5 under-the-radar Eagles to watch in 2014


5 under-the-radar Eagles to watch in 2014

You barely heard his name all season. You couldn’t pick him out of a lineup. You’re the biggest Eagles fan in the Delaware Valley and you still wouldn’t recognize him if he stood right in front of you, with a name tag on his chest pocket.

That was Eagles defensive tackle Cedric Thornton before this season, before he emerged as one of the NFL’s best run-stopping defensive linemen.

It could be someone else in 2014.

The Eagles will continue to build their roster through free agency and the draft this offseason, but they also have several in-house candidates who can emerge from obscurity to carve their niche on next year’s team.

The following is a breakdown of five guys on the current roster who either made little or no contributions in 2013 but should challenge for playing time next year. This is based on interviews with Eagles coaches, players and front office personnel from throughout the season.

Matt Tobin, OT/OG
In all likelihood, the Eagles will return all five starting offensive linemen who cleared the way for LeSean McCoy to lead the NFL in rushing, but Tobin developed nicely during his rookie season and could push Todd Herremans at right guard next camp. If you didn’t notice, Tobin leapfrogged second-year lineman Dennis Kelly on the depth chart and was active three times during the season. Tobin, an unsigned free agent out of Iowa, competed at tackle throughout training camp but started taking snaps at guard in practice during the season. He played guard at Iowa before moving to tackle, so he’s not unfamiliar with the position. The team likes Tobin’s athleticism and teammates say Jason Peters took a liking to the rookie, taking him under his wing and helping Tobin pick up some extra tricks of the trade. He just needs to add some lower body strength this offseason. (By the way, I’m frequently asked about offensive tackle Michael Bamiro and I’m frequently told he’s still a work in progress).

Travis Long, OLB
Long, an undrafted rookie from Washington State, spent the entire season on the practice squad, but teammates rave about his size and upside. They compare the 6-foot-4, 252-pound outside linebacker to Connor Barwin for his ability to play multiple roles in a 3-4 scheme and for his pass rush and hand techniques. Long had 9.5 sacks his senior year at Washington State, where he played defensive end/outside linebacker in the 3-4 front before his season ended early with a knee injury that caused him to go undrafted. With Trent Cole facing an uncertain future and Brandon Graham unlikely to return, Long should be competing for a backup spot in camp and could eventually carve his niche in the sub packages.

Joe Kruger, DE
Kruger, a seventh-round pick in 2013, spent the season on injured reserve with a shoulder injury that he suffered in the preseason. The team could have waived him with a settlement but liked his development at training camp and saw enough potential to place him on injured reserve. Kruger probably won’t unseat Fletcher Cox or Thornton but backup defensive end Clifton Geathers is headed for free agency. Either way, Kruger will compete for a roster spot at camp.

Emil Igwenagu, TE
The team faces a tough decision on No. 3 tight end James Casey this offseason. Casey is due $4 million next season, a steep price for a third-string tight end. With the quick development of Zach Ertz and Chip Kelly’s fondness for Brent Celek, the Eagles could cut Casey and move on with Igwenagu, whose skill set is similar to Casey’s. Igwenagu, in his second season, edged Clay Harbor for the No. 4 tight end job out of camp but didn’t stick around long. He spent six weeks on the 53-man roster before being released and re-signed to the practice squad. The Eagles liked Casey because he played fullback and H-back along with tight end, which are also the positions Igwenagu played in college at Massachusetts. (And you know Chip likes his New Englanders).

Keelan Johnson, S
There should be plenty of job competition at safety, especially with three -- Nate Allen, Kurt Coleman and Colt Anderson -- facing expiring contracts on March 8 and and Patrick Chung likely shown the door. The Eagles promoted Johnson from the practice squad Dec. 17 and played him in two games on special teams. He came over from Miami after the roster cutdown date and needed time to learn Kelly’s program and Billy Davis’ defense. Johnson was a playmaker at Arizona State and will get a better chance to showcase his skills at the OTAs and training camp.

