The 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:
Billy Davis indicated today that he’ll make his final evaluations on starters after Saturday night’s preseason game against the Jaguars.
Keeping that in mind, here’s a position-by-position look at which spots are up for grabs, along with comments from Davis.
Cole is one of the most important players on the team when it comes to undergoing a successful defensive transformation in Year One. The 30-year-old is being asked to move to a 3-4 outside linebacker role after eight (largely successful) years as a 4-3 defensive end.
“I think there’s a versatility in the 3-4 defense that you like, but, again, I think when Billy [Davis] said it, we’re going from a wide nine to a three‑four. When do we get to a 3-4? I don’t know,” said Kelly following Friday’s practice. “We’re moving in that direction, but where we go really depends on us making a real thorough evaluation of how those guys at the outside linebacker are playing.”
Billy Davis is well aware that there is no quick fix for the Eagles’ defense.
But he also knows that fans don’t want to hear excuses.
“We’ve done a complete roster flip defensively pretty much,” Davis said. “I mean there’s a huge roster change and then there’s a scheme change. We’re not going to run the Wide-9 4-3. I know that we’re moving away from that with players that were picked for that and were built for that. Now we’re kind of re-training that, so this year’s absolutely the hardest transition year we’re going to have.”
There are several spots to be won or lost, but the defense could be looking at as many as six starters who weren’t even on the roster last year (Connor Barwin, Isaac Sopoaga, Cary Williams, Bradley Fletcher, Patrick Chung, Kenny Phillips).
In other words, there are going to be bumps in the road. That’s inevitable. But in the NFL, we often see teams go from below .500 to playoff contenders in one year. Davis knows the fan base will expect to see improvements in 2013 after last season’s embarrassing display.
Brandon Graham looked comfortable on the first snap.
He stood up on the right side next to Trent Cole, who was at defensive end, and rushed the passer off the edge.
The next play, however, required something different. Graham found himself matched up against Jason Avant on the left side. Seconds after the ball was snapped, the converted outside linebacker was chasing the veteran slot receiver from behind. Nick Foles’ pass landed in Avant’s hands for a 40-yard touchdown.
On the third snap, Graham was back again on the right side. But this time, instead of rushing the passer, he matched up in coverage against the running back, and the ball wasn’t thrown his way.
In addition to learning their responsibilities in the base defense, Graham and Connor Barwin are also adjusting to a variety of tasks in the Eagles’ 3-3-5 nickel package.
Chip Kelly has warned repeatedly not to draw any depth chart conclusions in May.
And he has a point.
Practice is about getting players acclimated to the offensive and defensive schemes. Reps, reps and more reps.
Having said that, there were a few surprises on Monday, the first time practice was open to the media.
Here’s a quick rundown of some of the positions of note.