Eagles Wake-Up Call: What To Watch For vs. PIT
The Eagles visit the Steelers for their second preseason game tonight at 7, and even with Carson Wentz sidelined, there will be plenty of interesting storylines. Here are five we’ll be following closely.
Doug Pederson kept his word last week and pulled the first-team offense after they scored a touchdown on their first series, despite the drive lasting just three snaps, so we only got to see Bradford attempt one pass. If Pederson keeps his word again this week, we’ll see Bradford and the starting offense on the field for at least the first quarter, and possibly a series or two in the second quarter.
When last season ended, I expected Bradford to build off the success he had in the second half of the season and turn in a better overall performance in 2016 than he did in 2015. Eight months later, the receivers don’t look very good, the offensive line is on the brink of becoming a mess and the running backs are another big question mark. Still, I expect Bradford’s pocket mobility and footwork to be better, and this will be our first glance to see where the Eagles’ starting quarterback is at.
Allen Barbre replacing Lane Johnson as the starting right tackle was the expected move, but Isaac Seumalo starting at left guard over Stefen Wisniewski was not a move I saw coming so early on. Wisniewski certainly did not impress against Tampa Bay, but Seumalo is not close to being caught up after missing OTAs and minicamp. The rookie has been open about feeling behind, and I wonder if his head will be spinning against Cleveland if he has to start in Week 1.
These next three games will go a long way in determining the Eagles’ starting offensive line once the regular season begins, and tonight will be our first chance to see what Seumalo can do with the first-team offense. We also get a peek at whether Barbre will be a sufficient stopgap while Johnson sits out, and if Halapoulivaati Vaitai shows any aptitude with the reserves.
Nelson Agholor and the Receivers
Howie Roseman began looking into acquiring Dorial Green-Beckham at least three weeks ago, so if he was interested then, it’s no surprise he pulled the trigger after Nelson Agholor’s uninspiring training camp and the rest of the receiving corp’s poor play in the first preseason game. One popular narrative is the Green-Beckham trade was a message to the other wideouts which will hopefully challenge people to step up, but in reality, the move is simply a reflection of how little confidence the Eagles have in Bradford’s targets.
Throughout the offseason, I anticipated Agholor would take a significant step forward in year two and felt his injury played a significant role in his poor production last season. While he’s made that stance harder to keep, I am looking forward to seeing the 23-year-old tonight. I’m curious to see if Chris Givens can stretch the field or if Paul Turner can make a play at the 53-man roster, but I’m not sure how confident I am that Rueben Randle will play with much more effort than he did against the Buccaneers.
Ron Brooks vs. Nolan Carroll
Eric Rowe and Jalen Mills have gotten so much attention throughout training camp it seems like we’ve almost forgotten about a couple of more important players: Brooks and Carroll. In recent weeks, Brooks was my best guess as to who will start opposite of Leodis McKelvin, but Carroll has increasingly gotten reps with the first-team defense.
It’s unclear if Jim Schwartz just wants to see Carroll against different receivers and with different defenders, but maybe the 29-year-old has gained some momentum. Even if Brooks starts the season as an outside corner with the first-team defense, I think Carroll would overtake him eventually. But as the Birds well know, cornerback isn’t a spot where you want to have a lot of question marks. We may get a better feel for the state of position after getting more film on them tonight.
Guys Returning From Injury
The Wendell Smallwood hype train picked up a lot of steam during the spring and the early part of the summer, but his quad injury temporarily derailed that. His time out hasn’t changed how his coach view him, so it’s still fair to expect him to occupy some type of part-time role this season. I imagine he’d most easily carve out a niche for himself as a third-down back, but his play in Pittsburgh could offer more clues as to how Pederson may deploy him.
Marcus Smith is also back from his concussion to compete with Steven Means for a spot on the 53-man roster, while JaCorey Shepherd will get his first crack at regaining the momentum he built last summer before tearing his ACL. Malcolm Jenkins, Jason Peters and Marcus Johnson are also expected to play for the first time this preseason.
WHAT YOU MISSED
An updated 53-man roster projection after the addition of Dorial Green-Beckham.
“It’s a mentality, by the way, that will get Green-Beckham crushed in Philadelphia by a far less-forgiving fan base.” What They’re Saying.
“I’m all for it regardless of what position it’s at.” Why adding Green-Beckham is worth the risk.
WHAT THEY’RE SAYING
In Jim Schwartz’s new scheme, the safeties will play an important role in stopping the run. Paul Domowitch of the Daily News has more.
Yet, the fact that the Eagles replaced one of last year’s two starting safeties, converted corner Walter Thurmond, who retired to pursue a career in film production, with Rodney McLeod, who is a much more physical safety than Thurmond, speaks volumes.
So too, does something Schwartz said the other day when he was asked about corner-turned-safety Jaylen Watkins.
“I think the biggest thing for him is going to be tackling from the safety position,” Schwartz said of the 5-11 1/2, 195-pound Watkins. “That’s going to be his biggest challenge just because he’s played mostly corner, and it’s a different angle and things like that.
“That’s pretty much what he’s been working on. But what you’ve seen (from him) is his ability to make a play on the ball, and he needs to continue to do that also.”
From the outside looking in, Watkins’ chances of making the Eagles’ season-opening roster when training camp began late last month seemed to rank somewhere between slim and none. They are a bit better right now. He’s hardly a slam-dunk to be one of the final 53 preseason survivors. But if keeps playing well, he could be one of the four or five safeties the Eagles keep.
Although he’s currently behind Jordan Hicks and Joe Walker at the MIKE linebacker position, Don Cherry looks to make an impression for the remainder of the preseason, writes Bob Ford of the Inquirer.
“He brings the intangibles you love to see in a football player,” Villanova coach Andy Talley said. “He’s so smart that he’s always one step ahead of the play. He’s faster on the field than most linebackers, because those guys slow down to figure out where the ball is. He knows where the ball is. He’s the equivalent of a 4.5 or 4.6 [40-yard dash] guy when it comes to diagnosing to the football. He probably doesn’t run that when you time him, but he’s got game speed.”Cherry was good immediately for Talley and Villanova. He played as a true freshman and would eventually become a three-time all-CAA selection and captain of the team. Those honors came while Cherry was working toward a degree at Villanova’s school of business with a major in finance. He completed that degree a semester early so he could concentrate on making an NFL team this spring. At some point, Cherry wants to earn an MBA and specialize in international finance, but he’d be happy if that goal has to be delayed.
“I don’t really have any doubt. My mindset is to compete. Put me up against any person on the field, and I’ll try to kick his ass. If I get my ass knocked down, I’m going to get up and fight again,” Cherry said. “That’s my attitude. I’m going to compete and take it as far as I can.”
The Eagles take on the Steelers in Pittsburgh at 7 p.m.
Chris Jastrzembski contributed to this post.