PHILADELPHIA - The Eagles' offensive and defensive starting lineups for tonight's preseason finale at the New York Jets will be filled with players fighting for roster spots.
NFL teams are required to trim their rosters to the regular-season limit of 53 players by 6 p.m. Saturday.
Approximately 45 of the 75 players currently with the Eagles are already assured of jobs, leaving 30 to fight it out for the few positions still up for grabs.
"We have some big decisions to make after this game," Eagles coach Chip Kelly said earlier this week. "There are only a certain number of players who are going to make it. You start with 90 (in training camp) and you end up with 53. Sometimes they gave everything they had, but it's not in the cards for them, so it's a difficult time."
The group of players on the bubble includes some veterans. Safety Kurt Coleman, defensive end Brandon Graham, tight end Clay Harbor, linebacker Casey Matthews, and offensive linemen Dallas Reynolds, Julian Vandervelde and Danny Watkins all need to play well against the Jets tonight at MetLife Stadium if they want to stay.
The list also features a few younger players who must impress Kelly and his assistants if they are to have any chance of making the team.
"For guys on the bubble like myself, this is our last chance to give the coaches a reason to put us on the 53-man roster," said Jake Knott, a rookie free agent linebacker from Iowa State. "I'm really happy to still be here and this is my last opportunity to show them I deserve to stay here."
Knott, a 6-foot-3, 252-pound inside linebacker, has been one of the Eagles' pleasant surprises during the preseason. He enters tonight's game ranked fourth on the team in the preseason with nine tackles and a half-sack, and has also been a standout on special teams.
Knott, who missed most of his senior season at Iowa State with a shoulder injury, is currently a second-team inside linebacker with Matthews behind starters DeMeco Ryans and Mychal Kendricks.
"The biggest key for me is to just do my job," Knott said. "I need to be consistent and not go in there thinking I have to be Superman."
Rookie free agent defensive end Damion Square is taking the same approach.
Square, 6-3 and 286 pounds, signed with the Eagles after helping the University of Alabama win a national championship last season. He had several NFL offers, but picked the Eagles to get in on the ground floor of Kelly's program.
"I wanted to be part of something new," Square said. "If I had gone to another team, I'd be going up against guys who were already established. I'm getting a fair shake here. I know the best guys are going to be put on the field."
So far, Square has been one of the best.
He only has two tackles, but has done a good job of occupying blockers to allow linebackers to make plays while also generating pressure on opposing quarterbacks. He has outplayed rookie defensive ends David King and Joe Kruger, who were both seventh-round draft picks.
"I'm trying to treat this as just another game," Square said. "If you approach it any other way, that's when you get into trouble by trying to do too much. I'm focusing on executing my assignments and doing whatever the coaches tell me to do."
Wide receiver Ifeanyi Momah needs a breakthrough performance tonight.
Of the 80 total completions thrown by quarterbacks Michael Vick, Nick Foles, Matt Barkley, Dennis Dixon and G.J. Kinne in the first three preseason games, Momah was not on the receiving end of any of them.
Momah, who had not played since 2010 (at Boston College) because of knee injuries, arrived to training camp with a lot of hype because of his size (6-7, 249 pounds) and speed (4.4 seconds in the 40-yard dash). But he has struggled while rookie free agent Russell Shepard and Greg Salas have moved ahead of him.
"I'm just going to play football and have fun out there and not worry about the outcome," Momah said. "The last couple weeks have been tough, but I'm excited for this opportunity. No matter what happens, I'll be confident in knowing that I put all my effort and my heart into it."
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