Eagles-Jaguars Cheat Sheet: 10 Things To Watch

James CaseyHere are 10 things we’ll be tracking Saturday night when the Eagles take on the Jaguars:

1. Vick, tempo and the first-team offense

Over the past several weeks, we’ve debated just how much of his offense Chip Kelly is really unveiling during the preseason. I’m of the belief that when Week 1 rolls around, and the Eagles take the field against the Redskins, they’re going to be moving at a faster pace than we’ve seen so far.

If Saturday night is treated as a dress rehearsal, we could see Michael Vick and the first-team offense really push tempo for at least one drive. Against New England, the Eagles huddled and slowed it down with Vick. Last week, they went no-huddle and moved a little quicker. Look for the progression to continue against Jacksonville with the first-team offense expected to play at least the first half.

2. No. 71 gets back on the field

The last time Jason Peters played in a game was Jan. 1, 2012. The Eagles were closing out their season against the Redskins, finishing with a 34-10 win and an 8-8 record. Obviously, quite a lot has changed with this franchise since that game over 19 months ago.

Peters suffered a pair of Achilles’ injuries last offseason and dealt with a hamstring strain this summer. But the Eagles’ left tackle appears motivated and determined to prove he still has a few good years left at the age of 31.

Conditioning is a factor to watch with Peters. Because of the hamstring, he was somewhat limited, but still got in cardio work on the bike and the elliptical. Under normal circumstances, he would need some time to get re-adjusted to playing a full game. But that’s even more-so the case with the Eagles moving to an up-tempo offense. Peters said he’ll play three quarters. Kelly said it might be only two. Either way, his conditioning will be something to watch in this one and early in the season.

3. Lane Johnson in pass protection

Through the first two games, Johnson has looked like a beast in the run game and solid in pass protection. But there have been a few issues with the latter.

Against Jacksonville, the rookie will likely get matched up against Jason Babin. If there’s anything we know about the ex-Eagle, it’s that he could not care less about stopping the run and will be focused on getting after the quarterback on every snap. Saturday night will be a good chance to see how Johnson measures up in pass protection.

4. Looking for backup O-Linemen

The Eagles’ starters are set, and Allen Barbre seems to have solidified his hold on a backup spot. Dennis Kelly recently had back surgery, but the guess here is he’ll make the team out of the gate as well.

Beyond that, there are spots up for grabs – anywhere between one and three. Former first-round pick Danny Watkins played against the Patriots, but missed the Panthers game because of a concussion. He is squarely on the roster bubble entering Game 3. The Eagles will need to find a backup center. Julian Vandervelde appears to be the favorite, but he’ll have to hold off Dallas Reynolds and Matt Tennant.

Others looking to make an impression include tackle Michael Bamiro and undrafted free agent Matt Tobin.

5. James Casey in the passing game

The “move” tight end caught 111 balls in one season at Rice. One of the reasons he chose the Eagles as a free agent was because he was looking forward to more opportunities as a receiver.

But in the first two preseason games, Casey has been targeted just twice, coming up with one catch for 7 yards. We’ll see if he gets a couple more chances against Jacksonville.

6. Remembering Bryce Brown

T-Mac and I were talking about some under-the-radar players yesterday, and Brown’s name came up. The second-year running back has had a solid, but quiet, summer. He looked good against New England, but didn’t play against Carolina because of a quad injury. By all accounts, the Eagles are going to run the football a lot, or at least call plays that include a run option. LeSean McCoy is still the man, and Chris Polk has improved, but Brown’s going to be featured quite a bit as the No. 2 guy.

7. Sorting out the D-Line picture

Billy Davis has to settle on who he wants to start with the first-team defensive line alongside Fletcher Cox. So far, it’s been Isaac Sopoaga and Cedric Thornton. But Kelly and Davis have made it clear that the backups are pushing those two.

Bennie Logan has been impressive and has the versatility to play nose tackle or defensive end in a 3-4. Vinny Curry has been the Eagles’ most active defensive lineman. And Damion Square has had some nice moments as well.

Veteran Clifton Geathers has been somewhat quiet and is on the roster bubble.

8. Defining Boykin’s role

Davis has talked constantly about playing his best 11. But the Eagles’ new defensive coordinator sounded hesitant earlier this week when asked about starting Brandon Boykin on the outside and then moving him to the slot in nickel situations. Once again, the second-year player will likely start out as the nickel corner and then play outside with the second unit against the Jaguars.

The likelihood is still that the Eagles start Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher on the outside in Week 1. But Boykin will get one final chance to convince Davis that he deserves an opportunity.

9. Waiting on backup LBs

We know DeMeco Ryans and Mychal Kendricks will start on the inside, but the Eagles lack depth behind them. Undrafted free agent Jake Knott was good against New England, but the coaches would like to see more out of the rookie in the event that he has to step in due to injury.

Others like Casey Matthews, Jamar Chaney and Emmanuel Acho are on the bubble. This is another area where the Eagles could add a player or two after other teams make their cuts.

10. Can Allen hold on?

The Eagles seem to have one safety position nailed down with Patrick Chung. The free agent from the Patriots played well against Carolina and already seems to have established himself as the best tackler in the Eagles’ secondary.

But the other spot remains a mystery. This is an area where we likely won’t know who’s going to start until the days leading up to the Redskins game. Nate Allen will run with the first team to begin the game vs. Jacksonville. But Kenny Phillips (if healthy) or Earl Wolff could also rotate in.

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