Eagles Wake-Up Call: 5 Players To Focus On

0V3J7988The third and most important preseason game is almost upon us. Saturday’s game in Jacksonville will be the final tune-up for the starting units before the season opener against the Redskins. It also represents some players’ last chance to impress the coaches before the roster gets trimmed to 75 on Tuesday. (The number goes all the way down to 53 by Aug. 31.)

Here are five Eagles that we’ll be paying close attention to:

Kenny Phillips

Phillips took part in the team walkthrough on Thursday and said he “likes his chances” of playing Saturday in Jacksonville. The veteran safety has been slowed by a quad strain recently. The bigger issue for him is his history of knee issues.

“At the end of the day they kind of leave it in my hands,” said Phillips. “As much as I want to go out there and play I have to be smart. We still have one more preseason game left (beyond Saturday) so if I don’t have a chance to play this week I definitely have next week.

“The biggest thing is they want me to be healthy so when I am out there I can put some good things on tape. I’m definitely pressing the issue because I definitely want to get out there and show them exactly what I [can] do.”

Given the state of the safety position, the Eagles would love Phillips to show them something. But it has to happen soon.

Trent Cole/Brandon Graham

The Eagles are lacking experience at the outside linebacker position in a pretty big way. Connor Barwin has played the position but the two other key contributors — Cole and Graham — are green. The other potential option at OLB — Chris McCoy — has not played a regular-season snap at this level.

Can they get by with what they have, or do they need to go onto the open market?

“You know, they’re learning,” said Chip Kelly. “I think Connor Barwin has great experience at that position because he’s played here before and I’ve been really impressed with Trent and Brandon as they come along, but you always want more depth no matter what position you’re at.  You’d like to have another guy or two there that you can count on.  But there’s want‑to‑haves and need‑to‑haves, and again, it depends on what’s available.”

Danny Watkins

Watkins has returned to action following a concussion and is expected to play against the Jaguars. In the preseason opener versus the Patriots, he played right guard with the second team.

Todd Herremans missed some time this week with knee inflammation. Allen Barbre apparently worked with the first unit in his absence instead of Watkins, and could get the start against the Jags if Herremans can’t go.

Is Watkins in the team’s plans? The guess here is that he makes it, but I don’t know that it’s a sure thing. Curious to see how he looks Saturday.

Russell Shepard

Shepard enjoyed a strong camp (particularly early) but only has one grab for four yards (on six targets) in preseason play. He might be right on the bubble. Do the Eagles carry both Greg Salas and Shepard? Just one? If so, can Shepard win the job?

Perhaps Saturday’s game will help influence management’s decision.

WHAT YOU MISSED

Kelly says time of possession “is how much time can the other team waste.”

Vick ranked No. 1 in the team’s offseason program.

Another great play breakdown by Sheil, this one on the Eagles’ latest triple option. 

Vick says he “will be a threat” to run in the Eagles’ offense.

Jason Peters is bullish on this offense.

WHAT THEY’RE SAYING

ESPN.com has DeSean Jackson ranked as the 16th best player in the NFC East.

When he has the ball in his hands, he’s a threat to go the distance from anywhere on the field. The issue with Jackson the past few years has been an inability to consistently get open, and it’s fair to assume the inconsistent quarterback play the Eagles have had in recent seasons has factored in as well. Jackson hasn’t had a 60-catch season since 2009 or a 1,000-yard season since 2010, and he’s only scored six touchdowns, total, the past two years. But the ability is clearly there to do big things. And if Kelly can find a way to get Jackson the ball, there’s still a chance to see that potential translate into a big-numbers wide receiver year the likes of which we’ve been anticipating from Jackson since he arrived in the league.

Les Bowen notes that Lane Johnson hasn’t looked very “raw” despite having that label coming out of college.

“If he was, he’s not anymore,” left guard Evan Mathis said yesterday…

Johnson heard all the “raw” talk, and was acutely aware that he lacked an extensive offensive-line background.

“You’re going into a new environment, there’s going to be new tests, but once you get into the fire, it’s not as bad as what it seems,” he said.

COMING UP

Travel day for the Eagles. We’ll be checking in live from Jacksonville.

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