Peering out at the Eagles offensive huddle in the second half on Monday night it felt like the third team at the start of training camp trying to make their mark in a real NFL game. With the exception of Jeremy Maclin, Evan Mathis and Brent Celek, it was a bunch of rookies and relative unknowns auditioning for a spot on the 2013 roster.
Five rookies were playing significant roles on the Eagles offense. Three rookies were contributing on defense. It was an open tryout on national television against the Carolina Panthers.
So how did the rookie class do in the 30-22 loss, the Eagles' seventh straight in a debacle of a season? Here's a player-by-player rookie breakdown:
DE Vinny Curry - The fans clamored for the second-round pick to see the field. He finally did Monday night for the first time in his career, and received plenty of playing time. Curry made a significant impact, even though he missed his first career sack when Cam Newton slipped through his finger tips in the second half. Still, Curry was active against the run and showed power as a pass rusher. Several times he bull-rushed left tackle Jordan Gross deep into the backfield. He impressed Gross so much that the All-Pro tackle approached him after the game and told him he gave him fits. Curry finished with five tackles and spent plenty of time in the backfield. The Marshall product also felt he made a point with his play.
"It was what I expected. Guys are good, but I'm here for a reason," Curry said. "My goal was to go out there and prove we didn't draft no slouch. I know a lot of people were wondering where I was. I just wanted to leave a mark on the game. I think I did all right."Grade: A- RB Bryce Brown - There was the good (178 yards and two rushing touchdowns) and the bad (two fumbles). Regardless, Brown left an impression. The seventh-round pick's size, speed and cutting ability left hope that the Eagles have two stud running backs for at least the next few seasons. He also made a dent in the Eagles record book with the most yards in a game by a rookie running back in team history. Overall, he impressed himself and just about everybody else.
"I thought I ran well," Brown said. "I ran tough, I ran hard. It's the little things though. You have to take care of the ball."Grade: B QB Nick Foles - The third-round pick wasn't overly impressive in his second career start. Foles finished 16-of-21 passing for 119 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions. Of his five incompletions, however, three were poor throws that were almost intercepted in the first half. To his credit, the one deep shot he took downfield resulted in a 51-yard pass interference call. That didn't count in his final statistics. The bottom line: Foles didn't flash much that left anyone 100% confident he's the Eagles' quarterback of the future. He was average in every facet of the game.
"I felt like I improved on certain things," Foles said. "Still a lot to improve on."Grade: C- WR/PR Damaris Johnson - The undrafted free agent had the best game of his rookie season. Playing more on offense when DeSean Jackson left the game in the first half with an injury, Johnson caught both passes thrown in his direction for 13 yards. He was elusive and dangerous on punt returns as well, with two returns for 32 yards, showing the shiftiness and speed that made him lethal as a returner in college.
OT Dennis Kelly - The fifth-round pick out of Purdue drew a difficult assignment against Carolina's best pass rusher Charles Johnson. And while Kelly struggled at times stopping Johnson against the pass, he provided solid run blocking throughout the game. He made an excellent seal block on Brown's 65-yard touchdown run in the first half and was able to reach the second level consistently as the Eagles rushed for a season-best 204 yards.
CB/KR Brandon Boykin - The Eagles third-round pick was pretty good as the slot cornerback. He wasn't so good as the re-installed kickoff returner. After losing the job several weeks back to Brown, Boykin re-claimed the position by default with Brown starting at running back. His return didn't go well. Boykin didn't reach the 20-yard line on any of his returns except one, which he fumbled away after a 44-yard scamper. On defense, he wasn't very active — failing to make a single tackle in 30 or so snaps — but also wasn't beaten badly. He did knock down a pass to Brandon LaFell in the red zone in the first half.
LB Mychal Kendricks - The outside linebacker's effort mirrored his rookie season, mixed with some success and struggles. Kendricks again failed to make any impact plays and was flagged for a key holding late in the fourth quarter. He did, however, do a nice job covering speedy wide receiver Steve Smith across the middle in the red zone on another fourth-quarter play. Overall, it was a decent performance.
DT Fletcher Cox - The Eagles top draft pick didn't last long in this one. Cox (lower back/tailbone) was injured in the first quarter and did not return.