Anyone ready for some football?
I know I am. Training camp is great, but I'm pretty tired of seeing Eagles hit Eagles. I am ready to see the guys go pound on the Steelers. The thought of players actually tackling Michael Vick, LeSean McCoy and DeSean Jackson makes me nervous, but the flip side is that Eagles defenders can finally hit a quarterback. I know that will have them fired up.
I'm sure you know the story with preseason games. Don't worry about results. Last year, Washington was 3-1. The Rams went 4-0. The Falcons went 0-4. Anyone remember which of those teams actually made the playoffs? If you said Falcons, give yourself a cookie.
Very little is done in terms of gameplans. The Eagles will go over some basics about how to deal with the Steelers offense and defense, but it will be simplistic stuff. The goal isn't to beat them with schemes and preparations. Vanilla schemes put the focus on individual players and execution. The goal in the preseason is to find out who can play and who needs work. Results can give you a false positive. If a young player misses a blocking assignment, but Vick scrambles and fires off a touchdown pass, the result is good. The coaches won't be happy, though. They'll be focused on the missed block.
Coaches must know which players deserve to make the team. They also need to know which players deserve playing time. Who can they trust? The preseason will help reveal which young/new players make mental mistakes or can't physically execute assignments in game action. That is crucial to know. It is still early and mistakes can be corrected.
Players learn a lot in practice, but some need to play in a game to really show where they are in terms of development. There is a flow to games that doesn't exist in practice. You go against players you don't know. The intensity goes up a notch. This brings out the best in some guys. Others struggle to play well under pressure. Just because the games don't count doesn't mean they are without pressure. Fringe players know that any single play could be the difference in them making or not making the team. There is huge pressure on those guys.
So let's talk about what to look for on Thursday night.
|Tommy Lawlor, goeagles99 on the Discussion Boards, is an amateur football scout and devoted Eagles fan. He is the Editor of IgglesBlitz.com and was a contributor to the Eagles Almanac. |
I want the starting offense to look pretty smooth. This is a veteran group. I don't need touchdowns. I want to see the line show some cohesiveness. I want Vick to be crisp. I want the skill players to show good speed.
With the backup units, you have to temper your expectations. They have a lot more new faces. Sometimes they click and play well. Other times you can see major issues that need to be addressed.
As for the defense, this group will have more new faces, at least in terms of the starting lineup. That said, the overall talent is better. I don't need to see them dominate, but I do need to see that the group is headed in the right direction. Last summer, the Steelers got up 21-0 on the starters. I do not want a repeat of that.
Individual Players I'll Focus On:
* QB Mike Kafka - I think Kafka has looked good at Lehigh. He's throwing the ball better than ever. The test for him now is to show that he can get the job done in a game. He put up good numbers last summer so we know he can do it. More than the numbers, Kafka needs to pass the eye test. He needs to look like a good backup quarterback. He needs to look like a guy you would trust as a starter if needed.
* RB Dion Lewis - I had some doubts about the wisdom of going with Lewis as the primary backup at running back, but he has looked terrific in camp. He has really stepped up. The preseason offers him a chance to show just how good he is. I want to see him run strong. I also want to see him get a pass out in space. In camp, he has been driving defenders nuts with his shifty moves and quick burst. I'd love to see Lewis take a short pass for a long gain.
* OT Dennis Kelly - Kelly has been the backup right tackle in camp. The coaches want to know how he will look in a game. Can he step up to the challenge? He must keep his pad level down. The Steelers have short linebackers. This will be a good test for Kelly.
* TE Brett Brackett - We know Brackett can run and catch. He's made that clear up at camp. Can he block? That is the mystery. The Eagles have to be seriously considering keeping a third tight end, but Brackett must show that he can be a functional blocker.
* G/C Dallas Reynolds - The race for the backup center spot is wide open. Reynolds has the job now, but he's far from a lock. He needs a strong showing to help his cause. This is a good matchup. He should anchor well against the Steelers nose tackles. Reynolds is more likely to have problems with lighter, quicker players.
* Fullbacks - Stanley Havili and Emil Igwenagu are fighting for a job. Neither one has earned the starting job so far. Heck, you almost wonder if the Eagles will keep a fullback. One of these two guys needs to have a strong night. The key for both is blocking. They can catch the ball just fine. Showing up on special teams would also be a major help.
