The average Eagle enthusiast will probably not recognize these five players. It is not because they are recently drafted rookies, newly signed free agents, or one of Jeff Lurie's grandchildren who may have happened to just walk on. It is because these members of the team have played very little---or they haven't played yet at all.
You may assume that these Eagles are the ones that fill up the water bottles for the starters. You may even believe that these Eagles went undrafted and snuck their way on to the team. Nevertheless, four out of the five Eagles I am about to mention have been drafted in Round 4 or higher. In addition, two of the five have been selected in Round 2!
So who are these veterans who haven't quite made a "household" name for themselves?
I will reveal now. Prepare to be enlightened!
Player: Joe Mays
Drafted: 6th Round, 200th Overall, 2008 NFL Draft
-Reason For Lack of Play: You could label linebacker Joe Mays as "Currently Developing". He was a 6th round draft pick, and usually players that are selected in this round need some extra assistance. Also, competing with Stewart Bradley doesn't help his chances of starting.
-Attention-Grabbing Fact: Joe Mays led the entire Eagles defense in tackles during the 2008 Preseason. Not only that, but he was tied for first place with the most tackles during the Preseason within the entire NFL!
-Where Can We Find Him This Season: Just browse through any Philadelphia Eagles message board, and you will always find a thread or two based on Joe Mays. The Philly faithful have dubbed him, "The Head Buster", and they love him to death. I firmly believe Joe Mays will once again have a solid Preseason. He has had time to "grow" within the system, and it is time for him to shine. He is currently the #2 Middle Linebacker on the Depth Chart, being blanketed by Stewart Bradley. Hopefully, Joe Mays can develop into a productive special teams member, and that is where I think the average fan will hear of him the most. Unless, of course, there is an injury to Stewart Bradley. In that case, Joe Mays will have every chance to make a name for himself, as well as to "bust some heads".
Player: Bryan Smith
Position: Defensive End
Drafted: 3rd Round, 80th Overall, 2008 NFL Draft
-Reason For Lack of Play: On July 22 of last year, Bryan Smith was placed on the Physically Unable to Perform list regarding an injury to his hamstring. On July 31, he was activated from the list and united with the 53-man roster. However, he was inactive for most of the regular season games, while he was attending defensive end classes at the University of Jim Johnson (for those of you slow to catch on to the joke: he was mentored by Johnson for the majority of the season rather than actually being out on the field).
-Attention-Grabbing Fact: Bryan Smith was 13th among players in total tackles during the Preseason, and 16th among rookies in total sacks.
-Where Can We Find Him This Season: When Bryan Smith was selected by the Philadelphia Eagles in the 2008 NFL Draft, Eagle fans immediately began to experience mixed feelings. In fact, there were about three kinds of feelings. One was, "That was a great pick!". Another was, "We could have picked him in the later rounds." And a third was, "Who the he** is that guy?" Nevertheless, the Eagles selected him over RB Steve Slaton, DE Cliff Avril, and even S DaJuan Morgan, all of which were deemed more "safe" picks than Smith. Bryan Smith is an under-sized defensive end who makes up for his lack of size with his burst of speed. The Philadelphia Eagles use a rotational system when it comes to their defensive line. In that case, depth is very valuable. More than likely, Bryan Smith will be a part of the third line of rotation, as he is absolutely buried on the depth chart behind Trent Cole and Darren Howard. Nonetheless, Bryan Smith was selected in the third round because the Eagles felt that they had a need for him. I believe this season, unlike last season, the Eagles will use him.
Player: Jack Ikegwuonu
Drafted: 4th Round, 131st Overall, 2008 NFL Draft
-Reason For Lack of Play: The Eagles boasted about acquiring Jack Ikegwuonu in the 4th round of the 2008 NFL Draft, because they believed him to be a 1st round talent. So why did he fall so far? While preparing for the 2008 Scouting Combine, Ikegwuonu happened to suffer a torn ACL. Because of the lengthy recovery of a surgically repaired ACL, Ikegwuonu was unable to participate in any of the Eagles' '08 contests, and spent his gamedays cheering the team on from the sidelines.
-Attention-Grabbing Fact: Because Ikegwuonu has no recorded statistics as an NFL player, I will instead throw a rather nice quote at you:
"Last week, Eagles Pro Bowl cornerback Asante Samuel referred to Ikegwuonu as 'my little protege' after the former University of Wisconsin star knocked down a pass in a seven-on-seven drill."
Take it however you want.
