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.

Jeremiah Trotter, Merrill Reese to enter Eagles Hall of Fame

Jeremiah Trotter, Merrill Reese to enter Eagles Hall of Fame

Legendary announcer Merrill Reese and All-Pro middle linebacker Jeremiah Trotter will enter the Eagles’ Hall of Fame, the team announced Tuesday evening.

Reese and Trotter will be enshrined on Nov. 28, during halftime of the Eagles’ Monday night game against the Packers at the Linc.

Trotter, a third-round pick in 1998, spent eight years with the Eagles during three separate stints — 1998 through 2001, 2004 through 2006 and again in 2009. He was a four-time Pro Bowler and two-time All-Pro.

The Axe Man is one of four linebackers in Eagle history to make four Pro Bowl teams. The others are Chuck Bednarik, Maxie Baughan and Bill Bergey. 
 
“Jeremiah Trotter embodies everything we strive for as an organization,” owner Jeff Lurie said in a statement. “He was an emotional and inspirational player who captured the hearts of our fans. As an anchor of our defense, he led with an immeasurable amount of toughness and a fiery attitude.”
 
Trotter left the Eagles after the 2001 season but returned after two years with the Redskins. After beginning the 2004 season as a backup behind Mark Simoneau, Trotter entered the lineup halfway through the season and wound up as one of the keys to the defense that helped the Eagles reach their only Super Bowl in the last 35 years.  

He wasn’t just a force in the Eagles’ defensive interior, Trotter was an inspirational leader with his passion, his work ethic and his fiery locker room personality. 

Reese this fall begins his 40th year behind the microphone with the Eagles and is the longest-tenured play-by-play announcer in the NFL.

With his signature deep booming voice and unrivaled passion for the Eagles, Reese has become one of the most popular broadcasters in Philadelphia history alongside legends like Harry Kalas, Gene Hart and Richie Ashburn.

He has never missed a game since taking over as the Eagles’ voice on opening day of 1977 and has as much energy and enthusiasm now as ever. He’s also remarkably thorough in his preparation, whether he is announcing a meaningless preseason game or a Super Bowl.

“When you think about some of the greatest moments in Eagles history, you can hear Merrill’s voice, living and dying with every play, just like we all do,” Lurie said. 

“What makes him so special, and so engrained in the fabric of our franchise, is how dedicated he is to the team, the fans and his job. Merrill is a legend, and he is the absolute best at what he does.”

Reese, a member of the Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame, is a lifelong Philadelphia-area resident. He graduated from Overbrook High School and Temple and currently lives in Blue Bell.

Reese was an age-group tournament tennis player before knee problems led him to golf, which is his current obsession.

The Eagles Hall of Fame was founded in 1987 as the Eagles Honor Roll. It was largely inactive from 1997 through 2003, with only one induction class during that span — trainer Otho Davis and the 1948 and 1949 NFL championship teams.

From 1997 through 2008, only two individual players were enshrined — Bob Brown in 2004 and Reggie White in 2005. 

The Honor Roll was revived on a full-time basis in 2009 with the induction of Al Wistert and Randall Cunningham and renamed the Eagles Hall of Fame in 2011.

Reese and Trotter are the 42nd and 43rd members of the Eagles Hall of Fame. The full list can be found here.

Tim Tebow shows power in baseball tryout but clearly still needs work

Tim Tebow shows power in baseball tryout but clearly still needs work

LOS ANGELES -- Tim Tebow crushed a batting-practice fastball with a confident left-handed swing, sending it into the trees next to the scoreboard beyond right field.

The Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback only paused an instant to appreciate his shot, and then he went right back to work on the unlikely next chapter in his unique athletic story.

Tebow took his first big swings at a baseball career Tuesday, showing off a powerful bat and other developing skills during a workout in front of dozens of major league scouts and reporters.

The 29-year-old aspiring outfielder went through drills at the University of Southern California's Dedeaux Field for over an hour, confidently chasing a dream deferred for 12 years. Declaring his football career essentially over, Tebow insists he is serious about becoming more than a baseball curiosity.

