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5 Players To Watch Tonight

Posted Aug 15, 2014

FOXBORO, Mass. - The Eagles will play their second game of the preseason tonight when they square off, for real this time, against a New England Patriots team that has been the Eagles’ adversary in practice all week. After a 34-28 loss to the Chicago Bears in the preseason opener, Nick Foles and the Eagles will look to bounce back before heading back to Philadelphia to finish up Training Camp and the final two games of the preseason. So who should you keep an eye on tonight at Gillette Stadium? Here are five important players to watch ...

QB Nick Foles

This is an obvious one, but after an ugly start to 2014 in Soldier Field, Foles and the first-team offense will be under the microscope. Foles completed 6 of 9 passes last Friday night but was intercepted twice as the Eagles failed to score on all three possessions for the first-team offense. Foles should have a good sense of the Patriots' defense after working against the unit all week, though he will once again be without wide receiver Riley Cooper and could also be without Jeremy Maclin. Look for tight end Zach Ertz to play a larger role with the first-team offense after a strong week of practice for the second-year tight end.

WR Jordan Matthews

Another player looking for a bounce-back performance, Matthews was admittedly disappointed with his preseason debut against the Bears, in which he let a few catchable passes hit the ground. Matthews still managed four catches last week, but they only totaled 14 yards. After an outstanding Training Camp that made him the talk of Philadelphia, Matthews rebounded well in practice this week, making a few plays down the field on the Patriots. But after last week, Matthews will need to show he can back up his practice performance when, as offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur said last week, “the shiny pants go on.”

RB Henry Josey

The undrafted rookie out of Missouri joined the Eagles after a decorated collegiate career that saw him run for 2,771 yards and 30 touchdowns in three seasons, including two 1,000-yard rushing seasons sandwiched by a devastating knee injury. But it’s so difficult to evaluate running backs during practice, when there is no tackling. Tonight, the 5-foot-8, 194-pound Josey figures to have plenty of chances to impress. Though he had no carries and only one catch for 4 yards against the Bears, Josey figures to get the lion’s share of the work at running back this evening with Matthew Tucker, Chris Polk and David Fluellen all bothered by injury. After LeSean McCoy and Darren Sproles, Josey is all that’s left – except wide receiver Damaris Johnson, who took some reps at running back this week.

To Josey’s advantage will be a strong group of offensive linemen with the second team. Andrew Gardner, Matt Tobin, David Molk, Dennis Kelly and Lane Johnson might have been the strongest unit as a whole for the Eagles in the preseason opener, and Josey was seen darting through holes made by Johnson and Kelly especially throughout the week of practice.

OLB Marcus Smith II

Another shocker, but yes, keep an eye on the rookie first-round pick. Though he was only credited with two tackles in the preseason opener, including one for a loss, Smith looked active, batting down a pass and covering smoothly. Defensive coordinator Bill Davis said this week that Smith is probably more advanced in setting the edge and in coverage right now than he is as a pass rusher, which is not a bad thing for the rookie as he looks to find his place on the field.

As a pass rusher, Smith said this week that he’s been trying to incorporate a few new moves into his repertoire, including a better bull rush, thanks to the suggestion of Hall of Fame finalist Kevin Greene, who worked with the outside linebackers earlier in Training Camp. Smith received some work with the first-team defense this week, perhaps to help the Eagles evaluate his progress against future Hall of Famer Tom Brady. We may or may not see more of that tonight.

S Keelan Johnson

As Davis continues to shuffle his safety rotation, Johnson received some work with the second-team defense alongside Chris Maragos this week. Still, consider Johnson a placeholder for the entire safety position. Will we see Nate Allen and Malcolm Jenkins as the first-team safeties again? And after Allen played the entire first half last week, will he work with the second team again? And what role will Earl Wolff play?

Still, Johnson is an interesting case after his return from an excused absence in the beginning of Training Camp following a pre-camp arrest. He impressed the team enough during his time on the practice squad last season that they reportedly made an extra effort to keep him around before promoting him to the active roster late in the year. But with a crowded group of safeties on the roster, Johnson knows that he has to do something special to force his way onto the roster – that includes performing on special teams.

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