-Where Can We Find Him This Season: Jack Ikegwuonu has a lot to learn. If you were to look at his lack of playing experience, you could consider him a "rookie". The Eagles' starting corner backs, barring injury, will be Asante Samuel and Sheldon Brown, with Joselio Hanson playing as the nickel back. According to the Eagles' Depth Chart, Jack Ikegwuonu isn't listed, meaning he is not one of the top six cornerbacks. In a press conference a few days ago, Andy Reid stated he believed Ikegwuonu to be adjusting well, and was even impressed by his ability to get his hands on the ball. Ikegwuonu has to work hard to see the field, and, I feel that most games he will be hailed as "Inactive". However, it's hoped that he will prove his worth in the preseason.
Player: Victor Abiamiri
Position: Defensive End
Drafted: 2nd Round, 57th Overall, 2007 NFL Draft
-Reason For Lack of Play: Just like our other featured players, Abiamiri has been sidelined due to injury. He was absent from the field for roughly half of last season because of a wrist injury. Nevertheless, Abiamiri did experience some snaps within the second half of the 2008 regular season. When he did play, which was usually for a few snaps during the rotation, he played incredibly respectful.
-Attention-Grabbing Fact: Abiamiri didn't play all too much during the team's 2008 campaign, but when he was called upon, he fulfilled his mission. The young defensive end recorded 11 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 forced fumble, and surprisingly, even 3 pass deflections. Not overly impressive, but it is something to grow on.
-Where Can We Find Him This Season: Out of all our featured players, Abiamiri is the one who has the best chance to start. According to the team's depth chart, he is chalked in as the #2 left defensive end, right behind Juqua Parker. However, with training camp coming at us quicker than one of McNabb's bullet passes, Abiamiri will soon have an oppurtunity to beat the distinguished veteran out.
This is what Jim Johnson had to say about Abiamiri's chances at starting:
"He's got to challenge [DE Juqua Parker] and yes I think this is a big year for him, but the other guy is pushing him pretty good. That's going to be a good battle between those too. I can't see right now who the starter is. It might be Victor, it might be JP."
Player: Winston Justice
Position: Offensive Tackle
Drafted: 2nd Round, 39th Overall, 2006 NFL Draft
-Reason For Lack of Play: Winston Justice was regarded amongst the NFL world as a "steal" for being selected in the early 2nd round. In his first two seasons, he spent his time learning the Tackle position behind two Pro-Bowl tackles in Jon Runyan and Tra Thomas. When he did get his chance to start, though, Justice gave up six sacks. A lot of fans label him a bust, and a lot of experts claim he has no passion for the game. The Eagles staff has been impressed by his conduct so far in mini-camps, and Justice is more determined than ever to get a second chance.
-Attention-Grabbing Fact: Besides his abysmal 2007 performance against the New York Giants in which he surrendured six sacks, Justice really hasn't done much to live up to the 2nd round pick status. Hopefully, there is good news on the horizon.
Reported from an article on philly.com:
Justice reported for the Rookie Camp as a select veteran and returned to the Right Tackle spot where he played in college at Southern Cal-Where Can We Find Him This Season: It is going to be interesting to see of what is made with the offensive line this season. As you know, the Eagles acquired Pro Bowl offensive tackle Jason Peters from the Bills, and signed offensive tackle Stacy Andrews during free agency. However, along with the signing of Andrews also came his injury, in which the Eagles are hoping will be completely gone by the start of the season. The Eagles have moved Shawn Andrews out to tackle, and if you can recall from last postseason, Winston Justice was getting repetitions at guard. Most likely, Justice will be a viable back up. However, if he has an impressive training camp, and stellar preseason, he may turn a few heads or so.
It is interesting to see how far players have come since being drafted, and how much they contribute in comparison with other players drafted in the same round. The Eagles took chances drafting Jack Ikegwuonu and Bryan Smith, and time will tell if they were worth the risk. Winston Justice, who was regarded as a "safe pick", especially for round 2, hasn't lived up to the honor. Whereas, linebacker Joe Mays, for being selected in the late rounds of the draft, has relatively impressed.
If preseason isn't your cup of tea, I hope that this year you will indeed sit down and watch a few games. Pay attention to all the Training Camp news and position battles. Most likely, you will hear names from this article in other reports.
It should be an exciting preseason, and hopefully the position competition is fierce. These five guys will push the starters, and in return, will help the entire team. And maybe, just maybe, they might even earn a spot for themselves.
Alec is a writer for the respected blog, Bleed Green.
You can find more articles and information on the Philadelphia Eagles at that location.