10 Things To Watch: Eagles vs. Patriots

Philadelphia Eagles linebacker DeMeco Ryans.In no particular order, here’s what I’ll be keeping an eye on tonight when the Eagles take on the Patriots in their second preseason game.

1. DeMeco Ryans – By most accounts, he’s not quite there yet. The leadership stuff has not been overblown. Ryans seems to be adored by coaches and respected by teammates. But the question is: How effective of a player is he at this point in his career? Despite failing to notch a tackle in the first game, Ryans was frequently around the football. Expecting him to go to the Pro Bowl is probably asking for a bit much, but the Birds need Ryans to be a quality, three-down player. He’ll look to continue to increase his comfort level tonight.

2. Nick Foles – The rookie needed just six completions to capture the imagination of fans in the first preseason game. With Mike Kafka sidelined because of a fractured left hand, Foles will be the first man up after Michael Vick is finished. A couple weeks ago, I would have said that Kafka was definitely the backup, and Foles would be watching and learning in his first season. Now? I’m not so sure. What happens if the rookie carves up the Patriots and then impresses again against the Browns on Friday? There seems to be at least a chance that he could steal the backup spot away.

3. Danny Watkins – I wrote about him in detail yesterday. While much of the focus is on the left tackle situation, the Eagles need Watkins to make a leap in his second season as the starter at right guard. Teammates and coaches seem to think things are clicking for Watkins after he had the benefit of a full offseason. He was only on the field for six plays in the first game, but will get a chance to show how he’s progressed in extended action tonight.

4. King Dunlap/Demetress Bell – Will the game of musical chairs at left tackle continue next week? Or will Dunlap hold onto the job? Bell has been running with the second team, and Dunlap will get the start vs. New England. Both players are in the spotlight, and one of them will often be charged with blocking the other teams’ best pass-rushers once the regular season starts. As long as Vick is in the game tonight, plugging a tight end or running back on that left side might not be a bad idea.

5. Looking for a fullback – The Eagles have a few options at fullback: Stanley Havili, Emil Igwenagu or a player to be named later (meaning the Birds sign a player who is currently on another team’s roster, but eventually gets cut). It’d be nice to see the current guys get some reps as lead blockers and receivers – two of the most important parts of playing the position in this offense.

And while it’s unlikely, just maybe we’ll see Chris Polk get a shot there. Marty Mornhinweg admitted last week that the team has at least discussed the idea of the rookie playing fullback.

6. Mychal Kendricks – The rookie linebacker will likely get matched up against tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez (unless, of course, they don’t play). The Eagles were very good at covering opposing tight ends last year, and Kendricks looks like the favorite to play alongside Ryans in the nickel package. In the first game, despite a couple miscues, Kendricks showed flashes of being the athletic, play-making linebacker the Eagles have been searching for. Coaches, and fans, will want to see more of that tonight.

7. Nnamdi Asomugha – I’m not sure how much we’re going to see of the veteran cornerback, who suffered a lip laceration and sore neck last week. He said Saturday that it’s important for him to play tonight, but I got the sense that he’s going to be smart about this. If Asomugha feels any discomfort early on (or even in pre-game warmups), look for the Birds to play it safe and hold him out.

8. Jaiquawn Jarrett – He’s fighting desperately for a roster spot. Jarrett was one of the worst (if not, the worst) players on the field in the Eagles’ first preseason game. Poor angles, blown assignments, missed tackles. You name it, and we saw it from the second-year safety. He doesn’t need to be perfect, but he needs to show the coaches something for them to stick with him once September rolls around.

9. Michael Vick – It would be ideal for him to get through the game without any type of injury scare – that’s first and foremost. From a performance standpoint, Vick can’t really prove anything one way or another until the regular season starts. But the first-team offense would like to do a little better than last week’s back-to-back three-and-outs. Vick has admitted that he didn’t really understand the quarterback position until last year, and by all accounts, he’s been 100 percent invested this offseason. Reid, Mornhinweg and the fans would like to start to see some of the results from that hard work.

10. The punting battle – Granted, not the most exciting thing to watch, but the Eagles want the punting game to be a weapon that helps the defense this season. Neither Mat McBriar nor Chas Henry did much to distinguish themselves in the first game.

“I need more,” Andy Reid said last week. “I have to see more. I didn’t see anything that just jumped out to me.”

And don’t forget to watch how McBriar looks as a holder for Alex Henery, something he’ll be responsible for if he ends up winning the job.

Follow Sheil Kapadia on Twitter and e-mail him at skapadia@phillymag.com.

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  • JofreyRice

    Agree with all of this, excellent as always. At the risk of sounding overly optimistic in regards to an Eagles LB, I really think Ryans is going to be solid/good this year. I watched 4 of his games last season, and even freshly returning from an injury, he was very good for the Texans. I don’t think it’s a physical issue at this point, I think he just needs to get comfortable with the Castillo’s dumb D. For a player of Ryans’ experience and skill, I expect that to happen sooner rather than later. Kendricks will eventually take over for Ryans in the middle, but I think Ryans will be fine to good while he’s here. The leadership angle can’t be overstated in this case. I don’t think the Eagles will end up doing much this year, but there is a lot of young talent to be excited about on the roster. It seems Ryans is unanimously regarded as one of the game’s great mentors; the impression he makes on these kids now may help them challenge for a Superbowl in 3-5 years time.

  • Wallman

    I think the missed tackles by Ryans is overblown, first real game scenario and he was a tad rusty, but if you have been watching other pre-season games then you would have seen the great Ray Lewis miss two tackles on back to back plays, and Patrick Willis in the 49ers games missed a few open field tackles and I don’t see them getting hammered, everyone calm down.