Zach Berman
philly.com

The Eagles didn’t end up choosing between rookie running backs Donnel Pumphrey and Corey Clement. They kept both. They also did not give up on rookie wide receiver Shelton Gibson, deciding to keep the fifth-round pick despite an underwhelming summer.

In order to keep those developmental players, the Eagles went lighter than they typically do on the offensive line with only eight linemen – at least on their initial 53-man roster set Saturday. That roster can change in the coming days if the Eagles are active on the waiver wire. But those were the notable inclusions on the roster, along with cornerback Dexter McDougle, who was acquired this past week. The Eagles let go of fifth-round pick Nate Gerry and second-year tackle Dillon Gordon, who was on the team last season.

“I think it’s important for us, when we make these decisions, we’re talking about the 46, the 53 and then the 63,” said top executive Howie Roseman, referring to the 46-man active game day roster and the 63-man roster that includes the practice squad. “We want to make sure our coaches have the best 46 guys that they need to go into Washington. And then from there, there are also guys that we want to develop. [There are guys] that we want to sit there a year from now and hope that they have taken another step.”

That would describe how the Eagles thought about Clement, Pumphrey, and Gibson. Pumphrey and Gibson are both draft picks, and the Eagles didn’t think one summer was enough to give up on either even though neither stood out in the preseason.

Roseman noted that Pumphrey worked with the first-team offense in the spring, and there was excitement about how the Eagles would utilize him this season in the passing game. Then came a preseason when he was unproductive (26 carries, 49 yards; 13 catches, 72 yards), and he was considered a potential cut. Roseman emphasized that the Eagles considered more than the preseason games and looked at Pumphrey’s entire body of work.

“We’re in a unique industry where there’s really no patience,” Roseman said. “There’s no other industry where you take a guy out of college, and if they don’t look exactly like you’re hoping a month in you just look to dump them. We want to develop our players. We trust our evaluations and our scouts, and we want to give guys time that we believe in.”

Gibson did not impress. The Eagles kept him as the sixth wide receiver over second-year player Bryce Treggs and rookie Greg Ward. Marcus Johnson, an undrafted rookie on the practice squad last year, is the fifth receiver.

Roseman said the Eagles thought that if Gibson stayed another year at West Virginia he would have been a higher pick next year. The Eagles hope they can develop him because he has big-play ability, including more 50-yard receptions than any player in college football last season.

“Consistency for a rookie is, obviously, something that sometimes takes some time,” Roseman said. “But he works really hard. He has the traits we’re looking for to develop into a player. Now, obviously, we’re going to spend the time trying to develop that.”

That same thinking apparently did not apply to Gerry, who was cut after missing the last week with a hamstring injury. Gerry is converting from safety to linebacker, and the Eagles kept Joe Walker, Najee Goode, and Kamu Grugier-Hill as the backup linebackers. The Eagles liked Goode’s versatility, Walker’s physical traits at middle linebacker, and Grugier-Hill’s special-teams ability.

“I think it’s a credit to the other guys at that position,” Roseman said. “That was a tough one. That was one of the last ones we did right there. We understand it’s a transition for him, and it’s going to take some time. But it was just the nature of the numbers game.”

One year ago, the Eagles decided to go deep at offensive linemen with 11 on the initial 53-man roster. Roseman admitted that eight linemen is lighter than they usually go, but they feel especially bullish about the linemen they kept. Stefen Wisniewski, Halapoulivaati Vaitai, and Chance Warmack are the three reserves. Warmack even received a one-year contract extension Saturday through 2018, putting him in the conversation as a potential starter in a year.

“We think we have eight starters on the offensive line,” Roseman said. “So we looked at it more of kind of the talent of those guys and at a position that we always want to be strong at, and that’s why we move forward there.”

McDougle also received a contract extension through 2018 on Saturday. The Eagles acquired McDougle earlier in the week, and they kept him despite that limited period. He will join Patrick Robinson as the slot cornerbacks.

“Obviously, a little bit of a leap of faith because he only played in that one preseason game,” Roseman said. “We’re looking for guys who can have defined roles, and we feel like he can do that. That’s why we made the trade.”

There were no egregious omissions among the cuts, and the Eagles added four players after the cut-down to 53 men last year. So those bottom-of-the-roster players shouldn’t feel safe. But Roseman said the Eagles have a better 53-man roster than they had last year, so that might affect how they use the 12th waiver claim.

“We are also going to make a concerted effort to try to develop them and spend the time,” Roseman said of his young players. “Not just reading off cards on the scout team, but really spending time with them and developing the person and the player and try to help them on some of the deficiencies that maybe they have.”