"The goal would be to have a career in the big leagues," Tebow said. "I just want to be someone to pursue what I believe in, what I'm passionate about. A lot of people will say, `But what if you fail? What if you don't make it?' Guess what? I don't have to live with regret. I did everything I could. I pushed it. I would rather be someone that could live with peace and no regret than what-if, or being scared."

Tebow's heavily muscled, 255-pound physique and 6.70-ish time in the 60-yard dash were impressive to the scouts. He also showed undeniable hitting ability with a series of line drives and long homers during batting practice.

But Tebow also showed he still needs baseball seasoning when he faced live pitching from former big-leaguers David Aardsma and Chad Smith, who repeatedly fooled him with off-speed pitches. Tebow could only grin in frustration after he fanned on a series of changeups and breaking balls.

"There is 100 percent nerves, no question about it," Tebow said. "When you're at the combine or a pro day, you have your body of work for four years, everything that you did, so it's not just that one day. Here, you might have seen me when I was 17, but you haven't seen me since. A lot goes into it, so you'd better show something. A lot of nerves, a lot of pressure, for sure."

Tebow hasn't played baseball regularly since his junior year at Nease High School in Ponte Vedra, Florida. He left early to enroll at Florida, beginning a fabled college football career that led to the 2007 Heisman and two national titles for the Gators.

But 12 years ago, Tebow was a .494-hitting, all-county outfielder who loved hitting a baseball every bit as much as he loved leading a huddle.

"The second-hardest decision I ever made was giving up baseball to go to the University of Florida and play football," said Tebow, whose choice of Florida over Alabama was the toughest. "There wasn't a season that went by that it wasn't something that I thought about. When I felt like I had this opportunity, I wanted to take it and pursue it with everything I had."

A few big-league teams talked privately with Tebow after the workout, and he seems unlikely to have trouble finding an organization willing to give a chance to a celebrity with clear baseball ability, however rudimentary.

Tebow realizes he is still far from the big leagues, but he hopes to play in the instructional league in Arizona next month before heading into winter league ball, perhaps even in Latin America.

Tebow decided to pursue his baseball aspirations in earnest three months ago. He began training at a baseball school in Arizona run by Chad Moeller. The former big-league catcher saw daily improvements in Tebow, from his bat speed to his mental game.

"If I'm a team, I'm signing him," Moeller said. "I'm taking him to instructional ball. I'd get him to the Arizona Fall League and get him matched up against some good arms and see what happens. I don't think this is one you're going to take your time on, because he's not a young kid. So you're going to push him. For him and for the teams, I thought if he goes out and performs the way he could and is capable of, you could see it in a year, a year and a half, definitely in the big leagues."

Tebow hasn't played in the NFL since 2012, becoming a broadcaster and resisting attempts to move him to another football position as his quarterback career evaporated. Even while he got an extended look last year from the Philadelphia Eagles, who cut him after the preseason, Tebow said his mind already had wandered back to baseball.

"It's not about publicity," Tebow said. "It's definitely not about money. It's a pay cut to do this. Just pursue what you love, right? Regardless of what else happens. Regardless of if you fail, or if you fall on your face. If that's the worst thing that can happen, that's OK. When did that become such a bad thing? When did pursuing what you love become a bad thing, regardless of the result? For me, yeah, I'll make all the sacrifices to be the best I can."

Eagles claim DT Bruce Gaston off waivers

Eagles claim DT Bruce Gaston off waivers

The Eagles' roster now stands at the max of 75, as the team claimed defensive tackle Bruce Gaston off waivers on Tuesday from Chargers. 

The roster, which had to be cut to 75 by 4 p.m. on Tuesday, must be at 53 by 4 p.m. on Saturday.

Gaston has played for the Dolphins, Cardinals, Packers and Bears since entering the NFL in 2014. He's also spent time with the Patriots, Vikings and most recently the Chargers.

The 6-foot-2, 310-pounder had eight total tackles and a sack in seven games for the Bears last season, his last NFL game action.

Gaston, 24, played collegiately at Purdue.

The Eagles take on the Jets at Lincoln Financial Field on Thursday (7 p.m./NBC10) in their preseason finale before opening the regular season on Sept. 11 at home against the Browns.