than Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson. Spend enough time around McCoy, though, and you realize that’s ultimately a compliment to Peterson. He’s comparing himself to the back he considers the best of the bunch. Otherwise, there would be no point.
McCoy proved himself among the best backs in the NFL last season. His new challenge is to repeat the accomplishment despite the nagging injuries that are part of the game.
Instead of going back to his college facility to stay loose and continue working out, Parkey was flying to Philadelphia and playing in a preseason game the following night. That’s the life of a young kicker trying to land one of the 32 NFL jobs.
The challenge is almost as daunting now that Parkey is in Philadelphia. He has just a few practice days and one more preseason opportunity to convince Chip Kelly and his staff that he’s better than veteran Alex Henery.
Parkey signed with the Indianapolis Colts as an undrafted free agent. That meant competing with Adam Vinatieri, one of the best field goal kickers of all time. But it was also an opportunity to learn from Vinatieri.
“He was a great guy,” Parkey said. “I really tried to pick up everything he did that other guys don’t do. To be completely honest, he’s not much different from any other kicker in terms of what he does to warm up. But he does take very good care of his body.”
Parkey is walking into an unusual situation with the Eagles. Henery was a fourth-round draft choice in 2011, an unusually high pick for a kicker. He had been solid through his first couple NFL seasons. Last year, Henery made 23 of 28 field goal attempts during the regular season. He missed a 48-yard attempt in the Eagles’ playoff loss to New Orleans.
Special teams coach Dave Fipp said in June that it was a challenge to find a better kickoff man than Henery who was at least as accurate on field goals. The team brought in Vanderbilt kicker Cary Spear to compete with Henery, but that competition never really materialized. So the Eagles made a trade with the Colts to bring in Parkey.
It will be a short competition.
“Shorter than most,” Parkey said. “But I’m going to make the best of it just like I would anywhere else. Whether I have a week or two days or whatever, I’m going to go out and kick like it could be my last day.”
The urgency for the Eagles ratcheted up when Henery missed a 31-yard field goal try in Thursday night’s preseason game. The regular season is approaching fast, and it’s not the best time to be unsure about who the kicker is going to be.
“You have to do it,” coach Chip Kelly said before Saturday’s practice. “We’ll kick today. We’ll have kicking periods during the week and we’ve got a game to play against the Jets on Thursday. We’ll see what opportunities have a chance to express. You can say I want this guy to have six kicks, but you might not have an opportunity to kick, too. Sometimes that’s out of your hands.
“We’ll go figure it out. There’s nothing else we can do.”
“Todd [Herremans, the right guard] was thinking about me coming over to his house, I guess on Mondays, and see what’s going on from a practice standpoint,” Johnson said Saturday. “I think I’m still allowed to have my iPad, so I can still watch practice [video] and everything.”
The Eagles’ starters are already beginning to prepare for Jacksonville, the first opponent of the regular season. They will not play Thursday. Their preseason is over, and the regular season has begun. Johnson, who started all 17 games last year, knows his regular season won’t begin until Week 5. So Thursday night’s game is more than a mere chore.
“This game will be big,” Johnson said. “I’ll try to play hard this last game, try to execute well. That’s my biggest thing heading into this week.”
Johnson said it will be “hard to watch” the first four regular-season games. He is not allowed at the Eagles’ facility, and is not allowed contact with the coaching staff. But there’s no rule against him socializing with his friends, who also happen to be offensive linemen.
Herremans helped Johnson arrange the gym in Cherry Hill. And the veteran guard will also be working to help Johnson ease his way back into the lineup when he’s reinstated.
“I’m trying to make the most of it,” Johnson said, “trying to come back strong. The first couple games are going to be hard. The first two games will be the toughest. I’m trying to stay on top of communication, trying to be better than I was last year coming in.”
Head coach Chip Kelly said he hasn’t spent a lot of time planning for Johnson’s return. There are plenty of other, more pressing things on his mind. Allen Barbre will start at right tackle in Johnson’s place. By Week 5, Kelly has no idea who will be available to him.
“We haven’t discussed that,” Kelly said. “That’s long-term, down the road. I know Lane will be gone after the Jets game. I mean, Allen could be gone, too. It’s a waste of time for us to be having this conversation. All of a sudden, we spend three hours in a meeting talking about what’s the scenario and all of a sudden, our right tackle is Matt Tobin, because Allen got hurt. Hopefully, we can keep all five of those guys healthy up front.”
Johnson will be eligible to return for the Oct. 5 game against St. Louis.
“Thank God it’s only four weeks,” Johnson said. “It could be the whole season.”
“We just didn’t feel it was beneficial to the players to have them practice with us Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, then cut them in the afternoon on Tuesday,” Kelly said. “We’ll give them a chance – I don’t know if there is – to see if they can catch on with somebody else. It’s tough to bring somebody in Tuesday at 4 o’clock and bring them in and get them ready to play on Thursday. That’s just the approach we took with this group.”
The biggest name on the list was linebacker Jake Knott, who played in 12 games for the Eagles last season. Knott, who played mostly on special teams, was facing a four-game suspension to start the season for violating the NFL policy on performance enhancing drugs.
Defensive end Alejandro Villanueva, the former Army Ranger trying to resume his football career after stints in Afghanistan, was also released. So were defensive end Joe Kruger, offensive lineman Michael Bamiro and kicker Carey Spear.
The rest of the cuts: tight ends Emil Igwenagu and Blake Annen, offensive linemen Karim Barton and Donald Hawkins, wide receivers B.J. Cunningham and Kadron Boone, safeties Daytawion Lowe and Davon Morgan and defensive end Frances Mays.
None of the cuts were especially surprising. The deadline for cutting to the final 53-man roster is next Saturday. The Eagles will use their final preseason game to get a look at the players on the bubble. Kelly said his starters and some second-team players will not play against the New York Jets Thursday night.
Matt Barkley will start at quarterback against the Jets.
Since being acquired in a trade with Houston in 2012, Ryans has started all 32 games for the Eagles. Last season, he posted double-digit tackles in 11 of 17 games, including in the Eagles' playoff loss to New Orleans in a game where his interception of Drew Brees set up a Philadelphia touchdown. His 177 tackles, four sacks and two interceptions last season were all career highs.
Eagles coach Chip Kelly called Ryans a “tremendous football player (with) tremendous instincts." He called Ryans “the quarterback of our defense.”
Ryans is so valuable to the Eagles' young defense that Kelly does not want to risk him getting injured in a relatively meaningless preseason game.
“I think we feel very, very comfortable in terms of what DeMeco does,” Kelly said. “That’s why he didn’t play a ton in the first preseason game against the Patriots because I think we know what we have in DeMeco, and we need him.
“The big thing is, who else do we have at that position, and that is where that depth at inside linebacker is a key situation that we’ll continue to look at in these last two preseason games.”