Eagles 21, Vikings 10: Standout plays

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Eagles 21, Vikings 10: Standout plays

Reviewing the standout plays from the Eagles' 21-10 victory over the Vikings:

1. First quarter: Pick your turnover
There were six in the first half and five in the first quarter -- four coming on consecutive possessions in the first quarter.

Carson Wentz threw two interceptions. Brent Celek may have been interfered with on the first, but the second was all on Wentz. He dodged the rush and actually had some time, but forced it into triple coverage.

Sam Bradford had one. He was hit by Brandan Graham, and Rodney McLeod came down with the pick.

Wentz and Darren Sproles botched a snap, but the Eagles got the ball right back when Connor Barwin hit Bradford's arm just before it went forward and Malcolm Jenkins recovered. Jenkins returned it for a touchdown, but after a review he was ruled down because Rudolph had touched him.

In the second quarter, Rodney McLeod stripped Bradford, Beau Allen -- in for injured Bennie Logan -- recovered and it led to a field goal.

2. Second quarter: Josh Huff's 98-yard kickoff return for a touchdown
After Blair Walsh scored the game's first points with a 48-yard field goal that barely made it over the crossbar, Huff caught the ensuing kickoff at the 2-yard line and bolted straight ahead. 

He ran through Walsh, and just when it looked like Vikings CB Marcus Sherels might catch him, Huff stepped on the gas and flipped into the end zone for his second career kickoff return for a score.

Doug Pederson then elected to take the successful PAT off the board after Vikings safety Harrison Smith was flagged for roughing the kicker, and Wentz gave the Eagles two more points with a sneak.

3. Second quarter: Going for it on 4th-and-2 at the Vikings' 44
With 1:21 left in the first half, the Eagles lined up to go for it and tried to draw the Vikings offside. When that didn't work, they called timeout ... and then went for it again. 

Wentz dropped the snap, picked it up and sprinted left for six yards and the first down.

The drive ended when Caleb Sturgis hit a 35-yard field goal that followed yet another odd sequence. Sturgis, with 15 seconds left in the half, attempted a field goal, but the Vikings called timeout to ice him. Pederson then sent out his offense, and Wentz threw incomplete to Jordan Matthews in the end zone before Sturgis returned to hit the field goal.

4. Third quarter: Mathews' 27-yard catch/run/hurdle
On 1st-and-10 at their own 45, Mathews took a short pass and sprinted 27 yards, ending it by hurdling a Vikings defender. It matched the game's longest play from scrimmage to that point (Vikings WR Adam Thielen had a 27-yard catch).

On the next play, Wentz dropped the snap but picked it up and tossed it to Sproles for a 19-yard gain to the Vikings' 9-yard line. The play resembled Sproles' 73-yard touchdown catch/run Week 3 against the Steelers.

After Wentz dropped yet another snap (his third of the game in addition to the botched handoff), he hit Dorial Green-Beckham, who barely crossed the goal line for the game's first offensive touchdown, a 5-yarder. 

5. Third quarter: Jordan Hicks bats ball in Bradford's face
This play didn't have a major overall impact but was just symbolic of how the Eagles' D besieged Bradford all afternoon. Hicks chased down Bradford and whacked the ball after Bradford tried to throw it away. 

The Eagles sacked Bradford six times, forced him to fumble four times and picked him off once. He completed 24 of 41 passes for 224 yards, a garbage-time TD, which helped boost his passer rating to 71.6.

6. Fourth quarter: Stopping Asiata on 4th-and-1 at the Eagles' 6-yard line
Matt Asiata's 29-yard run on 3rd-and-14 would have had this spot, but the drive ended when Allen and company stuffed Asiata here to get the Eagles the ball back.

7. Fourth quarter: Sherels' fumbled punt
The Eagles went nowhere in the following possession, and Donnie Jones got off a non-Donnie Jones-like punt that Sherels tried to catch on a bounce, didn't, and Trey Burton recovered it. 

