Spe­cial teams will be deal­mak­ers for fi­nal ros­ter de­ci­sions

The Morning Call - - SPORTS - By Nick Fierro

PHILADEL­PHIA — When the Ea­gles take the field at MetLife Stadium to play the New York Jets Thurs­day night, pay par­tic­u­lar at­ten­tion to punts, kick­offs and field-goal at­tempts, be­cause what hap­pens on these plays will have much more to do with who sur­vives the fi­nal ros­ter cuts that will come two days later than how they ac­tu­ally per­form at their po­si­tions.

Re­ceivers like Marken Michel and Greg Ward, for ex­am­ple, have proved time and again that they can help a team with their route-run­ning and pass­catch­ing abil­i­ties. But how fast they get down the field and tackle on kick and punt cov­er­age will de­ter­mine if ei­ther has a shot to catch on as a fifth or sixth re­ceiver, be­cause fifth and sixth re­ceivers who can’t do those things at a high level are es­sen­tially worth­less.

Coach Doug Ped­er­son on Tues­day talked about the in­put spe­cial teams co­or­di­na­tor Dave Fipp of­ten has on those fi­nal de­ci­sions, which many times are not as ex­cru­ci­at­ing as per­ceived be­cause of how cer­tain play­ers flash on spe­cial teams and oth­ers don’t.

“Ob­vi­ously his voice, his opin­ion mat­ters,” Ped­er­son said of Fipp. “I stress a lot with this foot­ball team that it takes all three phases, of­fense, de­fense and spe­cial teams. He has a re­ally good im­pact on the bot­tom, say the bot­tom third or so of the ros­ter, and re­ally even some of our starters that have to play. We ask a starter from time to time to play at least one unit of spe­cial teams.

“So he sees these guys work ev­ery day in drill work and the spe­cial-teams por­tion of prac­tice. It makes a dif­fer­ence. It makes an im­pact on the guys we keep at the bot­tom.”

This is es­pe­cially true for the Ea­gles at re­ceiver and also line­backer, a spot in which only two play reg­u­larly with the de­fense be­cause they’re in the nickel around 70 per­cent of the time but up to six could be car­ried on the ros­ter.

The last safety they keep also bet­ter be able to make a dif­fer­ence on spe­cial teams, although in the Ea­gles’ case, given what hap­pened last year, ev­ery mem­ber of the sec­ondary must be ready to get thrown in with the de­fense too.

With all that in mind, here’s what we’ll be look­ing at with ex­tra scru­tiny on Thurs­day night:

Line­backer: Be­cause Kamu GrugierHil­l (knee) won’t be ready to start the sea­son and Nigel Brad­ham (foot) might not be, the de­ci­sions here will be all that more im­por­tant. Does an un­drafted rookie like T.J. Ed­wards, for ex­am­ple

have what it takes to beat out play­ers like T.J. Ed­wards, Alex Sin­gle­ton, Chris Wor­ley and newly ac­quired Hayes Bullard for the fi­nal spot?

“I think just try­ing to at­tack ev­ery day and make sure that I’m still get­ting bet­ter is what I’m re­ally fo­cused on,” Ed­wards said. “I think I’ve done well [in camp]. I think I came in and have done what they asked me to do and tried to make my­self bet­ter in any way pos­si­ble.”

Wide re­ceiver: As men­tioned, how play­ers ac­quit them­selves on spe­cial teams will be cru­cial. So it might not be so much what they do with the of­fense that de­ter­mines who makes the cut.

Still, Michel, Ward, Charles John­son and Carl­ton Agu­dosi all seem de­serv­ing, but maybe none of them make it if the team goes with just five re­ceivers.

This is be­cause Mack Hollins is a proven spe­cial-teamer and be­cause Al­shon Jef­fery, DeSean Jack­son, Nel­son Agholor and J.J. Arcega-White­side are locks.

Safety: There are some in­ter­est­ing bat­tles go­ing on here, be­cause prob­a­bly only starters Mal­colm Jenk­ins and Rodney McLeod are locks.

Even An­drew Sen­dejo, an ac­com­plished vet­eran and al­most cer­tainly the next best at this spot, might not make it be­cause the Ea­gles would gain a fourthroun­d com­pen­satory pick in next year’s draft if he doesn’t make it. So if they feel they’d be just as good or al­most as good with some kind of com­bi­na­tion of Trae

El­ston, Johnathan Cy­prien, Rudy Ford, Deion­dré Hall and Ja­son Thomp­son, Sen­dejo could be gone.

Cen­ter: That the Ea­gles have moved un­drafted rookie guard Nate Her­big into the No. 2 spot ahead of strug­gling vet­eran Ste­fen Wis­niewski is all the more re­mark­able con­sid­er­ing Her­big never played the po­si­tion be­fore.

And yet … “I haven’t had a bad [shot­gun] snap yet,” he said Mon­day, “so I’m go­ing to keep rock­ing with that.”

Sure looks like Her­big is poised to beat out Wis­niewski for that key backup guard/cen­ter role.

Tight end: This foot in­jury for Richard Rodgers could be more se­ri­ous than the Ea­gles are let­ting on. They say he’s week to week, but it sure doesn’t look like he’s go­ing to be ready for the opener.

If that’s the case, an ex­tra spot could pop open for Josh Perkins, Alex El­lis or Will Tye.

Again, pay at­ten­tion to spe­cial teams.

Right tackle: Jor­dan Mailata has been get­ting the bulk of the reps all pre­sea­son, but a back in­jury could force him out of this game, clear­ing the way for newly ac­quired Army vet­eran Brett Toth to get ex­tended ac­tion and maybe fi­nally show what he can do.

Toth was set to play the rest of the fourth quar­ter last Thurs­day, but the game was called be­fore that hap­pened. So he will see the first NFL pre­sea­son ac­tion of his ca­reer in this game.

Should be in­ter­est­ing.

MATT ROURKE/AP

Wide re­ceiver Marken Michel is one of sev­eral play­ers try­ing to make the Ea­gles’ fi­nal ros­ter with his play on spe­cial teams.

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