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Current Eagles who could impact team's future

IT WILL BE COLD Sunday afternoon, when the Eagles begin their final attempt at entertaining a fan base now disgusted twice in as many seasons with its paltry results.

IT WILL BE COLD Sunday afternoon, when the Eagles begin their final attempt at entertaining a fan base now disgusted twice in as many seasons with its paltry results.

It will be the day before Christmas Eve, and, undoubtedly, many seats that might have been occupied by wearers of the midnight green will instead host Redskins fans bedecked in burgundy and gold, StubHub winners of cut-rate resales, their original owners cutting their losses and putting the proceeds toward something useful. Like mittens.

But, while Eagles fans won't show up to the last home game of the season, they will watch. They cannot help but watch. They have invested so much of their time and hearts and, yes, money, that even a game meaningless in the moment is, nonetheless, relevant in a larger picture.

Some of the players on this roster will return next season.

Some of them could have immense impact on the future of the team, next season and beyond.

So, there are reasons to watch - even beyond rookie quarterback Nick Foles.

Chief among them: right tackle Dennis Kelly.

If the Eagles manage to construct a viable starter at that position out of a lumbering, 6-8, fifth-round pick, it will be an absolute steal. Kelly is on the road to making it so.

"I've been impressed," said veteran right guard Jake Scott, a free agent added after Game 9, after Kelly won the job from disappointing free agent Demetress Bell. "He's developing into a real consistent player. I think he's shown, so far, he's a guy who has to be in the conversation next year."

That conversation could get very interesting.

Pro Bowl left tackle Jason Peters is expected to return from his Achilles' tendon injuries. Emerging center Jason Kelce, who will miss 14 games with a knee injury, will return, too. If Kelly is a serviceable right tackle, then Todd Herremans would be able to move back to left guard, where he was becoming a force.

Herremans was pressed into service at right tackle on the eve of the 2011 season, when no one else could manage the job. He received plenty of help in 2011 and struggled nonetheless, and was struggling again this season when a foot and ankle sprain took him out of the mix at midseason.

Evan Mathis enjoyed a breakout season at left guard in 2011, and has played well again this season.

Considering the bust that 2011 first-round pick Danny Watkins has been at right guard, a line composed of Peters and Kelly at tackle, Kelce at center and Herremans and Mathis at guard would turn the team's greatest weakness over the past two seasons into an area of strength.

If, of course, Kelly can play.

Neither the Redskins this Sunday nor the Giants in the finale next Sunday have a particularly prolific pass rusher this season. Neither team gets to the quarterback that much, either.

Still, both teams will be playing desperately for playoff positioning.

Both will be bringing exotic looks to flummox Foles.

So, Kelly will be tested.

So, too, will Brandon Graham. A first-round defensive end taken in the 2010 draft, Graham finally is healthy enough to begin to justify his selection. It helps, too, that defensive-line coach Jim Washburn and defensive end Jason Babin both were fired from the team. In the three games since Babin was cut after Game 11, Graham has 20 tackles and four sacks.

Significantly, Pro Bowl end Trent Cole has been his most productive, too.

Continued production could spell longevity for this tandem.

Similarly, if Bryce Brown revives himself, he, too, could become a large part of the Eagles' immediate future.

Brown, a rookie with minimal college experience, rushed for 347 yards and four touchdowns in his two NFL starts in place of LeSean McCoy.

He also fumbled three times in those two starts, killer fumbles that helped cost the Eagles wins.

With the opposition keying on him in the next two games, Brown gained only 40 yards on 28 carries.

Yes, the defense looked for him . . . but Brown often declined to take the inside route and was too willing to bounce runs outside, where real estate quickly ran out.

With breathtaking straight-ahead speed, Brown could be a wonderful complement to McCoy, a shifty runner with superb balance, a penchant for cutting back and a nose for the end zone.

But if Brown cannot read his blocks, and, worse, if he cannot hold on to the ball, his stock value will evaporate.

He has two games to regain the confidence of the organization.

And the fans.

So does Foles.

The coaching staff likely will be fired after this season. Foles, a third-round rookie starting in place of Michael Vick, has had five starts to prove himself to whatever new coaches take over.

So far, Foles has shown himself to be tough and cool, if mechanically flawed and unable to match the speed of the pro game. His deep passes float high, and they land short.

Eight more quarters of that, and he will be hard-pressed to make a case that he is the future of this franchise, short-term or long.