* QB Nick Foles - I just want to see what the rookie quarterback can do. Can he handle the speed of the game? How does his arm look? Is he accurate? Does the pass rush overwhelm him?
* WR Marvin McNutt - After a slow spring, McNutt came to life at Lehigh. He is big and tough. He has good hands. He can run after the catch. McNutt hasn't locked down a roster spot quite yet, but he's sure headed in the right direction. A strong game from him will help with that and also force the Eagles to think about getting the ball to him. McNutt is another guy that needs to show up on special teams.
* WR Damaris Johnson - Speaking of special teams, Johnson is slated to be the primary punt returner. He has the quickness and elusiveness to shine in that role. I am also looking forward to seeing him on offense. He has looked faster this summer than I thought he did at Tulsa. The Eagles would love Johnson to shine. His return skills could boost the team. He needs to play well on offense to win a job.
* RB Bryce Brown - He impressed in the spring. That left me with doubts. He has impressed at Lehigh. I'm starting to believe, but still need to see him in game action. I want to see his speed. I also want to see him run hard on the inside and stay behind his pads. Some plays you have to settle for three years. Pass blocking will be huge for him. He's struggled with that, but this is a game and could bring out the best in him.
* DT Derek Landri - Time to switch over to defense and there is no better place to start than with Landri. He is the starting nose tackle for now. Landri was very good last summer. He says he's even better now. I look forward to seeing that.
* LB DeMeco Ryans - We finally get to see the new middle linebacker in action. He will have the eyes of Eagles Nation upon him. Ryans doesn't have to do anything great. Just be in the right spots and make good tackles. I won't complain if he mixes in a big play or two.
* LB Mychal Kendricks - The rookie linebacker has flashed all spring and summer. I want 15 tackles, two sacks and two interceptions. Seems reasonable, right? OK, maybe that's setting the bar high for someone that will only play a few series. Kendricks can win a lot of fans over if he shows his speed and athleticism and tackles well. That stuff should come pretty naturally to him.
* S Jaiquawn Jarrett - Nate Allen will miss the game and Jarrett should get the starting nod. He has flashed this summer. Jarrett must shine in order to secure a roster spot. The key for him is to be in the right place on pass plays and to hit/tackle well when the ball is near him.
* CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie - Rodgers-Cromartie has been the talk of camp. He has made play after play. He's confident and playing lights out. Now he needs to do that in a game. While Rodgers-Cromartie struggled last year, people forget that he made the Pro Bowl in 2009. He is very gifted. Let's hope this is the start to a strong season.
* LB Casey Matthews - What a difference a year makes. Last summer, Matthews was starting and had the pressure of the world on him. This year, he is a backup and role player. He seems at ease and is playing well. I want to see Matthews shine on defense and special teams. He could be an important role player in 2012. It would also be good to know that if anything happens to Ryans, Matthews is ready to step in.
* DT Fletcher Cox - The number one pick is ready to make his debut. Cox is the most naturally gifted defensive tackle the Eagles have had since Jerome Brown. Cox isn't a polished product so don't expect to watch him dominate on every play. He's learning a lot about technique. There will be times when he gets moved off the ball or shut down. The thing to look for is raw talent. Watch how quick he is off the ball. Watch how natural he is at rushing the passer.
* CB Brandon Boykin - Right now, Boykin is the primary kickoff returner. He was great at that at Georgia so he should be fun to watch. Boykin has excellent speed and runs hard. He's not a dancer. Last year, Dion Lewis struggled on kickoffs. Boykin should be an upgrade. He also should look good on defense. I'm curious if he just plays in the slot or if he'll also get some snaps on the outside.
* CB Curtis Marsh - The Eagles have mixed him in a lot this summer. The results have been OK. Marsh looks really good at times, but struggles at others. He needs to look good in the games to secure his spot on the roster and on the depth chart. Last year, he was a project. This year, he's expected to contribute.
* DT Cedric Thornton - Speaking of projects, that was Thornton last summer. He is a changed man this time around. He is in excellent shape. He has played well this summer, showing good quickness and increased strength. Thornton looks like he knows what he's doing now. He played end for part of his college career. He now is comfortable on the inside and it shows. I'm curious to see how good he can be.
I could go on and on, but we'll cut the list there. Can't wait to see the guys in action. Go Eagles!