Wake-Up Call: Let the (Preseason) Games Begin

Photo by: Jeff Fusco.

Photo by: Jeff Fusco.

The Eagles play their first exhibition game of the 2014 season tonight in Chicago at 8 p.m. (et) on 6ABC. Here’s a position-by-position preview:

Quarterback


Chip Kelly expects the first team to play 10-15 snaps. Nick Foles' night will be done before long, then, giving Mark Sanchez and Matt Barkley extended time at the controls. There's a good chance Sanchez, currently the No. 2 QB on the roster, could see playing time at some point this season so getting him ready is no small matter.

Will this be a new-look Sanchez given the system that he's running?

"Yeah. I think it will be good because we move around quite a bit and I'm comfortable doing that," he said. "I'm comfortable playing at a fast pace, I really enjoy the tempo and the speed of things. Hopefully you'll see an improved guy, a six-year veteran ready to play well."

We recently wrote about what this means for Barkley.

Receivers

Riley Cooper (foot) is not expected to play. Jeremy Maclin said he is “100 percent” going to be out there Friday night. Kelly was less committal. Either way, the rest of the receiving corps is going to get plenty of work.

It will be the first time we get to see rookies Jordan Matthews and Josh Huff in game action. Matthews will also be playing the role of head trainer, scoreboard operator and side judge in this one. Shouldn't be a problem.

Brad Smith looks like he’s in position to make the roster. There could be one more slot up for grabs, with the likes of Jeff Maehl, Ifeanyi Momah and Arrelious Benn competing for it.

“We want our guys to be able to go in and function, get lined up quickly, run the right routes.  When it's time to block, block, and do all the things we ask on the perimeter,” said Pat Shurmur. “Then when it's time, when you put the shiny pants on and the lights are bright, now what you want to see them do is when the ball comes their way, can they actually make a play?  Those are the things you see.  Because sometimes guys will be out here on the practice field doing excellent jobs, and then when the lights are bright, not so good.  So that's what we want to see.”

Maehl (ankle) just recently got out of a walking boot. Seems unlikely he would play.

Running back

When LeSean McCoy was asked what he is hoping to get out of these preseason games, he responded: "Not too much playing time." Think he'll get his wish. We get to see Darren Sproles operating in (a watered-down version of) Kelly's system for the first time. Chris Polk is out with a hamstring injury. This is an opportunity for Matthew Tucker to help build a case for why he should be part of the 53-man. David Fluellen and Henry Josey are both considered long shots.

Tight ends

The top three spots are pretty well spoken for. Emil Igwenagu is the favorite to make it if they decide to keep four. Blake Annen and Trey Burton are the other TEs on the roster. Many fans will be looking for signs that show Zach Ertz is developing. I think you'll be happy with what you see.

Offensive line

With Lane Johnson facing a four-game suspension, Allen Barbre will be running with the ones at right tackle. Will definitely be keeping an eye on him. Lots of questions about depth. Julian Vandervelde is out with a back injury and could be sidelined for some time. What does David Molk look like at center? What do rookies Karim Barton (G), Josh Andrews (G), Donald Hawkins (G) and Kevin Graf (T) have to offer? Is veteran tackle Andrew Gardner an option? How has Michael Bamiro developed? How do Matt Tobin and Dennis Kelly look? The Eagles have a lot of sorting out to do here.

Defensive line

Bennie Logan has not been a full participant during team drills because of a nagging hamstring. Beau Allen has received a lot of the reps at nose tackle and has made an impression on the coaching staff. Fellow rookie Taylor Hart has also stood out. These are two players to watch tonight.

Damion Square and Joe Kruger have been pretty quiet so far this summer. They could use a big showing here.

Linebackers

This is a tough position (both outside and inside) to get a feel for in a practice setting. Najee Goode will likely be asked to contribute this year. Jake Knott is suspended for the first four games so somebody (Emmanuel Acho?) will need to jump into the other reserve role. All eyes will be on first-round pick Marcus Smith on the outside. His athleticism is apparent. Now we get to see how it looks in a game setting. Also worth taking a look at Travis Long, who could make a push for a roster spot.

Cornerbacks

Camp standout Nolan Carroll will not suit up because of an injury. (Kelly said Carroll is being bothered by either his hamstring or groin. Guessing he knows which.) That's a bit of a bummer. Rookie Jaylen Watkins will play, though. A chance to check out the rookie out of Florida. Curtis Marsh has enjoyed a nice camp and will look to keep the positive momentum going.

Safety

Nate Allen and Earl Wolff are competing for the starting spot opposite Malcolm Jenkins. Allen is currently ahead of Wolff on the (somewhat meaningless) preseason depth chart. Chances are these preseason games will factor into Billy Davis' thinking when deciding who to start opening day. Rookie Ed Reynolds is still playing catch up and hasn't stood out much at camp. A chance for him to get on the radar.

Kicker

Carey Spear could get a kick or two but it sounds like Alex Henery will get the  bulk of the work. He's been focused on increasing his leg strength this offseason. Let's see if he looks any different.

WHAT YOU MISSED

I addressed Jordan Matthews and the cornerback situation in my latest mailbag.

Kapadia's 53-man roster projection doesn't include Brandon Graham.

Sheil provided a rookie progress report the day before their first NFL game.

WHAT THEY'RE SAYING

LeSean McCoy is the most indispensable non-QB in the NFL, says Field Yates of ESPN Insider:

The Eagles have an intriguing group of running backs, but we're not breaking any news in saying McCoy is a rare breed. The Eagles don't huddle on offense, and part of what catalyzes their operation is the ability to keep an opposing defensive grouping on the field by not subbing their own personnel; having McCoy on the roster is a fundamental part of that strategy, given his versatility as a three-down back.

McCoy does everything as a running back, and does so at an elite level. The Eagles don't have a backup who has proven he can handle the full workload that McCoy does. Darren Sproles is an effective pass-catcher and Chris Polk is an interesting power plunger, but McCoy triggers that O by doing it all.

McCoy thinks he's poised for a monster season.

COMING UP

We'll both be in Chicago for the game and will have you covered. Looking forward to seeing a little football.

Don't forget to pre-order your Eagles Almanac.

PDF: $10

Paperback: $25

PRE-ORDER SPECIAL: $40

Josh Paunil contributed to this post.

Be respectful of our online community and contribute to an engaging conversation. We reserve the right to ban impersonators and remove comments that contain personal attacks, threats, or profanity, or are flat-out offensive. By posting here, you are permitting Philadelphia magazine and Metro Corp. to edit and republish your comment in all media.