Which running backs make the roster? What happens with DeAndre Carter? What area am I most concerned with? What would I do with Chandon Sullivan? How impressive was Anthony Denham?
Here’s Thursday night’s Roob’s 10 instant observations off the Eagles’ 10-9 win over the Jets at the Linc in the preseason finale.
We’ll see you next Thursday when we do it for real!
1. I went into the game thinking Josh Adams was going to solidify his hold on the fourth running back spot with a productive game. But it was really a pedestrian evening for Adams, the undrafted rookie from Warrington, Pennsylvania. He ran 13 times for 27 yards (2.1 per carry) with a long gain of six yards. Meanwhile, Donnel Pumphrey, who I gave no chance to stick, made his preseason debut a good one with three catches for 39 yards. What now? Adams? Pumphrey? Wendell Smallwood? The fourth running back isn’t going to get many carries, but the Eagles clearly like Pumphrey’s receiving ability coming out of the backfield on third down, and with a lot of question marks about the wide receiving corps early in the season, maybe Pumphrey makes the roster as a hybrid running back/slot receiver. Smallwood is the known quantity. Matt Jones piled up good numbers Thursday night against the Jets' scrubs. Tricky. My guess: The Eagles will be too concerned about losing Adams to release him. He’s 21. He’s got a world of upside. You don’t give up on a guy because he had a disappointing fourth preseason game running behind a terrible, makeshift offensive line. I’d keep Pumphrey on the practice squad, and if you ever need Smallwood, he’ll probably still be available.
2. We’ve seen a lot of unheralded receivers flash during the preseason only to get released, and we never hear from them again. I feel like Carter is different. And not just because it would be such a great story. Carter has been released six times by five teams and at 25 years old has never played in a regular-season game. He’s dedicated his career to his younger brother, Kaylan Carter, who was just 17 when he died in 2013. Here’s Dave Zangaro’s story on DeAndre.
But you don’t keep him on the roster because it’s a great story. You keep him on the roster because he’s consistently shown himself to be quite a playmaker. He’s got a catch of at least 19 yards in all four preseason games and with 2 for 37 Thursday night he finished the preseason 10 for 178 playing with a variety of quarterbacks. And that’s without OTAs. Carter didn’t even sign here until a few days into training camp, and that’s not easy to do. Here’s what I like best about Carter Thursday night: soon after making an 18-yard catch from Joe Callahan, he was first down the field on a punt and despite getting held by Parry Nickerson of the Jets, he fought through it and downed the ball on the 7-yard line. I like this kid. He’s on my 53.
3. Still, gotta say I’m a little concerned about the state of the wide receiver position beyond Nelson Agholor. Mike Wallace didn’t do anything this preseason, Shelton Gibson and Carter were very good but have never done it in the regular season. We’ve barely seen Mack Hollins, and Kamar Aiken and Markus Wheaton were invisible. The Eagles need one of those guys — Gibson, Carter or Hollins most likely — to contribute right off the bat because as good as Agholor is, he’ll need some help until Alshon Jeffery gets back.
4. I’ve seen the theory that because Nate Sudfeld didn’t play Nick Foles is starting the opener. The thinking being that if Carson Wentz was going to play against Atlanta, Sudfeld would be No. 3 and would have played Thursday night. But if Foles is going to start, Sudfeld would be No. 2 and wouldn’t play. Honestly, I wouldn’t look that deeply into it. The Eagles have seen a lot of Sudfeld — he threw 74 passes in the first three preseason games, most in the NFL coming into this weekend — and Thursday night they wanted to get a long look at Christian Hackenberg. I still think Wentz starts the opener. Maybe the doctors don’t like his MRI, but based on everything I’ve seen? He’s flat-out ready.
5. Sullivan has no chance of making the 53-man roster, but he’s yet another talented young corner the Eagles developed who’s been impressive. Sullivan is only 22, an undrafted rookie out of Georgia State, and had an impressive preseason that was interrupted for a bit by a concussion. But he made an athletic interception down by the goal line Thursday night and you can bet he’ll find his way onto the practice squad. It wasn’t that long ago the Eagles couldn’t find one promising young corner. Now they have half a dozen of them. It speaks volumes of the scouting department and the coaching chops of secondary coach Cory Undlin.
6. Was really cool to see Denham catch three passes for 46 yards, including a diving 22-yarder in the fourth quarter, just three days after spending the day lying on his couch at his home in Phoenix thinking for all the world that his NFL career was over. Denham, a veteran tight end, wasn’t in a training camp this summer, but with Richard Rodgers banged up and the Eagles looking for tight end depth, he signed on Tuesday, practiced once, and went out and played Thursday night, his first game action in a year.
Here’s my story on his overnight flight to Philly to join the Eagles.
So against the Jets, he looked awfully good. What next? We’ll see. He actually has a chance to make this team. But just getting out there and holding his own after spending all summer out of football is pretty impressive. You can’t help but root for a guy like that.
7. I didn’t put Steven Means on my final 53-man roster, but he really does bring a lot to the table as an energy guy and extra pass rusher. The Eagles are so stocked with pass rushers, they don’t really need Means, but I get the feeling Jim Schwartz really likes having him around, and it wouldn’t surprise me if the Eagles find a spot for him.
8. Hackenberg was dreadful. Two interceptions, a fumble and 7 for 16 for 69 yards. For a passer rating of 16.9. But you know what? Why not keep him around on the practice squad? He was a second-round pick two years ago for a reason. There has to be something there somewhere. We saw his athleticism, with 5 for 66 rushing. Hack’s been here only a couple weeks. Who knows — with a full year of learning under Doug Pederson, maybe he becomes a viable NFL backup. Nothing to lose. As bad as he was, I’d do it.
9. It’s astonishing how far Jordan Mailata has come. It was just a few months ago he lined up for his very first football practice and a month and a half ago put on shoulder pads for the first time. It was Aug. 9 that he played in the first football game of his life. And he’s come so far it’s insane. Not only has he locked up a roster spot as a backup offensive tackle, he’s at the point now where if he had to play in a real game, I believe he’d acquit himself well.
10. I’ve been really surprised and impressed with Cameron Johnston. Tough to follow Donnie Jones, the best punter in Eagles history, but Johnston was really consistent this summer. He had net averages of 43.8, 46.6, 44.8 and 43.6 in the four preseason games with eight inside the 20 and just one touchback. Can’t ask for more than that.