Yeah, yeah, we're all ready to fast forward to next week and for the 2014 NFL regular season to get started at long last. While we, as fans, treat the fourth preseason game with little seriousness, it's the exact opposite for players who are fighting for those final roster spots.
1) For which Philadelphia Eagles player is this fourth preseason game most important?
Dan Klausner: It's easy to go with a back-of-the-roster bubble player here, but I'm going to say that it's Matt Barkley instead. He's a player who should be on the roster bubble but will be saved for one more season because of his draft position. The Eagles obviously didn't believe in Barkley to be the dependable backup the team needs in the event that Nick Foles gets injured or simply does not perform effectively. If that had been the case, Mark Sanchez never would've been brought in as a reclamation project. Between uninspiring play, visible dissatisfaction with competition for the backup spot, and skin so thin that he took to Reddit to foolishly challenge one certain local media member on critiques of his arm strength, I don't think Barkley is long for Philadelphia. The writing was on the wall with the Sanchez signing after just one season, and I can't imagine the Eagles are happy with how Barkley has responded on and off the field.
Now, however, Barkley gets a chance to shine. He'll start against the Jets and, presumably, play at least the entire first half. Regardless of what happens in 2014, he'll have some tape for other teams to evaluate should he be available next offseason.
Mike Kaye: This is really a make-or-break game for quite a lot of Eagles, but let's go with Ifeanyi Momah. The fan-favorite is not very good, despite a section of public perception, and needs to really flash to prove that he is worth keeping. He will probably play a large amount of snaps on Thursday and the sixth spot could be his for the taking if he actually does something. It's a novel idea, but I don't see it happening. Momah is still a complete unknown despite a positive training camp and one okay preseason game.
2) Realistically speaking, there are less than five spots on the final 53-man roster up for grabs going into this game. Which players do you think are squarely on the bubble and need big performances to lock themselves in?
DK: To me, the most fascinating position group to watch on Thursday is running back. LeSean McCoy and Darren Sproles won't play, but we'll get our first look at Chris Polk, and then observe as Matthew Tucker, Henry Josey and Kenjon Barner duke it out for the final roster spot. I still think Polk is locked into the 53-man roster because of what he's shown he can do the past two seasons, and that Tucker, Josey and Barner are vying for one spot. Polk has been sidelined with a slight hamstring tear -- no minor injury -- and I hope it's not the case that he's pushing himself to come back before he's ready because of fear that his job is on the line. That's how a player suffers a season-ending injury. But, hey, that's how it goes in this league. Now Polk, in this fourth preseason game, has to show coaches that he's at least well enough to fill a role on this team. You'd think Tucker has cemented his standing with an impressive preseason on the heels of sticking on the roster for the final half of 2013, but who knows? Josey really opened eyes against the Patriots and Steelers, while the team specifically traded for Barner -- yes, a conditional seventh that might end up as nothing, but the Eagles still purposefully went out and acquired him -- who starred for Kelly at Oregon. I don't think the team keeps five running backs, just four, and I get the feeling that whichever one of Tucker, Josey or Barner has the better showing against the Jets will win that spot.
Shout out to the wide receivers here too, of course. I don't expect the team to keep more than five, although it'll depend on Josh Huff's injury status. Just like with running back, three players -- Brad Smith, Jeff Maehl and Arrelious Benn -- are likely fighting for one roster spot.
Another player on the bubble who needs this game to solidify his spot on the team: Trey Burton. I've been high on Burton since the draft evaluation process and feel he fits this offense perfectly in the TAZR role. He's played well in preseason and can line up at TE, WR, HB and even RB. In fact, I think his versatility allows the team to go light at one of the offensive skill positions, should they so choose. No one in the media has really given much serious thought to putting Burton on a 53-man roster projection, but I'm bullish that he is making this team. Let's see how he does with increased snaps against the Jets.
On defense: Does Ed Reynolds do anything, or is he getting phantom IR'd/cut and signed to the practice squad? Because right now, I can't see him making the 53-man roster -- not on merit, at least.
MK: If I had to think of five spots up for grabs, it would be the fourth running back spot, a possible fifth back or sixth receiver, the eight or ninth linebacker spot, Brandon Bair against Damion Square and the kicking competition.
With that said, I think the guys on the bubble would be Matthew Tucker, Henry Josey, Kenjon Barner, Ifeanyi Momah, Will Murphy, Trey Burton, Jeff Maehl, Arrelious Benn, Travis Long, Emmanuel Acho and Quron Pratt, among others. I think the players that need the best performances possible are Josey, Burton, Acho, Square and Pratt. Those are the four guys that need to perform well to have any shot at the 53-man roster.
3) Which player who's sure to get cut by the Eagles has the most to gain in this game, in terms of putting a performance on tape that will entice another team to sign him to its 53-man roster?
DK: Again, any one of the running backs who's not McCoy or Sproles. I'll also go with Ifeanyi Momah and Quron Pratt, who has made people take notice throughout camp and who I'm sure the team would prefer to see pass through waivers and end up on the practice squad. If I wasn't so convinced Burton was making the team, I'd list him too. On the offensive line, it's Dennis Kelly and Andrew Gardner. I thought they'd be fighting for one spot, but with Lane Johnson's suspension and the trepidation with Allen Barbre starting at RT, I can't imagine both are not kept for extra depth purposes. However, one of Kelly or Gardner will get cut when Johnson is activated from his suspension following Week 4, and I imagine another team will immediately swoop in to make a waiver claim when that happens. Lastly, whichever two of Smith, Maehl and Benn get cut won't be out of jobs for long, I don't think.
On defense, I look at the cornerback group -- specifically Curtis Marsh and Roc Carmichael. It appears almost certain that neither will make the 53-man roster, but both should have opportunities to catch on elsewhere as back-of-the-roster players.
MK: Arrelious Benn and Curtis Marsh need some big bounce back games on Thursday. Both are veterans, who seemingly can't catch a break. Benn has talent, but is constantly injured or overlooked and Marsh has looked great in practice and not so good on the field. Both need to do well against backups to have any shot at a prolonged career.
The young guys to keep an eye on Trey Burton, Kevin Graf and Quron Pratt. All three of these guys (at minimum) will at least be on the practice squad. They have all show talent, but may not be ready to contribute right away. Graf is the most likely to get cut, but could be a nice backup right tackle for another team. Pratt and Burton may still be competing for a spot, as the Eagles clearly like them and they have flashed in the preseason. If either were to get cut, it wouldn't shock anyone if they were claimed.
4) Last year, the cutting of Emmanuel Acho and retention of Casey Matthews made Eagles Nation have a collective rage-fueled aneurysm. Which final roster decision will elicit that response in 2014?
DK: Probably if Casey Matthews gets retained again. Yeah, that's it. Dude's been on scholarship, whether at Oregon or with the Eagles, for going on seven years now. He simply cannot be killed. Say what you want, but the guy gets an A+ for resiliency.
MK: Oh, I got one: Kenjon Barner over Matthew Tucker or Henry Josey. Frankly, Tucker and Josey have had tremendous off-seasons and Barner was close to getting cut after one year with the Panthers. I am not really sure the fans would dig an Oregon player, who has been in camp for a week and was not very good elsewhere, taking a spot from two guys that have shined in the preseason. Josey and Tucker have NFL talent and Barner hasn't proved he does. I also think Casey Matthews over Travis Long could draw some ire.
5) What are you doing for Labor Day weekend?
DK: Renting a lake house in the Poconos with a bunch of friends and drinking until I go blind.
MK: I am monitoring final cuts for BGN and hanging out with my fiancee and our pets. I am an exciting guy.