Two years ago, it would have been unfathomable that quarterback Matt Barkley would be in competition for a third-stringer's role in the final preseason game. At one time, Barkley seemed all but certain to be a top ten draft pick, but staying with the Trojans one year too long exposed him, and shunted him down the board into the fourth round, where Chip Kelly scooped him up.
As it stands, Barkley has a decided drop on scrambling G.J. Kinne, based on both practice reps and in-game action this summer. Barkley's starting Thursday's game with the Jets, while Kinne will likely take the reins after halftime. For the most part, both men will be imbued with the same offensive line (give or take the insertions of Josh Andrews and Kevin Graf), and it's Kinne's last chance to beat out the one-time USC golden boy.
THE RUNNING BACK DEPTH
LeSean McCoy and Darren Sproles are in. Beyond those two proven studs, there's four backs fighting for one or two spots. Given how many eyes have been opened by three of the fresh-faced challengers, it'd be heartbreaking to see even two of them miss the cut, let alone three if the position's streamlined.
Chris Polk, playing his first snaps of the summer, has to hold off the impressive Matthew Tucker for the power-back role. Tucker's four touchdowns in August lead the team, and he's demonstrated astonishing quickness off the snap for a back his size. Kenjon Barner and Henry Josey, both on the smallish side, are competing for a spot, which Barner could have the drop on, due to his experience as a returner.
THE RECEIVER LOGJAM
If Kelly carries six receivers, then there's seven men fighting for two spots. The top four are already well claimed, and there's a good chance journeyman Brad Smith has a stranglehold on the fifth slot.
That leaves Arrelious Benn, Ifeanyi Momah, Damaris Johnson, Jeff Maehl, Will Murphy, and Quron Pratt battling for the final slot, if there even is one more opening. Benn, injuries aside, seems likely to snatch it up, although everyone through Maehl on the list has a decent case. Momah's raw but holds much potential, Johnson's improved from even a year ago, and Maehl's a talented mechanic. If somebody puts together a masterful performance against the Jets, it's going to be hard to cut them.
Another position with much uncertainty, but plenty of confusion, is the 'four' of the 3-4 defense. We know the starters, and three of the assured back-ups (Marcus Smith, Brandon Graham, and Najee Goode). Beyond that, it's every man for himself.
Casey Matthews and Emmanuel Acho battle for an inside spot, while special team rhino Bryan Braman tries to hold off Josh Kaddu for a spot outside. Travis Long's been working at both positions, with outside being his natural vocation. Special teams play will go a long way in determining who gets onto the roster. I'd lean toward Braman having an 'in' for that skill alone, but the rest have their hands full.
CAN PARKEY UNSEAT HENERY?
Carey Spear stirred up excitement upon his arrival in Philadelphia. His 'Murderleg' highlight reel was source for much fan-boy-ism. Hey, anything to steer Alex Henery out of the kicker job, right? Henery, to his credit, soundly thrashed Spear in training camp, vanquishing the challenger. Then Henery badly missed a pair of field goals in preseason (from 47 and 31), and a new rival appeared.
Auburn's Cody Parkey, a touchback specialist, came to town to spar with the incumbent. It's all but certain that both men will trade opportunities for kicks Thursday night, as doubt over Henery's viability has never been higher. As has been speculated, it remains possible that the man kicking for the Birds on opening day isn't currently on the roster. Even if Henery wins Thursday, he may still lose.
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