Ah, finally, football.
Give me pads and helmets and game film and players with something to prove. I don’t care what it is; it can be preseason, or Tuesday night Sunbelt action, or Garnet Valley vs. Interboro. I just need to see real football again.
It’s Eagles/Steelers tonight at Lincoln Financial Field, and there’s obviously less to learn about this Super Bowl-winning squad compared to a typical August. Carson Wentz won’t play. Nick Foles probably will not play, and if he does, don’t expect many snaps. But beyond that, there aren’t a ton of question marks or holes to fill and the roster projections are pretty straightforward.
That said, this is what I’d keep an eye on tonight:
Think about it –
If Carson Wentz isn’t ready for week one and Nick Foles has to come out of the game for whatever reason, Sudfeld is the guy.
We saw a little bit of him last year in the meaningless Dallas contest, and tonight we’ll get to see him again for the first time in a long time. The Eagles seem to like what they have in the 6’5″, 226 pound former Indiana QB and we’ll get to see him play a boatload of snaps tonight before Joe Callahan comes in.
Slot and WILL
Not sure how many first team defensive snaps we see (it won’t be many), but the two most important things are going to be who plays weakside linebacker in the 4-3 base defense and who plays the slot when the D goes nickel.
The latter is actually probably more important, since the Eagles do spend more time in nickel than base, with five defensive backs joining Nigel Bradham and Jordan Hicks. BUT – with Bradham suspended for the opener, one of Kamu Grugier-Hill, Nate Gerry, or Corey Nelson is going to be on the field in both looks.
It seems like Grugier-Hill and Gerry have a leg up in the competition, and, for what it’s worth, Gerry is listed as the 1st team linebacker in the unofficial depth chart put together by the Eagles’ media department.
The weak-side linebacker competition will be story to watch Thursday. Kamu Grugier-Hill and Nate Gerry both getting reps with the 1s. …Corey Nelson, not so much.
— Zach Berman (@ZBerm) August 7, 2018
As far as slot corner, they’ve had a lot of guys taking reps there – Sidney Jones, De’Vante Bausby, Avonte Maddox, and others. The recurring theme from camp is that this is one of the best groups of corners the Eagles have had in years, so it’s less about talent and more about finding the right fit for the slot. Malcolm Jenkins and Corey Graham can also get down on the line of scrimmage effectively. I’m also interested to see how Rasul Douglas does tonight, since I think he’s a candidate to move to safety at some point in his career.
Destiny Vaeao has been getting a lot of first-team reps in place of Tim Jernigan in camp. I thought that might have been Haloti Ngata’s spot, so we’ll see if the 34-year-old veteran plays with Steven Means on the second unit instead. Vaeao would be paired with Fletcher Cox on the first unit.
Also, we’ll how they mix and match some of these defensive ends. Brandon Graham is obviously on the shelf right now, but keep an eye on 3rd and long situations to see if they stack another end at defensive tackle to get vertical pressure in the pass rush.
He’s been getting really high praise in camp as a red zone machine and pass catching dynamo. If we’re talking about individual players on the field, I’d have Goedert and Sudfeld as 1a and 1b in terms of who I’m most interested in watching tonight:
The 4th running back
Is it Josh Adams? Wendell Smallwood? Matt Jones? Donnel Pumphrey?
This was one of the more intriguing positional battles coming into camp. I don’t know how many snaps there are going to be behind Jay Ajayi, Corey Clement, and Darren Sproles, but you never know what’s gonna happen with injuries and whatnot. Smallwood got some run last year when Sproles went down. Clement forced his way into a key role as an undrafted free agent.
Adams and Pumph probably carry more intrigue with them as far as tonight’s game. Adams was a UDFA and is probably the hardest downhill runner on the team. Pumphrey was a fourth-round draft pick who probably has the tools to replace Sproles at some point. Smallwood is a known quantity with something to prove and Jones is an X-Factor as an experienced veteran who suffered from fumble issues in Washington.
Gimme a healthy dose of all four of these guys.
Josh Adams might be the player I’m most interested in watching in Thursday’s preseason game. He looks the part, but want to see him against actual opponents. #Eagles
— Zack Rosenblatt (@ZackBlatt) August 7, 2018
Alshon Jeffery won’t play and I doubt Nelson Agholor and Mike Wallace get a ton of snaps.
So we’re looking at a good chunk of playing time for the likes of Mack Hollins and Markus Wheaton and fringe guys like Shelton Gibson, Rashard Davis, Greg Ward, Kamar Aiken, and Bryce Treggs. There’s a roster spot available for one of those guys, and I’m interested to see how Gibson and Davis look, specifically. Gibson is coming off concussion protocol and seems to be getting a good amount of praise for his camp performance. Davis is another name that continues to pop up as well.
You’re looking at the Eagles carrying six receivers this year, which is what they did last season (Jeffery, Agholor, Gibson, Hollins, Marcus Johnson, and Torrey Smith.)
Reports from training camp suggest that the Johnston hasn’t been entirely convincing with his punting performances thus far. The Ohio State product and Australia native has not had any competition in camp and is entering his first NFL season after spending a short amount of time with the Eagles last summer.
For what it’s worth, 38 year old Donnie Jones is still available if the Birds want to go back to their longtime guy. Jones made about $1.7 million last season, so part of this is about saving money and getting younger, but Donnie was also a proven commodity while Johnston is still a total unknown at this point.
In preparation for tonight, I suggest watching this 30 minute Youtube video of Johnston punts:
That’s it. Let’s play ball.