The Philadelphia Eagles begin the 2012 NFL football preseason Thursday night against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Lincoln Financial Field. The starters will probably play in just one or two series. The first preseason game is always the initial testing ground for the rookies to prove their value. None want to prove their value more than the rookies who were not selected in the 2012 NFL draft.
Every year, NFL teams actively seek and acquire undrafted college players in hopes of finding an inexpensive gem. Often times, undrafted rookies have an inherent “chip in their shoulder” from not being selected, so they may have more to prove than a drafted rookie. In addition, if a player happens to make the team, they may have a unique loyalty to the organization that gave them the chance to make it in the NFL.
The Eagles will showcase nine drafted rookies on Thursday, along with fifteen who were not selected. While every player is looking to stand out for the coaches, there are two undrafted rookies that appear to have a great chance of making the team.
The first is University of Washington running back Chris Polk. With good NFL size ( 5’11, 222 pounds), Polk was a standout at Washington rushing for over 1100 yards in both 2009 and 2010. The problem Polk had was with several injuries. With multiple injuries to his shoulder, NFL scouts were concerned over a potentially degenerative shoulder condition. At the Eagles training camp, Polk has impressed with his running and blocking. Running a pro-style offense at Washington has allowed Polk a quick understanding of the Eagles’ protection schemes. Head coach Andy Reid places great value in his running backs providing blitz protection. Former Eagle Brian Westbrook and current star LeSean McCoy were/are NFL standouts with blitz pick-ups. Currently, Polk is fourth on the depth chart behind LeSean McCoy, Dion Lewis and Bryce Brown (7th round 2012 selection).
University of Tulsa wide receiver Damaris Johnson is another player to watch. In three seasons at Tulsa, Johnson became the NCAA all-time leader in kickoff (3,417 yards) and all-purpose yardage (7,796). Johnson’s college career ended abruptly due to criminal activity. Damaris was suspended for his involvement in an off-campus felony embezzlement scheme. Johnson later pleaded guilty and got a one year deferred sentence. Eagles special teams coach Bobby April has been impressed with Damaris in camp. At 5’8, 172 pounds, Johnson games is pure speed. The Eagles have placed Damaris as their number one punt returner heading into Thursday’s game. Since DeSean Jackson’s health and value are more important as a deep threat receiver, Johnson could be the punt return threat the Eagles have been looking for.
Many times, NFL preseason games are difficult to watch. There is sloppy play all over the place, along with horrific penalties. The trick is to focus on the key players that could help your team when the season begins. I believe that Chris Polk will advance to the third running back, who could get some playing time during the season. I also believe that Damaris Johnson is a shoe-in as the Eagles full time punt returner. With the season just around the corner, I am just excited to watch Eagles football.