10 Things To Watch: Eagles Vs. Browns

Here are 10 things I’ll be keeping an eye on tonight when the Eagles take on the Browns. And remember, as always, Tim and I will be hosting a live chat during the game.

Nick Foles – What? You thought I was going to lead with someone else? The rookie is 24-for-38 for 361 yards, four touchdowns and one interception in the first two preseason games. He’ll get the start and go up against the Browns’ first-team defense, although expect Cleveland to keep things pretty vanilla, considering these two teams square off in Week 1. Perhaps the most impressive stat from Foles so far is that he hasn’t been sacked once in 40 dropbacks. That speaks to his decisiveness and comfort level. Andy Reid has had plenty of chances to say that Mike Kafka is going to be his backup quarterback when healthy, and he hasn’t done that. Foles has a legit chance to win the No. 2 job.

The nickel corner battle – Rookie Brandon Boykin mixed in with the first team last week in place of Joselio Hanson. Boykin was not targeted, and Andy Reid said recently that the gap is narrowing between the two. Ideally, the Eagles would like Boykin to win the job. He’s going to make the roster anyway and will be active on gamedays as the Birds’ kickoff returner. Cutting the 31-year-old Hanson would free up a roster spot for someone else. But Boykin’s got to show he’s up for the challenge. The nickel corner will be on the field for nearly 50 percent of the defense’s snaps in the regular season. If the coaches don’t feel like they can trust Boykin in Week 1, Hanson will get the nod.

The left tackle competition – King Dunlap gets the start once again, and if I had to bet right now on who will be on the field in Week 1, he’s my pick. Dunlap looked pretty good in pass protection last week, but he’s not even close to being in Jason Peters’ league as a run blocker. I’d like to see the Eagles try to run to Dunlap’s side a little more tonight to see how he does. Meanwhile, Demetress Bell struggled in the second half of last week’s game and looks generally uncomfortable. If he turns in a good performance tonight, perhaps he’ll start in the final preseason game with a chance to win the spot back. But for now, it’s Dunlap’s job to lose.

DeMeco Ryans – The veteran linebacker doesn’t like answering questions about his Achilles. Seemingly every day this summer, he’s been asked about the injury he suffered in 2010. And every day, he lets reporters know that he’s fine and 100 percent healthy. It’s clear that Ryans has a lot of pride and something to prove after the Houston Texans dumped him this offseason. The veteran looked good last week, diagnosing run plays and getting to the ballcarrier. His coverage skills have produced mixed results. We won’t really know what Ryans is capable of until the regular season, but considering he may sit in the final preseason game, it’d be nice to see him continue to progress tonight.

Dennis Kelly – The Eagles surprised many draftniks in April when they selected Kelly in the fifth round (153rd overall). But the 6-8, 320-pounder out of Purdue will get the start at right tackle as Todd Herremans will miss the game because of a death in the family. In game action so far, Kelly has played both right tackle and right guard. He’s been up and down, but clearly, Howard Mudd likes what he sees. As I mentioned yesterday, line depth is a concern for this team. Depending on how Bell progresses, Kelly could be counted on in a backup role this season.

Mychal Kendricks – He was impressive against New England. Part of being a rookie means building on that experience tonight and not making the same mistakes twice. Kendricks has played fast and shown the ability to make plays behind the line of scrimmage. He also diagnosed and disrupted screen plays successfully, but coverage is the key with him. He got beat for a touchdown against the Patriots, and it looked like he got mixed up in zone on another pass play in the middle of the field. He’s slated to be a three-down linebacker, but every snap is important – even in the preseason.

Phillip Hunt – He’s been a beast with three sacks and a pair of forced fumbles through two preseason games. Hunt has lined up primarily at left defensive end, but has also seen time at right defensive end, and was even inside on one snap last week. Hunt’s got a roster spot locked up, but he could earn a bigger role if he continues to impress and shows he can hold up against the run.

Brandon Graham – He got off to a good start against the Steelers and was ok against New England. The Eagles are going to have decisions to make at defensive end when they cut the roster to 53 and when they decide who’s going to be active on gameday. Assuming Jason Babin’s healthy, he and Trent Cole will run with the first team, but after that, there’s some indecision. Given how Hunt’s played, it’s safe to assume he’ll be in the mix. That leaves Graham, rookie Vinny Curry and Darryl Tapp (who might not survive cuts) fighting for playing time. And don’t forget, Cullen Jenkins has been playing a lot of defensive end too. Graham has had a good summer and will make the team, but he’s still got a lot to prove.

Stanley Havili – He put himself in the driver’s seat for the starting fullback job with a nice game against the Patriots, showing the ability to carry the ball with a 14-yard run and acting as a lead blocker on LeSean McCoy’s touchdown run. Perhaps most importantly, Havili made a great play on the punt coverage team. When teams get down to 53, there will be fullbacks available. Havili needs to convince Reid and Howie Roseman to stick with him instead of going after a player not currently on the roster.

Damaris Johnson – He had a great camp and an impressive preseason opener against the Steelers. But last week, Johnson fumbled his first punt return, before picking the ball up, gaining 6 yards and running out of bounds. If Johnson is going to be the primary punt returner, Bobby April and the coaches need to know they can trust him to hang onto the football. He’s a safe bet to make the roster at this point, but needs to avoid miscues on special teams.

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