5 under-the-radar Eagles to watch in 2014

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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.

Now 22/1 to win Super Bowl, Eagles also the NFC East favorite

Now 22/1 to win Super Bowl, Eagles also the NFC East favorite

The Eagles crushed a Super Bowl contender on Sunday at the Linc. And Vegas took notice.

According to Bovada, the Eagles' odds to win the Super Bowl went from 33/1 to 22/1. Just nine teams have shorter odds to win the Super Bowl. The Patriots are tops at 15/4, followed by the Packers (8/1) and the team the Eagles beat, the Steelers (9/1).

With the win, the Eagles also became the favorite to win the NFC East, going from 11/4 to 2/1. They're followed by the Cowboys and Giants (both at 11/5) and last year's division champs, Washington, is at 6/1.

The Eagles are also 12/1 to win the NFC.

Of course, the biggest story for the Eagles this season has been the emergence of rookie quarterback Carson Wentz. He had his first 300-yard passing game Sunday and was named the NFC's Offensive Player of the Week. His odds to win MVP went from 50/1 to 33/1. Those are the same odds as Drew Brees and Eli Manning.

Meanwhile, former Eagles quarterback and current Minnesota Viking Sam Bradford went from 50/1 to 25/1 to win MVP.

While Wentz's MVP odds shortened, his odds to win Rookie of the Year actually got longer, going from 8/5 to 7/4. That could have something to do with the odds of Ezekiel Elliot (7/4), Dak Prescott (5/1) and Sterling Shepard (7/1) all improving.

NFL Notes: Texans place J.J. Watt on IR; Dez Bryant misses practice

NFL Notes: Texans place J.J. Watt on IR; Dez Bryant misses practice

HOUSTON — The Houston Texans placed star defensive end J.J. Watt on injured reserve Wednesday and his return this season is in doubt.

Coach Bill O'Brien said Watt had re-injured his back and putting him on IR was the best thing for his long-term health. The team was still exploring the injury and it's unclear if it will require surgery. Watt is not expected back before December, if at all.

Watt, who has won Defensive Player of the Year for the past two seasons, missed training camp and Houston's four preseason games after surgery in July to repair a herniated disk in his back. He started each of the team's three regular-season games and got hurt again Thursday against the Patriots.

Watt tweeted a statement that did not provide details on his injury. It began with: "Adversity sucks. Your attitude towards it doesn't have to. I will be back."

"This won't be fun, but it is necessary in order for me to return to 100 percent and play at the level that I am capable of playing at," the post said. "Everybody deals with adversity in their lives, many much worse than what I'm going through. I have great people around me and I appreciate the thoughts and well wishes from all of you. I am looking forward to the fight back to the top and to the next time that I can step back on that field with my brothers to play the game that I love."

It's a major blow for Houston, which selected Watt with the 11th overall pick in the 2011 draft. Watt has played 83 consecutive games for the Texans despite various injuries, including torn core muscles and a broken hand last season.

This was a tough offseason for Watt, who had surgery in January to repair five torn core muscles before going under the knife again in July to repair his back.

Cowboys: Dez Bryant has hairline fracture in knee
FRISCO, Texas — Dez Bryant has a slight hairline fracture in a bone in his right knee, though Dallas Cowboys coach Jason Garrett says the receiver might not miss a game.

Bryant didn't practice Wednesday, three days after getting hurt in a win over Chicago, and the same day the team got back results of an MRI.

Garrett said he has been told that some players never miss time with that kind of injury.

"We've had players with this kind of injury who missed no time in the past and other players who have missed up to a week or more than that," Garrett said. "We don't think it's something that will keep him out for an extended period of time. It will be a day-by-day, week-by-week situation."

Bryant injured the knee on his first catch on the opening series against the Bears, but came back in the first quarter. He caught his first touchdown of the season in the fourth quarter of the 31-17 win.

Bryant missed seven games last year after breaking his foot in the opener. He also dealt with knee and ankle injuries last season.

The 2014 All-Pro went down awkwardly on his right leg when he was tackled by Bears linebacker Christian Jones on the second play of the game.

"He's taking it day by day and I think he feels better than he felt after the game, but again he doesn't feel good enough to practice today," Garrett said. "That's certainly an indication of where he is."

Chiefs: Charles closer to returning
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles could make his season debut Sunday night at Pittsburgh, though coach Andy Reid acknowledged that it would depend on how he practices this week.

Charles has not played since tearing the ACL in his right knee in Week 5 last season.

The Chiefs have the week off following the Steelers game, so holding the four-time Pro Bowl running back out would essentially give him two more weeks. But conversely, getting him onto the field for a taste of action would also mean extra time to recover afterward.

The Chiefs have been cautious in getting Charles onto the field. Spencer Ware and Charcandrick West have proven to be solid replacements over the past season.

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