After months of anxiously waiting, football is finally back.
Although it is only the preseason, the Philadelphia Eagles are ready to get back into the swing of things. They will start by testing their new 2014 team out against the Chicago Bears this Friday at Soldier Field.
Head coach Chip Kelly had a tremendous first year in the NFL breaking Eagles records as he took them back to the playoffs after a two-year hiatus. Kelly has now had an entire offseason to evaluate his players, scheme, and play calling to find new ways to improve them all as he enters his sophomore campaign. Below are some key things I’m looking forward to seeing this first game on both sides of the ball:
Matt Barkley’s development over the summer
Former quarterbacks coach Bill Lazor left the Eagles to become Miami’s new offensive coordinator, so how has newcomer Bill Musgrave done teaching quarterback Matt Barkley? Barkley had a rough rookie year being thrown into the fire during less than ideal situations. Several times he was forced to manufacture comeback wins on the fly due to injuries on the depth chart ahead of him. It will be interesting to see how much Barkley has improved this offseason and if he has the ability to seize the second spot on the depth chart backing up Nick Foles. The early outlook is not looking favorable for Barkley who has been playing with the third team while free agent acquisition Mark Sanchez has played with the second unit. Barkley has a lot to prove in this week’s game to try and beat Sanchez for the number two spot. This is one preseason battle that many Eagles fans have been looking forward to.
How does Chris Polk look?
After trading last year’s main back up Bryce Brown to Buffalo for draft picks, how will Chris Polk look this preseason? If LeSean McCoy were to come down with an injury and miss time, it would most likely be Polk, not newcomer Darren Sproles, in line for the most carries. Sproles will be utilized all over the formation and it would be best if he were kept fresh. Is Polk capable of taking over if Shady went down with an injury? He had an outstanding collegiate career at Washington surpassing 1,000 yards for three straight seasons. Although it was just a small sample, Polk had immense success last year with the Eagles scoring three times in just eleven carries. Polk is one player to keep a close eye on Friday.
Will the Eagles carry four running backs?
For a team that runs the ball as often as the Eagles, having a fourth running back on the team is not an outlandish idea. Considering Sproles’ versatility and non-traditional running back style of play, it wouldn’t be a terrible choice for the Eagles to keep four running backs following the conclusion of preseason. Matthew Tucker has the early jump on the fourth spot as he spent time last year on the practice squad and some time on the 53-man roster. Henry Josey and David Fluellen are also in the mix, so we’ll see who can separate from the group against the Bears.
How is the communication when DeMeco Ryans is off the field?
Playing an away game is a great way to test defensive coordinator Bill Davis and how his defense handles their communication and assignments. Najee Goode is slated as the third inside linebacker, but will he be ready for the task at hand of lining up the defense quickly and correctly? The Eagles added several new players through the offseason and getting the entire team on the same page is critical. Goode played sparingly last year for the Eagles but shone brightly when his number was called piling up five tackles, a sack, and a pair of passes broken up in his lone game filling in as a starter. A great preseason could go a long way to helping Goode see an expanded role as the Eagles try to cut back on some of DeMeco Ryans’ snaps this year.
Marcus Smith at the point of attack
To expect the world out of first-round pick Marcus Smith right out of the gate is highly unfair to the young outside linebacker. Most rookies go through an adjustment phase and Smith will likely be no different. What will be interesting to see is how Smith is used. Will he be setting the edge? Will he be rushing the passer? Dropping back in coverage? Smith had a stellar career for Louisville and it will be exciting to see how Davis utilizes him this year on defense. Practicing with the two’s and three’s have lessened the anticipation of his debut, but it will be interesting to see how he fares in Friday’s game.
Defensive line depth
One of the less heralded units on the Eagles, the defensive line is a young group looking to make it’s mark this year. We’ve seen how well the starters can play as their play progressed towards the end of last year, but how is the depth here? The Eagles have quite a few players on the defensive line looking to make an impact. Rookie Taylor Hart has been impressing the coaching staff with his consistency and technique. Can seventh-round pick Beau Allen leap frog Damion Square to back up
Bennie Logan at nose tackle? Square has been with the second team during training camp and has the versatility that the coaches love; Allen will need to show up in these preseason games to gain any traction at unseating him. Alejandro Villanueva has an uphill climb just to get a roster spot, but has many supporters rooting for the former Army Ranger. Perhaps the biggest name not starting for the Eagles is former 2012 second-round pick Vinny Curry who had a great season last year in limited snaps. An adept pass rusher, Curry’s play last year (4 sacks and 11 hurries) should warrant more time heading into this season. There are some questions at the depth here and we will quickly see how well Chip Kelly and Bill Davis have assembled their defensive front.
The Eagles game this Friday against the Bears will have very little playtime from the starters, so many will be keeping on eye on the reserves and backup positions. Making big plays against actual opponents and not just in practice can go a long way with the coaches when they sit down to finally determine their final 53-man rosters. Hopefully those big preseason plays can pay off for a few players.