The Eagles followed by driving 47 yards in nine plays for a 21-yard field goal that made it 21-3.

Instant Replay: Eagles 21, Vikings 10

The Associated Press

Instant Replay: Eagles 21, Vikings 10


Now that was the Eagles’ defense we saw at the start of the season. 
And it completely wrecked Sam Bradford’s return to Philadelphia. 
The Eagles didn’t get a ton going offensively Sunday, but they didn’t need to. The offense did just enough late, special teams came up big and Jim Schwartz’s unit was absolutely impenetrable as the Eagles’ beat the Vikings, 21-10, at the Linc.
With the win, the Eagles improved to 4-2 and prevented a three-game losing streak. They also handed the Vikings (5-1) their first loss of the season. 
While Schwartz’s defense is predicated on the front four getting pressure without blitzing, he dialed up a ton of them Sunday and really seemed to get Bradford off his game in his return to the Linc. 
After taking an 11-3 lead into the second half, the Eagles scored their first offensive touchdown since the Detroit game on the tail end of a 77-yard drive. Carson Wentz hit Dorial Green-Beckham for DGB’s first touchdown as an Eagle. 
The Eagles also benefitted from four Vikings turnovers on the day. The Eagles had four turnovers too, but were able to overcome them. 
The Eagles have allowed 10 or fewer points in three of their first six games. This is the first time they’ve done that since 2000 and the ninth time they’ve done it in franchise history. They would have held the Vikings to three points without a garbage-time touchdown with 34 seconds left. 
Through six games, the Eagles have a point differential of plus-68. That’s the best point differential they’ve had through six games since 2004 (77). 
Turning point
Josh Huff returned a second-quarter kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown to give the Eagles’ their first lead of the game. He flipped into the end zone for his second-career kick return touchdown. 
This is the first time in Eagles’ history they’ve had back-to-back weeks with kick return touchdowns. 
Key stat
The Eagles sacked Bradford six times Sunday and applied constant pressure from everywhere. Sunday was the first six-sack game for the Eagles since 2014. 
First half
The Eagles took an 11-3 lead into the locker room after a bizarre first half. The first quarter saw six combined first downs and five turnovers for a 0-0 score after a long 15 minutes. 
The second quarter finally brought some scoring. The Vikings kicked things off with a 48-yard Blair Walsh field goal. 
The Eagles got on the board when Huff returned the ensuing kickoff 98 yards. Then the Eagles added a field goal late in the second quarter. 
While the Eagles’ defense blitzed and got to Sam Bradford in the first half, their offense wasn’t great. Carson Wentz completed just 45 percent of his first-half passes for 53 yards and two interceptions. 
Still, the Eagles' defense allowed just a field goal and forced the Vikings into three turnovers. 
Offensive stud
The offensive line, even with a couple injuries, had a pretty good day protecting Wentz, who wasn’t sacked. 
Offensive dud
Wentz didn’t have his best performance. He had just one interception coming into Sunday and threw two in the first half. He did do enough to help the Eagles hang on for the win, though. 
Defensive stud
Rodney McLeod had a big game. He had a sack, a forced fumble and an interception all in the first half. McLeod wasn’t the only one. Brandon Graham, Malcolm Jenkins and Connor Barwin also made big plays. 
And Schwartz really deserves a game ball. He called an incredible game. 
Defensive dud
No Eagle deserves this award from Sunday. 
Bennie Logan (groin) was inactive after missing practice all week. 
The Eagles lost corner Ron Brooks with a right knee injury in the first quarter. It looked serious. Linebacker/special teamer Kamu Grugier-Hill hurt his hamstring and left early. 
Brandon Brooks (ankle) left briefly but returned. Jason Peters (bicep) also suffered an injury, but it didn’t seem too serious; he never went into the locker room. 
Up next
Two straight division games. The Eagles travel to Dallas next week to face the Cowboys and then drive to North Jersey to face the Giants the following week.