Danny Watkins Headlines Cuts as Eagles Get Down to 53 Players

Danny Watkins Headlines Cuts as Eagles Get Down to 53 Players

Nothing cements a player’s bust status quite like the moment he’s released. The time came for Danny Watkins on Saturday as the Eagles trimmed their roster to 53 players in preparation for the regular season.

We knew going in to training camp that Watkins had virtually no opportunity to start. Birds head coach Chip Kelly kept nine offensive linemen on the roster altogether though, which means the 23rd-overall pick of the 2011 draft was beaten out by four others – all far less heralded players.

What’s probably most telling is the fact that Watkins’ base salary for this season – just north of $1 million – was fully guaranteed. In addition to paying him for nothing, the Eagles also have to pay the guy who’s taking his place.

Watkins showed signs of struggling almost immediately as a 26-year-old rookie. The Baylor product wasn’t ready to start until five games into his first professional season. Last year he lost his job at right guard around seven games into the campaign, though Andy Reid claimed Watkins’ absence in the lineup was due to a mysterious injury.

Just to give you an indication of the kind of company Watkins is in, Reuben Frank tells us the Baylor product became the first Eagles’ first-round pick to be released after just two seasons since defensive lineman Jon Harris in 1997.

With Watkins gone, that leaves Curtis Marsh, Casey Matthews, Alex Henery, Julian Vandervelde, and Jason Kelce on the roster from the ’11 draft – the Eagles made 11 picks that year. The only remaining players who have made meaningful contributions during their time in Philly are Henery and Kelce.

The Birds’ second-round pick in ‘11 was Jaiquawn Jarrett, who was cut after one week last season. Epic draft that was.

Of course, the subtraction of Watkins takes us one step further from the Reid era, while the Eagles getting down to 53 players puts us one step closer to the beginning of Chip’s time, which is a great thing. Cut-down day always feels like an unofficial starting point for the regular season, as the teams are finally getting close to their finished form.

Here’s a rundown of Kelly’s roster, but be warned: the Eagles likely aren’t finished making moves yet. Howie Roseman will scour the waiver wire after cut-down day for any upgrades to the back end of the roster. Other than that, this is pretty close to a final product.

Quarterback: Michael Vick, Nick Foles, Matt Barkley (3)

No surprises here, unless you thought the Eagles were going to trade Foles. Given Vick’s extensive medical history and typically erratic performance from week-to-week, it makes sense to have a capable backup, and Barkley didn’t look ready. Dennis Dixon or G.J. Kinne could make for decent scout team quarterbacks.

Running back: LeSean McCoy, Bryce Brown, Chris Polk (3)

Again, nothing earth-shattering. Matthew Tucker was one of the last to get the axe, and the undrafted rookie out of TCU had a good summer, so he could land on the practice squad should he clear waivers.

Wide receiver: DeSean Jackson, Riley Cooper, Jason Avant, Damaris Johnson, Jeff Maehl (5)

Most of the spotlight was on Greg Salas and Russell Shepard competing for the fifth spot, but Maehl pulled out the upset. Or did he? The 24 year old seemed like an afterthought given he was signed two weeks into camp – not to mention lacks great size or athleticism – but coming from Oregon he does know Chip’s system. That said, the position could be a candidate for an immediate upgrade once teams are finished with their cuts. As for Salas, Shepard, and Ifeanyi Momah, all possibilities for the practice squad.

Tight end: Brent Celek, Zach Ertz, James Casey, Emil Igwenagu (4)

Can’t believe Igwenagu made the team, beating out Clay Harbor at that. The converted fullback does contribute on special teams though, which may have given him the edge.

Offensive line: Jason Peters, Evan Mathis, Jason Kelce, Todd Herremans, Lane Johnson, Allen Barbre, Julian Vandervelde, Dennis Kelly, Matt Tobin (9)

Barbre acquitted himself okay at left tackle while Peters was nursing a hamstring, and he can play guard, too. Vandervelde is the backup center almost by default. Tobin is the guy to keep an eye on here. The 6’6”-303 lb. rookie tackle out of Iowa drew the praise of his head coach after the fourth preseason game, and in carrying him the Eagles risk Michael Bamiro not clearing waivers so they can stash him on the scout team. They must really like Tobin a lot.

Defensive line: Fletcher Cox, Isaac Sopoaga, Cedric Thornton, Bennie Logan, Clifton Geathers, Damion Square, Vinny Curry (7)

Very solid bunch with a lot of interchangeable parts. Didn’t have to cut anybody loose, which is nice. Next thing here that will be interesting is how long Sopoaga can hold on to his job. He’s been invisible in games so far.

Outside linebacker: Trent Cole, Connor Barwin, Brandon Graham (3)

Chris McCoy didn’t make the cut (possible practice squad material?), which is surprising given two of these guys aren’t really linebackers. Can’t see the Eagles being able to get by with just three, and that’s with Cole’s and Graham’s limitations in mind, so expect another move to come.

