The regular season is starting to creep up on us. Only one more preseason game remains until wins and losses start to matter. We’ve seen some ups and downs for the 2011 Eagles already, and we know how high the bar is.
This team made a big push in the offseason to bring in players to help them win now. There are plenty of new additions to this roster who have already made a name for themselves in this league. Guys like Nnamdi Asomugha, Ronnie Brown, and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie now dress in the midnight green.
These type of established players are the ones that are expected to make a big impact in the Eagles quest for the Super Bowl. However, they won’t be able to do it by themselves.
Every year there are players who aren’t household names, but they still make a big impact for their team. Here’s a group of players I believe will do that in 2011.
1. Jason Kelce
After being drafted in the sixth round, the only thing we really knew about Jason Kelce was that he fit the Howard Mudd mold. Kelce isn’t the biggest offensive lineman in the league, but size has never been what the Eagles new offensive line coach looked for.
Eyebrows started to rise in Training Camp when Kelce started taking reps with the first team offense. Did Mudd really think the sixth round pick was starting quality or was he just trying to get a rookie extra playing time in a limited offseason?
It turns out that Mudd truly believes Kelce can be the Eagles starting center. Not in the future, but now. Despite having an established veteran like Jamaal Jackson on the roster, Mudd is still leaning towards Kelce.
Everyone was excited when Andy Reid brought Mudd out of retirement, but still I see people skeptical about Kelce. I understand how everyone feels, because I feel it too.
However, you have to believe in Mudd. Kelce is still learning, but if Mudd didn’t think he was capable of doing the job, he wouldn’t remain in the starting lineup.
2. Darryl Tapp
While attending Training Camp this summer, Tapp was really a guy that stuck out to me. He won’t be in the starting lineup with Pro Bowl defensive ends Trent Cole and Jason Babin in front of him, but he’ll see his fair share of reps.
Actually, having two talented players in front of him should only be beneficial. The Eagles have always rotated their defensive ends and will continue to do so this season.
Offensive lineman don’t rotate, so after trying to deal with Cole or Babin on one play, they’ll have to eventually deal with Tapp and his fresh legs as well. This type of rotation can wear an offensive lineman down, and Tapp should take full advantage.
We’ve already seen Tapp play well in the preseason, and as I mentioned, he stuck out in camp as well. I’m not sure if it’s the new system, or if he just put in a ton of work on his own during the offseason.
What I do know is that Tapp looks great and should be a big contributor on the defensive line during the 2011 season.
3. Jamar Chaney
When Stewart Bradley went down late last season, it was quite upsetting. He went down earlier in the year and the depth at middle linebacker seemed to be really lacking.
However, Jamar Chaney got a chance to step in for the injured Bradley and immediately shined. He displayed great work with his hands, fighting off blocks and proved to be a tackling machine.
During the lockout, everyone fully believed that Chaney would take over as the starter in the middle, even if the Eagles chose to keep Bradley. Instead, the Eagles have inserted rookie Casey Matthews into the middle and moved Chaney to the strong side.
Matthews has struggled a bit this preseason, but I believe the Eagles are confident that they can move Chaney back into the middle if need be.
Regardless of where Chaney lines up on the field in 2011, I’m sure he’s going to pick up where he left off last season and really begin to make a name for himself.
4. Dion Lewis
The Eagles had success drafting a running back out of Pittsburgh in 2009, so they didn’t hesitate to do it again in 2011. LeSean McCoy has already made quite a name for himself, and it looks like Lewis will follow in his footsteps.
When the Eagles drafted Lewis, I thought he would compete for and win the backup position. However, Ronnie Brown came to town as a very cheap option, so it’s hard to knock the move.
With McCoy and Brown locks to make the roster, Lewis was forced to compete with the remaining running backs on the roster for the final running back position. Thus far, he’s really made the most out of his reps.
Lewis is a very shifty runner, and has the ability to make the first tackler miss just about every time. He has good hands out of the backfield, and that’s clearly something the Eagles value very highly.
During the regular season, Lewis won’t get as many opportunities to touch the ball as McCoy and Brown. However, I guarantee you’ll notice him when he does.
5. Kurt Coleman
In a very short period of time, the Eagles have made a very big transition with their safety. They went from having all-time great Brian Dawkins and Pro Bowler Quintin Mikell, to a group of very young players.
This isn’t to knock the talents of Kurt Coleman or any of the Eagles other safeties, but they have very big shoes to fill. Last season, Coleman was thrust into the starting lineup due to injuries.
Although he made some mistakes here and there, Coleman didn’t shy away and showed a lot of grit. That’s something he’s continued to show this year, even when everyone thought second round pick Jaiquawn Jarrett would step into the starting lineup.
Jarrett has struggled a bit, and Coleman has continued to grind on. Not only that, but he’s becoming a very vocal leader on the defense as well. During Training Camp, you could easily hear Coleman barking out calls at the line of scrimmage.
As a former seventh round pick, Coleman is flying under the radar. He may not have a Pro Bowl caliber season, but I expect him to be a solid contributor for the Eagles defense.
6. Alex Henery
Let’s be honest. Alex Henery doesn’t have much of an option but to have a phenomenal year. He has some of the biggest shoes to fill in 2011, and if he doesn’t meet those expectations, things aren’t going to go very well.
David Akers was and still is a great kicker. However, all good things must come to an end. During the 2011 draft, the Eagles decided it was time to find the new long-time kicker for the team and drafted Henery.
There’s no denying that Henery has a phenomenal collegiate track record. At the same time, he has no track record in the NFL. Sure he’s played in a few preseason games, but we all know how much value they have.
However, the kid definitely have the legs, and better yet, I think he has the nerves that are needed to be a kicker in this league. His heart might come out of his chest the first time he has a big kick to make, but I expect him to deal with it accordingly and to do so for a long time.