August 27, 2019
For many players hoping to don midnight green on Sunday of Week 1, this week — and the Eagles' final preseason matchup against the Jets — is their last stand.
By dinnertime on Saturday, Doug Pederson will have said goodbye to nearly half of the players currently occupying space in the Eagles locker room. And that's never easy for coach, especially when that coach is not just a former player, but a guy who spent many training camps competing for a spot on the roster, just like so many are this time of year across the NFL.
The fourth week of the preseason may not be the most exciting from a fans perspective, but it's certainly important for the coaches when it comes to roster construction, even with the way the NFL preseason has changed from an emphasis on game reps to practice and joint practice reps.
"From a philosophical standpoint, it hasn't changed for me," Pederson said Tuesday when asked about how he views the fourth preseason game. "Obviously you go in, you rest your guys. You rest your starters, so-called starters, and this is a valuable time for a lot of players because a lot of times it comes down to those special teams reps that we talked about; the guys that — your 51st, 52nd, 53rd guy that are possibly starters on special teams.
"It's important. It's important to them. It's important to us as coaches, as evaluators, to see these guys perform, put them in successful -- as good of a successful situation as we can so that they can succeed on the football field.
"So this last game is very important. As a player, I've been a part of these games, so I know what it's about. For me, this was my season, my whole season possibly came down to one game. So, it's big for a lot of players."
For the Eagles, some of those players on the roster bubble were key contributors a year ago, like last season's leading rushers Josh Adams and Wendell Smallwood, both of whom could be on the way out after the team brought in Jordan Howard and drafted Miles Sanders.
Then there are guys like wideout Mack Hollins and interior offensive lineman Stefen Wisniewski, who have played a role on this team before but could wind up on the outside looking in. The Eagles will also have to make a decision on a pair of rookies: quarterback Clayton Thorson and defensive end Shareef Miller. And the list goes on and on.
For some of these guys, their fate may lay in the hands of special teams coordinator Dave Fipp, who according to Pederson has a big impact on how the bottom third of the roster shakes out. After all, if everything else is even, what these players can contribute on special teams could go a long way toward earning them a spot on the 53-man roster.
"Obviously his voice, his opinion matters," Pederson said when asked about Fipp's involvement. "I stress a lot with this football team that it takes all three phases, offense, defense and special teams. He has a really good impact of the bottom -- say the bottom third or so of the roster, and really even some of our starters that have to play. We ask a starter from time to time to play at least one unit of special teams.
"So he sees these guys work every day in drill work and the special teams portion of practice. It makes a difference. It makes an impact on the guys we keep at the bottom."
As a quarterback, however, the situation was a little different for Pederson when he was in the league. Quarterbacks don't play special teams, so for him — and guys like Thorson or Cody Kessler this summer — there was only one position at which he could add value.
But, as Pederson learned first-hand while in camp with Miami back in 1995, failing to make a team out of camp is not the end of the road.
"Yeah, the biggest one was in 1995. I was with the Miami Dolphins and they had just signed [former Seahawks and Dolphins QB] Dan McGwire that offseason and I came into training camp and felt like I had outperformed him and out played him. I was the fourth guy on the roster and ended up getting released at the end of training camp, and of course you're disappointed, you’re a little bitter and kind of upset about it. But it was actually a blessing in disguise because I later signed with Green Bay that year and spent eight years in Green Bay.
"This is not the end of the road for these players. I tell them all the time, they’re obviously competing for our team but there are 31 other teams that are looking at our roster to see who gets released and who stays and all of that.
"So your dream is never, never over, and it was my case in '95 when I went to Green Bay and had a chance to play on two Super Bowl teams and go from there."
While it appears Pederson will be delivering bad news to a few dozen players this week, it also seems as though he's uniquely qualified to do so. In the meantime, however, the players — at least the ones competing for a job — have a game to play on Thursday night.
So what is Pederson's message during the final few days before final cuts must be made?
"I do the best I can to ease their mind a little bit on this week and what this week is about," Pederson said. "It's tough. It's hard. There is a lot of uncertainty — am I going to make it or not? I think at this point of training camp, in their mind, they kind of see exactly what's in front of them.
"I try to explain to them, listen, you can't count the numbers of guys in line. You just have to make every rep count and every play count. So I know it can be a little bit of a distracting week for some of these players, but at the same time, you still want them to go out and play and play well."
The better they play, the tougher Pederson's roster decisions will be. And that's a good problem to have.
Follow Matt on Twitter: @matt_mullin
Like us on Facebook: PhillyVoice Sports