Inside linebacker: DeMeco Ryans, Mychael Kendricks, Casey Matthews, Emmanuel Acho, Jake Knott (5)

Acho and Knott played too well during the preseason to let go, and Matthews was fine while also pitching in on special teams. Could be a very deep group.

Cornerback: Cary Williams, Bradley Fletcher, Brandon Boykin, Brandon Hughes, Curtis Marsh, Jordan Poyer (6)

Hughes and Marsh stuck despite the both of them being out with a fractured hand, not to mention demonstrating little to be confident about – wouldn’t be surprised if one gets their walking papers once an outside linebacker becomes available. At least the top three are healthy and seem reasonably reliable.

Safety: Patrick Chung, Nate Allen, Kurt Coleman, Earl Wolff, Colt Anderson (5)

David Sims was the odd man out here. Would feel a lot more comfortable if Kenny Phillips had been able to beat the injury bug, but looks like the Birds will have to make do with Allen, Coleman, and Wolff opposite Chung. Anderson is still a tremendous special teamer.

Specialists: Alex Henery, Donnie Jones, Jon Dorenbos (3)

Speaking of special teamers, there they are. Hey, look at these guys.

Injured reserve: WR Jeremy Maclin, WR Arrelious Benn, LB Jason Phillips, OLB Phillip Hunt, DE Joe Kruger (5)

The Eagles managed to slip Kruger, a seventh rounder, on their IR with a shoulder injury that he had previously played through. The big name here is Maclin obviously. He sure would make this squad look a lot better, wouldn’t he?

Doug Pederson: Eagles rebound after getting 'lip bloodied a little bit'

Doug Pederson: Eagles rebound after getting 'lip bloodied a little bit'

They were great before the bye. They were bad since.

The Eagles rallied against the Lions only to lose late because of two turnovers. Then last week at Washington, they laid an egg.

But on Sunday, they looked like the pre-bye team — at least defensively — and handed the Vikings their first loss of the season.

"This is a team that for two weeks in a row has kind of got their lip bloodied a little bit," head coach Doug Pederson said after the 21-10 victory (see Instant Replay). "The Detroit game, obviously feeling sick about that one, and then last week in Washington not playing well and up to our potential.

"These guys are professionals. They know how to get themselves ready to go. I don't feel like I have to motivate them. ... They really took it upon themselves this week to really make the corrections, No. 1, from last week and the adjustments. The veterans, the leadership stood up today, took command of the game, and that's what you like to see from this group."

More from Pederson and quarterback Carson Wentz:

The defense
If the Eagles were going to win this game, the defense would have to dominate.

It did (see story).

The Vikings finished with only 282 yards from scrimmage — or 52 more than the Redskins rushed for last week against the Eagles.

The Eagles held Minnesota to 93 yards rushing (3.4 per carry) and battered Sam Bradford, who was 24 for 41 for 224 yards with a pick and a garbage-time TD. They sacked him six times (they had zero last week) and forced him to fumble four times. Bradford entered the game without a turnover this season.

"I think the guys just put it in their mind to play better than last week," Pederson understated. "Our defensive line really came off the ball today, really took it upon themselves to just attack the line of scrimmage and play on their side.

Two of the Eagles' three takeaways occurred in the red zone and in the first quarter, when the game was scoreless. They picked off Bradford on 3rd-and-goal at the 6 and forced a fumble on 1st down at the 17.

"It's huge," Pederson said. "Our defense playing as well as they did down there and stopping them. ... It was fun to watch our defense today. That's the defense that we expect every week going forward."

Bring the heat
The Eagles blitzed more than they had all season (see story). 

Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz prefers to let his front four bring the pressure, but it hadn't worked the last two weeks, and now they were facing Sam Bradford, who was familiar with the scheme.

"Anytime you know a quarterback on the other team and kind of know his strengths and weaknesses and things like that — just try to give him some different looks, put some pressure on him from different areas," Pederson said. "It was a great game plan. ... Sometimes just changing things up to help your guys be in position — we benefitted from that today, and guys did a nice job."

Going for two after a made PAT
Midway through the second quarter, Pederson took a point off the board and decided to go for two after the Vikings were penalized for hitting Caleb Sturgis on an extra point, which was successful.

Wentz made the conversion with a QB sneak.

"It was kind of a no-brainer, because you get the ball at the 1," Pederson said.

"I've got a lot of trust in our guys. If you don't work those situations in practice and talk about those situations, then yeah, negative things can happen. But I felt totally 100 percent confident in our guys to execute that play."

Another "no-brainer"
Pederson hasn't been afraid to go for it on fourth down — the Eagles entered the game 4 for 4 on fourth downs — and on Sunday he converted another.

On the aforementioned drive, the Eagles faced a 4th-and-2 at the Vikings' 44. After unsuccessfully trying to draw the Vikings offside, the Eagles called timeout ... and sent the offense back out to go for it.

"Sometimes at that point, they feel like you're going to rush the punt team out there and burn the timeout," Pederson said, "but I went with the offense. I just had total confidence that we were going to get the first down.

"It was a kind of, again, a no-brainer — almost like the two-point conversion."

