BETHLEHEM, Pa. — The Philadelphia Eagles’ 16th year of training camp at Lehigh University ended Tuesday with Fan Appreciation Day.
They still have a ways to go before they are ready for the regular-season opener at Cleveland on Sept. 9, however. Three more weeks’ of practices and three more preseason games remain, thus giving coach Andy Reid, offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg and defensive coordinator Juan Castillo plenty of time to set their lineups and decide which players will make the final, 53-man roster.
“I tell the players all the time to make it tough,” Reid said Tuesday. “Make it tough for us to make (roster) decisions.”
Here’s a look at some of the positions that have yet to be decided and the players involved.
1. Left tackle — The Eagles used to be set with five-time Pro Bowler Jason Peters. But Peters is out for at least half the season after rupturing his Achilles’ tendon in the offseason. Now the position is so unsettled that the running joke at camp Monday was that the Eagles were considering asking former standout Tra Thomas, who is signing a ceremonial, one-day contract to retire as an Eagle today, to play one more year.
The Eagles signed free-agent Demetress Bell to be Peters’ stand-in, but he has since been demoted in favor of King Dunlap. If Dunlap doesn’t impress, the Eagles may be forced to reconfigure their line to give rookie Dennis Kelly a chance at one of the tackle spots.
“I was in the exact same situation as Demetress last year as far as trying to learn a new system,” Dunlap said Monday. “I told Demetress the other day that it was going to take some getting used to, but he’ll be fine.”
2. Punter — The Eagles evidently weren’t too pleased with Chas Henry’s rookie season in 2011, since they signed free-agent Mat McBriar to challenge him. McBriar, a former Pro Bowler, should win the job if he can prove he’s fully recovered from the foot injury that severely hampered his performance for Dallas last season and prompted the Cowboys not to re-sign him.
McBriar had the better preseason game against Pittsburgh, averaging 42.3 yards per punt to Henry’s 37.8. But Henry showed his leg strength by booming a 54-yard kick and placing two punts inside the 20-yard line.
“Chas had a really solid rookie year,” McBriar said last week. “It’s great to have competition. I welcome it and I think that we’ll both get better. At the end of the day, we’ll see what direction the team wants to go in.”
3. Outside linebacker — Rookie Mychal Kendricks already is entrenched as the starting strongside linebacker, but Brian Rolle is facing a challenge from Jamar Chaney for the weakside spot. Rolle entered camp as the starter, but has only been so-so. Chaney, who was last season’s starting middle linebacker for most of the year, earned increased playing time before suffering a strained hamstring last week that has slowed his progress.
The unique part of this duel is that Rolle and Chaney are related. They are distant cousins, along with former Galloway Township resident Myron Rolle, who is now a safety with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
“My main goal has always been to make it hard for the coaches to keep me off the field,” Chaney said last week. “I always go out there with a lot of confidence and so does Brian. We’re best friends off the field and we’re competitors on the field. There’s nothing but love between us.”
4. Backup defensive line — The Eagles have a lot of depth at both defensive tackle and defensive end, meaning some talented players will be cut after the preseason.
Mike Patterson’s up-in-the-air status — he is missing the entire preseason while recovering from offseason brain surgery — could mean the Eagles keep an extra defensive tackle to join Patterson, Cullen Jenkins and rookie Fletcher Cox, the first-round draft pick. Antonio Dixon, Derek Landri, free-agent Ollie Ogbu and Cedric Thornton are the contenders for two or three spots.
Landri has been among the most impressive players in camp and would seem to have an edge over Dixon, who is working his way back into shape after missing most of last season with a torn triceps.
At end, Jason Babin and Trent Cole have missed most of training camp with injuries, giving others the opportunity to show their skills. Rookie Vinny Curry is a shoo-in to make the team, leaving Brandon Graham, Phillip Hunt and Darryl Tapp to fight for one or two spots.
“I just have to come out here and work hard on focusing every day,” Hunt said last week. “I want to keep my mind focused on my technique, and be focused on every play, day in and day out. I’ll get better each day and each game, and hopefully pretty soon, I could get more reps.”
5. Backup quarterback — There is a lot of debate about who should be Michael Vick’s top backup.
Mike Kafka entered camp as the No. 2 quarterback but did not play well in last Thursday’s preseason opener and is sidelined for a couple of weeks with a broken left (non-passing) hand.
That has given rookie Nick Foles and veteran free-agent Trent Edwards more reps. Both played well against Pittsburgh and have continued to impress this week in training camp.
Foles will be the No. 2 quarterback for the next preseason game at New England on Monday.
“I feel really comfortable,” Foles said last week. “Whether it’s in the cafeteria, in the dorms, or in the meeting rooms, just getting to know the guys is important so that when you’re in the huddle, they already know you and you’re all familiar. I feel really comfortable with all the guys.”
Contact David Weinberg: