That dreadful time of year between the end of the NBA season and the first preseason game is finally over. Sports fans have something on tv to watch other than meaningless regular season baseball and golf. On Thursday the Philadelphia Eagles play an actual football game. It’s their first preseason game as they host the Tampa Bay Bucs.
If last year taught us anything it’s that you shouldn’t get too excited or concerned about anything non-injury related that happens in preseason. There are no exotic game-plans or schemes in these games. Coaches(except Chip Kelly) come out with vanilla offenses and defenses.
Coaches don’t want to give up their entire playbook in a meaningless game in August. So whether your teams scores 42 points or doesn’t score at all, it does not matter. What matters in these games is individual match-ups. Corners versus wide receivers, d-line versus o-line, defenders making tackles in the open field and receivers catching the ball in traffic. Those type of things you can take away from any game, vanilla scheme or not.
Here is what I will be looking for Thursday night in the Eagles preseason opener
Caron Wentz Debut- Wentz’s first live action in an NFL game is must see tv. I’m not so concerned with how many touchdown drives he leads or how many passing yards he racks up. What I want to see are some crisp passes out of the pocket. I get that he is an elite athlete who will make a ton of plays outside of the pocket. That we already know he can do and we should be very excited about that. What we need to see more of is his mastery of the pocket.
All great quarterbacks won the big games from inside the tackle box. I want to see him read the coverage, set his feet and make some really crisp passes down the field in the face of pressure. If he does that I think he has a great chance to move up the depth chart over the next few weeks.
Wide Receivers Catching Passes and Getting Open- This was an issue last season and it’s a concern going into this season. I don’t think the wide receiver position is as bad as everyone is making it out to be. It’s not top heavy, but there is really good depth there. I mean when Josh Huff is maybe your 5th best wide receiver I think you can say your group has decent depth. There is at least 7 wide outs on this roster that should make a 53 man roster somewhere.
The key takeaway from this group, mainly the guys who could potentially make this roster(Jordan Matthews, Nelson Agholor, Reuben Randle, Chris Givens, Josh Huff, Cayleb Jones, Bryon Marshall) is not seeing an issue with drops and consistent separation. Both were issues all last season and if that continues this season I think you will see an offense that struggles to move the ball once the regular season starts.
OL vs DL- This is always the biggest takeaway from any preseason game. The players in preseason who consistently get the best of their match-ups in the trenches typically do the same in the regular season. Connor Barwin, Alex McCalister and any backup defensive tackle are the DL I will be checking in on the most and pretty much the entire offensive line.
Jason Peters is getting up there in age, Jason Kelce is playing in a more traditonal blocking scheme for the first time in his career and everyone else is either battling for a new starting role on this team or a key reserve role(unless Lane Johnson isn’t suspended). Every offensive linemen on this team is worth watching. How do they adjust to the new scheme, can they get consistent push in the run game and how do they hold up in pass protection against bigger and more athletic pass rushers?
With the d-line I am really curious to see what McCalister can do against NFL competition so early in his development. He’s an absolute freak with elite length and bench, but he came out at a whopping 239 pounds and is super raw at the position. If he has an impact Thursday night look for about 5 hype articles from me this weekend. He has a really high ceiling, but he’s so raw we really have no idea if he will get anywhere near his ceiling or not.
Cornerbacks in man coverage- There is little separation between the Eagles cornerbacks right now. Ron Brooks and Leodis McKelvin are listed with the first team right now, but right behind them are Jalen Mills, Nolan Carroll and Eric Rowe. Any two of those five could be starting on the outside week one.
Preseason is going to be critical for those five players and anyone else who makes a case for a starting or slot corner role this season. Hopefully some of these corners will separate themselves in the games because there has been little distance made between these guys in practice.