The play was an run-pass option ... until Wentz dropped the snap. He then ran six yards for the first.

"Obviously when he dropped it, at that point, it was run all the way," Pederson said. "But great execution."

"One more shot"
With 15 seconds left in the first half, the Eagles had the ball at the Minnesota 17. 

Pederson sent out the field goal unit for a 35-yarder, but when the Vikings called timeout to ice Sturgis, it gave Pederson time to change his mind.

The offense came back onto the field. Wentz threw incomplete to Jordan Matthews in the end zone, and then Sturgis came back and hit the field goal.

"Take one more shot," Pederson said. "Max the protection. It's two-man route. It's either a completion or an incomplete pass."

Wentz said there was "a little indecisiveness on the sideline," but once the play was decided on ... 

"It was just a max protect throw to Jordan or throw it away," Wentz said. 'It was pretty plain and simple: Don't take a sack."

All's well that ends well
Wentz botched a handoff. He threw two ugly interceptions in the first quarter. 

OK, those things happen (see Wentz's overall evaluation).

But he also dropped three snaps. How?

"I'm not really sure," Wentz said. "I just have to catch the ball, for starters. Some of them were a little off, but those are the things that we have to clean up."

On one of the dropped snaps, he converted the 4th-and-2. On another, he recovered and found Darren Sproles for a 19-yard gain.

Now, about those interceptions. On the first, he overthrew a blanketed Brent Celek. On the second, he forced a throw to Nelson Agholor with too much purple around.

"That one was 3rd-and-12, and there's no need to force that one," Wentz said. "As a quarterback, sometimes that happens. There's really no rhyme or reason. You see things and you kick yourself in the tail after the play, but you learn from it and move on."

Picks aside, Wentz's numbers weren't pretty — 16 for 28 passing for 138 yards with a TD. Pederson said Wentz "might have been pressing a little bit early" but overall "played efficient."

"Love the way he settled in," Pederson said. "There was no panic for him and any of us on the sideline."

Big V
Wentz was sacked five times last week. On Sunday, he wasn't sacked at all.

The Eagles at times max-protected, but they also benefitted from the improved play of rookie right tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai, who was in his second game in place of suspended Lane Johnson.

Pederson said he didn't help Vaitai as much as he did against Washington.

"I felt he kind of settled in this week, did a nice job," Pederson said. "The run game obviously helps. ... We were in some two tight-end sets a little more today, and that obviously helped him a little bit. We'll evaluate the film tomorrow, but I thought overall he did a nice job."

Josh Huff's acrobatic kick return touchdown sparks Eagles to win

Josh Huff's acrobatic kick return touchdown sparks Eagles to win

For the first 40 yards of Josh Huff’s kick return touchdown on Sunday, he went untouched.

When he got to the Eagles’ 42-yard line, Vikings kicker Blair Walsh was the only guy left in his way.

Huff ran through him.

“Yeah, I can’t let a kicker tackle me,” Huff said. “If he would have tackled me, I really would have been pissed at myself.”

The 170-pound Walsh couldn’t make the tackle and was sent spinning as Huff ran through. Fifty-six yards later, Huff took off from the 2-yard line, flipping into the end zone to give the Eagles their first lead in an eventual 21-10 win over the Vikings (see Instant Replay).

Huff said he knew he was scoring as soon as he saw that he had just the kicker to beat.

With the Eagles’ down 3-0 and with their offense sputtering through the first quarter and change, Huff’s play was a game-changer (see 10 Observations).

“Josh did a great job on the return,” head coach Doug Pederson said. “[Special teams coordinator] Dave Fipp really has those guys ready every single week. You need those things. You need special teams scores.”

After Wendell Smallwood’s kick return touchdown last week, this is the first time in franchise history the Eagles have had kick return touchdowns in back-to-back games. They also have the NFL’s only two kick return touchdowns of the season (see Standout Plays).

“It’s super cool,” Smallwood said. “Now teams have to pick their poison. They can’t go away from one. They can’t say they’re not going to kick to Smallwood, then they kick to Huff and he takes it. I think we’re going to get a lot of teams’ attention.”

Huff also had a role in the Eagles’ offense against the Vikings. He caught four passes for 39 yards, including two that picked up first downs. His 14-yarder in the third helped set up the touchdown that sealed the win for the Eagles.

This season hasn’t been great offensively for Huff. He is clearly the Eagles’ fourth wideout and came into Sunday with just eight catches for 24 yards.

“Obviously, I want to play good on offense, but we have three great guys in front of me,” Huff said. “I’m doing what I can to stay ready and I’m at my best when those guys do need me. At the end of the day, as long as I’m doing my job and as long as I stay ready, today was evident. Whenever they call my number, I’m going to make the most of my opportunities.”

Huff finished off his 98-yard kick return touchdown the same way he finished off his 41-yard receiving touchdown in New England last year: With a flip.

Huff took off from the 2-yard line and did a front flip, landing in the middle in the black end zone on his backside.

“It’s just something that happens,” Huff said. “Everybody says I should have stuck the landing, but I’m not a gymnast.”