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The Evolution of the Eagles’ Practice Squad

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Howie Roseman likes to change things up, and does so day-by-day

NFL: Dallas Cowboys at Philadelphia Eagles Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Every season there are 10 young guys who participate in practice during the week, but not on Sundays. These players make up the practice squad (PS). Snagging a spot on the much-more limited roster isn’t a guarantee for the entire season -- in fact, the Eagles released and re-signed players at record pace last season, with players bouncing back and forth within days.

Several of the players who started the 2016 season on the practice squad ended up making the active roster by the end of the year thanks to improved performances and slew of injuries. When the young players are called up to the big show, they have to make the most of every opportunity.

You only need to look at last season’s practice squad to see that it is a constantly evolving group; one that is largely dependent on the health and success of the players on the active roster.

Initial 2016 Practice Squad Roster

Player Position Status at the end of 2016
Player Position Status at the end of 2016
Andrew Bonnet FB Released Oct.11
Don Cherry LB Eagles PS
Darrell Greene OG Eagles PS
Marcus Johnson WR Eagles PS
Byron Marshall RB Active Roster
Aaron Neary C Eagles PS
Aziz Shittu DT Eagles PS
C.J. Smith CB Active Roster
Paul Turner WR Active Roster
David Watford WR Eagles PS

What’s with all the back and forth?

The practice squad is a landing spot for young players who are either new to the league or two-year players who have a limited number of games on the active roster.

The first set of moves to the 2016 practice squad came just a week after the initial group of players was announced. Having just traded quarterback Sam Bradford to Minnesota, the team decided they’d bring in a third quarterbackAaron Murray — instead of holding on to wide receiver Marcus Johnson — who ended up back on the practice squad by the end of the season.

It is a constant juggle between keeping players that can be developed versus keeping players that add depth to thinning and injured positions. With no rules to dictate the frequency team’s can release and re-sign players from the practice squad, these changes are sometimes made on a day-by-day basis — making a valid argument that Howie Roseman might have an addiction to transactions.

Practice Squad Roster Evolution

Sept. 5, 2016 Oct. 18, 2016 Dec. 12, 2016
Sept. 5, 2016 Oct. 18, 2016 Dec. 12, 2016
Andrew Bonnet Don Cherry Don Cherry
Don Cherry Anthony Denham Anthony Denham
Darrell Greene Byron Marshall Darrell Greene
Marcus Johnson Aaron Murray Aaron Grymes
Byron Marshall Aaron Neary Marcus Johnson
Aaron Neary Matt Rotherman Aaron Murray
Aziz Shittu Aziz Shittu Aaron Neary
C.J. Smith Duke Thomas Aziz Shittu
Paul Turner Paul Turner David Watford
David Watford David Watford Terrell Watson

How do the Eagles add depth through the practice squad?

Sometimes the practice squad is just a place for the Eagles to hold onto potential back-ups without having to pay full price. Other times, though, it’s used a way to develop young players into the type of guy who would not only make the final 53-man roster, but excel at his position.

Four players from the 2016 practice squad made the leap to Made Man by the end of the season: Byron Marshall (RB), C.J. Smith (CB), Paul Turner (WR) and Terrell Watson (RB). Watson was a late-season addition; joining the Eagles’ practice squad in late-December and just one week later making the active roster.

Marshall: Added to the active roster Dec. 13, the running back was brought in just after the team was forced to move three players to IR — including rookie rusher Wendell Smallwood. He saw playing time in two of the three remaining games of the season, and recorded 64 yards on 19 carries, along with 10 yards on three receptions. The undrafted free agent could might see time on the practice squad once again in 2017, but if he’s able to build off of his limited snap count, there’s a chance they keep him among the final 53.

Smith: Another player brought in toward the end of the season, C.J. Smith finally saw some playing time in December. The cornerback is another product of North Dakota State University — same as quarterback Carson Wentz — but despite a significant lack of depth in the secondary for the Eagles, Smith only recorded one tackle and didn’t see too many snaps. The position group hasn’t been bolstered that much this offseason, so Smith could have a good shot of making the roster in 2017.

Turner: One of the stranger players on the practice squad in 2016, the wide receiver actually made the final 53-man roster...and then was released and re-signed to the PS just days later. Turner quickly became a fan-favorite after a standout preseason performance, including a 71-yard punt return for a touchdown. He was brought up to the active roster in late-November, and saw snaps in four games. The big upside with Turner is his big play ability; the wideout snagged just nine passes in 2016 but amassed 126 yards, averaging 14.0 yards per reception.

Watson: The running back was responsible for one of the best feel-good moments of the 2016 season. Watson only saw playing time in the final game of the season against the Cowboys, but on a drive that was clearly designed for him, ended up in the endzone for his first professional touchdown. The score was instantly memorable, as it marked a defining moment for a young man who survived a difficult childhood and overcame a learning disability. Watson is one player fans will hope to see among the final roster next season, and enjoy every moment of his success.

Who might make the jump in 2017?

There are two players who spent time on the Eagles practice squad last season that have a chance to earn a spot on the active roster this year, Aaron Grymes (DB) and Aziz Shittu (DT).

Grymes played in the CFL for three years with the Edmonton Eskimos before signing with the Eagles; he made Philly’s roster for a short stint before getting injured, and could earn more playing time during camp. Shittu is another young guy who has a good chance of making the final roster in 2017, especially with Beau Allen’s latest injury. With Allen out until at least the beginning of the season, Shittu has a real shot of snagging additional snaps with a consistent performance.

Less likely: The chances are slimmer for Anthony Denham, Don Cherry, Marcus Johnson and David Watford, unless they step it up during camp. If Andrew Bonnet -- another NDSU alum -- can step up and be better than Chris Pantale was last year, there’s a chance he earns a role as a fourth tight end/fullback.