Five Position Battles to Watch
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) - With the all important dress-rehearsal game on deck and the cutdowns to 75 and then 53 looming, most of the Eagles’ projected roster has started to come into focus.
There still are a few jobs to be won, however, and here are the position battles you should be eyeing closely when Philadelphia visits the Indianapolis Colts on Saturday:
Chris Pantale vs. Dillon Gordon - What does a fourth tight end have to do with an undrafted backup offensive lineman?
Not much expect the two could be fighting for the 53rd spot on this roster. Earlier in training camp, Doug Pederson talked about Pantale being on this team as a fait accompli but ever since the pads went on, the Boston College product hasn’t looked as impressive. He still, however, has handled the most reps as the team’s fullback and adds the ability to also play as an h-back or a traditional y-back.
The 6-foot-6, 320-pound Gordon, meanwhile, was an oversized tight end in college at LSU that the Eagles started at offensive guard. He’s since been tried at tackle and as a fullback in short-yardage situations with some already starting to make the comparisons to Jason Peters, who once upon a time was an was an undrafted tight end coming out of Arkansas before developing into an All-Pro left tackle.
ADVANTAGE: Pantale - Gordon has the bigger upside as a player but he is as raw as it gets and is tailor-made for the practice squad. If the Eagles feel another team would pluck Gordon off waivers things could change but it’s hard to imagine anyone redshirting him for a full year on the active roster.
"He's really come on these last couple of weeks," Pederson said when talking about Pantale this week. "(Fullback is) a new position really, back there for him. He's a tall guy. He's a lanky guy with length. So for him, it's a matter of keeping his pad level down, bending at the knees and the waist, and maintaining that leverage. He's done a good job here the last week."
Marcus Smith vs. Steven Means - The fourth defensive end in Jim Schwartz’s rotation comes down to these two and Means really showed up on the pass rush when Smith was caught up in the league's concussion protocol. That said, Schwartz has consistently raved about Smith’s athletic ability and he seems intrigued by the former first-round pick’s skill set and how it might translate to a defense that seems better suited for him.
"You guys were probably on Steven Means before anybody else because you saw the same things we saw. And Marcus was doing really well," Schwartz said earlier this week.
"The thing I'm most proud about with Marcus is that he's done a good job in the run game. ...He’s a very skilled athlete. He's fast and he's smooth. I think he was a quarterback when he first went to Louisville. I mean, that stuff shows. Where he's really making good improvement is setting the edge of our defense (and) attacking tackles. He did that against a physical group from Pittsburgh. That was a great sign."
Quentin Gause vs. Myke Tavarres - Stephen Tulloch’s arrives means five of the likely six linebacker slots are accounted for (Tulloch, Jordan Hicks, Mychal Kendricks, Nigel Bradham and Najee Goode). That leaves the two undrafted rookies fending for the last spot and although Tavarres came in with the higher expectations and a significant $90,000 signing bonus, Gause has outperformed him and is the leader in the clubhouse heading to Indy.
ADVANTAGE: Gause - Special teams will likely decide this battle and Tavares needs to make a splash and quickly
Cody Parkey vs. Caleb Sturgis - Donnie Jones’ errant punt that landed on Sturgis’ noggin in Pittsburgh is the only reason we are even discussing this battle anymore. Sturgis has outkicked Parkey consistently this summer and now that Sturgis has quickly been cleared from concussion protocol and continued to perform better in what the media could see at practice this week, it looks like Parkey has run out of time.
Rueben Randle vs. Chris Givens - Dorial Green Beckham’s arrival has put the two veterans on the bubble and they are likely fighting for the final slot in this group because Josh Huff’s value on kick returns will keep him safe. Meanwhile, if the Eagles decide to keep six WRs that’s being done to find a spot for undrafted rookie free agent slot option Paul Turner.
Randle is a more well-rounded player than Givens but his laissez-faire attitude can wear on the coaches and his teammates, as evidenced by what went on with the New York Giants. Givens, meanwhile, offers something Jordan Matthews, Nelson Agholor, Green-Beckham, Huff, Turner, and Randle do not, legitimate deep speed.
"Both of them really have come on," Pederson said. "I think with Chris' skill set, a speed guy, he's done a nice job catching the ball this week – as all of them have done. Rueben is kind of the veteran, the savvy guy, the smooth, more of the silky runner. And (they are) really two veteran guys that lead that young receiver group."
ADVANTAGE: Givens - His history with Sam Bradford and the ability to translate better to special teams gives Givens a leg up.
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen