Gameday is here! The Eagles are in Chicago to take on the Bears in the preseason opener with kickoff set for 8 PM (TV: 6abc, Radio: 94WIP, Satellite info here). Head coach Chip Kelly said that the starters are expected to play 10-15 snaps, which will provide plenty of opportunity for the backup players to make an impression on the coaching staff. It's the first chance to see the Eagles in a game situation since January 4.
If you're unable to watch the game locally on 6abc, follow the action online here as we'll host a live chat or on our app. Once the action is over, we will broadcast the press conferences live and have highlights for your viewing pleasure. I want to see every facet of the team in great detail, but here are five things to keep an eye on during the Eagles-Bears game ...
1. The Class Of 2014
Enough with practice. How do the rookies handle a game situation?
Let's start with linebacker Marcus Smith II, the team's first-round pick. This will be the first NFL game he's ever attended. Ever. How does he handle the moment? Is he lining up in the right spots? How does he look in coverage? And, sure, why not get a taste of him rushing the passer? Then, there's Jordan Matthews, the wide receiver who has garnered plenty of headlines during Training Camp. Can the camp success translate to game action? What will Josh Huff's role be? Will we see him in the return game at all? With cornerback Jaylen Watkins, I don't expect to see him battling Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery. He could have been matched up against Marquess Wilson, who is 6-foot-4 himself, but the promising second-year receiver is out with a broken collarbone.
Tonight will present the best chance to see the line play up to this point. Defensive end Taylor Hart has drawn rave reviews and nose tackle Beau Allen worked with the first-team unit in Training Camp. Could safety Ed Reynolds showcase the ballhawking ability that made him an All-America selection at Stanford?
It's exciting to finally witness the Eagles' draft class of 2014 on the playing field to see how far they've developed.
2. The Backup Quarterbacks
Yes, I want to see Nick Foles in his first preseason game as the Eagles' starting quarterback and check out all of the facets of his game that he's worked on this offseason. But I'm also not going to go overboard with the analysis. We know what he's capable of in this offense.
The value of the backup quarterback was evident once again last season. The quest to be No. 2 enters a new phase tonight. This is our first chance to see Mark Sanchez in a game situation with his new team. How does he command the offense? Will the rapport he developed with Jordan Matthews be evident? The former first-round pick came to Philadelphia to rejuvenate his career. Now, we've seen Matt Barkley in live game action before. Barkley had the full year of experience and the offseason to develop. He knows what's expected of him. He's looked good in Training Camp. Now, he's got to carry that over to the preseason. I haven't forgotten about G.J. Kinne. I don't know how many reps he'll get, but Kinne's ability to make plays with his feet will make the end of the game worth watching.
3. Who Will Start Alongside Malcolm Jenkins?
Head coach Chip Kelly has noted how much deeper the secondary is this year as compared to last year and that's certainly the case with the safety position. Malcolm Jenkins has appeared to be everything the Eagles wanted from a playing and leadership standpoint. Linebacker DeMeco Ryans has called him the piece the defense was missing.
But who will start alongside him? Nate Allen has taken most of the reps with Jenkins in Training Camp, but Earl Wolff has had his fair share as well. Wolff's rookie season ended on what he described as a down note after a knee injury limited him after starting six games. This is the first time Allen has played in the same scheme in consecutive seasons since being a second-round pick in 2010. Will that show? The battle for the other starting spot isn't just limited to Allen and Wolff. Chris Maragos, the free agent acquisition from Seattle, might be known for his special teams prowess, but he'll be in the mix as well. Then, there's a group of young safeties led by Davon Morgan and Ed Reynolds.
On a related side note, how trigger-happy will the officials be with flags with the emphasis on calling defensive contact beyond the 5-yard mark?
4. The Backup Offensive Linemen
In reality, the more immediate question is how does Allen Barbre perform as the starting right tackle with Lane Johnson's impending suspension? Offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur explained that Barbre's performance up to this point has almost wrapped up the opening day starting nod. But, in case of emergency, who would be the next player in line across the board?
Guard Dennis Kelly didn't play all of last season with a back injury, so this is our first chance to see him in the Eagles' offense. David Molk has been the backup center with Julian Vandervelde sidelined. Does former rookie free agent Matt Tobin make strides after spending all of last season on the roster, but not playing on offense? Can Andrew Gardner be the next former Houston Texan to enjoy success in Philadelphia? The offensive linemen are not going to typically be on the highlight reel, but if the unit does not function neither will the quarterbacks or skill position players.
5. Special Teams
There are a number of reasons you should not think of special teams as either snack time or the time to hit the bathroom. First, how does Alex Henery handle the 33-yard extra point attempts? If he's getting multiple chances, that means the offense is scoring touchdowns - an added bonus. Henery has also been working on his kickoffs and in Training Camp his leg has looked stronger. Who will be in at returner? Do we see Darren Sproles on punt return duty? Does rookie Josh Huff get extensive work? Maybe Jordan Matthews? Damaris Johnson?
How will coordinator Dave Fipp's crew look in Year 2? The Eagles signed linebacker Bryan Braman ("Kill. Maim. Destroy.") and Chris Maragos to boost the coverage units. This will be critical for the depth players who are fighting for roster spots. Oh, and, I wouldn't forget about Donnie Longball plying his trade as well.