Philadelphia Eagles

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.

Eagles open practice at Linc postponed because of inclement weather

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Eagles open practice at Linc postponed because of inclement weather

Eagles fans planning to get their first live look at the 2017 squad this Saturday will now have to wait an extra day.

Because of expected inclement weather, Saturday's Eagles open practice at Lincoln Financial Field has been postponed until Sunday. The free open practice on Sunday will begin at 10 a.m. Gates will open at 8:30 a.m. Parking will be free in lots A, D, G, K, M and N until 10:30 a.m. No ticket is required and seats are first-come, first-serve. 

Sunday is Military Appreciation Day. All active and retired military members will be offered a voucher for a free hot dog and nonalcoholic beverage at the HeadHouse Plaza. 

Jordan Matthews on contract situation: Money 'not what drives me'

Jordan Matthews on contract situation: Money 'not what drives me'

Jordan Matthews was incredulous. When he heard people in Philly speculating that his absence from OTAs might be more related to his contract situation than his lingering knee injuries, he couldn't believe it.

"Man, I hope you guys know me by now," Matthews said. "That's not what really motivates me, that's not what drives me. 

"I grew up, my parents were affluent. I never needed anything. So when I play football, I play football for respect. That's all I play for. It was never a sense of, 'I gotta get to the league to get money to get my mom a house.' I respect anybody who has to do that, but I've never had to do that. 

"So I never really played for money. I went across the middle because I wanted to make sure the guy across from me respected me. That's not going to change. If anything, it just grows the older I get and the better competition I see. I'm not even thinking about that in the least."

You can't be any clearer than that.

Matthews, whose 225 receptions are 10th-most in NFL history by a receiver in his first three seasons, is entering the final year of the four-year, $4.95 million contract he signed when the Eagles selected him in the second round of the 2014 draft.

It's a tricky situation because the Eagles are in some serious cap trouble for 2018, and if they want to have any chance of re-signing Alshon Jeffery they may not be able to sign Matthews, who has been solid if not spectacular as a pro.

But Matthews, who would be in line for a sizable deal if he has another solid year, said the contract situation isn't on his mind going into what could well be his final season with the Eagles.

"I don't really get into that much, honestly," he said. "I think things change by the year, depending on what the team's salary cap looks like. 

"There's so many things that go into it. I basically say, if you go out there and make plays, you get paid. You make plays, you'll see that happen. So I don't really try to worry about all the other stuff. 

"My biggest thing is I'm going to come out here and help the team win. If I do that, I feel like that's going to set me up in the best position to be here long term."

Although Matthews was here with Jeremy Maclin as a rookie, this is the most talented group of wide receivers he's been a part of as a pro.

Matthews has 225 catches the last three years and the next-most by an Eagles receiver during that span is Maclin's 85, all in 2014.

This wide receiver unit, much-maligned last year, should be dramatically improved this year with veterans Jeffery and Torrey Smith, rookies Mack Hollins and possibly Shelton Gibson and — who knows — maybe even a rejuvenated Nelson Agholor.

"I see a lot of hungry guys," Matthews said. "(Offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland) always says hungry dogs run faster. I feel like Torrey and Alshon have been able to come here with chips on their shoulder. 

"I think Nelson has done extremely well. I think there's a huge chip on his shoulder, and he wants to go out there and prove what he can do. I think he's done nothing but excel since he's come back this season.

"I think just from top to bottom, everybody wants to go out there and win games. I can tell everybody is extremely focused. I'm just excited about what everybody's mindset is at this point. I don't like to get into this and that, don't like to make promises. We just gotta come out here and get to work."

Only 13 players are on the roster who have played in a playoff game in an Eagles uniform.

Only two — Jon Dorenbos and Brent Celek — have won a playoff game as Eagles.

"Make no bones about it, we want to win now," Matthews said. "So it's a big year for all of us, man. And so, across the board, everybody's looking at each other and saying, 'Hey, we've gotta come in here and we go win games.' 

"I know everybody's thinking the same thing. I know Carson (Wentz) is, I know Alshon is, I know (Jason Peters) is, I know (Darren) Sproles is, I know LaGarrette (Blount) is."