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Preseason Opener: Storylines To Follow

Posted Aug 10, 2017

GREEN BAY, WIS – At 176 pounds, Donnel Pumphrey is on the lighter side of the NFL world. He’s a tiny guy. He’s at a weight disadvantage every time he takes the field. And it doesn’t matter one lick to Pumphrey, who tonight plays in his first preseason game as the Eagles take on the Packers at Lambeau Field (8 p.m., NBC10) ...

GREEN BAY, WIS – At 176 pounds, Donnel Pumphrey is on the lighter side of the NFL world. He’s a tiny guy. He’s at a weight disadvantage every time he takes the field. And it doesn’t matter one lick to Pumphrey, who tonight plays in his first preseason game as the Eagles take on the Packers at Lambeau Field (8 p.m., NBC10).

“I’ve been asked about my weight and size since I started playing football,” Pumphrey said. “Doesn’t matter to me. What matters to me is going out there and being productive. There is a lot more to football and being successful than height and weight.”

Pumphrey is one of the storylines for the Eagles in this preseason opener. The intention is to get Pumphrey some reps and hopefully get him into space and see what he can do with the football in his hands, whether he gets it in the passing game or the running game. The NCAA’s all-time leading rusher from his days at San Diego State, Pumphrey expects that his talent, heart, and desire will triumph over his stature.

“It comes down to playing football,” he said.

And tonight is the first time we’ll see the 2017 Eagles as head coach Doug Pederson tries to get reps for every one of his players in uniform. Pumphrey will share the backfield duties with LeGarrette Blount – expect a brief appearance from Blount with the starting offense – and Byron Marshall and rookie Corey Clement. A different kind of running back, Pumphrey’s assets include his quickness, his change of direction and his elusiveness.

The goal for tonight is to begin the game portion of the evaluation process for the Eagles, who want to put together the best 53-man roster possible. Along with Pumphrey, a fourth-round draft pick, there are many storylines to follow against the Packers.

    • How much will quarterback Carson Wentz play? Somewhere around a quarter is a good guess, but the Eagles would sure love to see him take the No. 1 offense down the field for eight plays and 75 yards and put the ball in the end zone. If that happens, Wentz would probably be done for the night. The Eagles just want him to work up a sweat, get something going with the offense, and then get off the field healthy.

    • We’re all watching the wide receivers, even if a few of them don’t play. Second-year man Paul Turner has been out with a shoulder injury the last few days. Marcus Johnson has been nursing a hamstring injury. The Eagles are “managing” Alshon Jeffery in the preseason, so even if Jeffery is all good after suffering a shoulder injury a couple of weeks ago, he may not play. Having him 100 percent for the regular season is the goal. Still, Torrey Smith, Jordan Matthews, Nelson Agholor, Shelton Gibson, and the rest of the talented wide receiver room will provide plenty to watch.

    • Chance Warmack was a star at Alabama under offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland. Warmack had four seasons in Tennessee before signing with the Eagles to be reunited with Stoutland, the Eagles’ offensive line coach. Now Warmack gets a shot at starting at right guard with Brandon Brooks out with an ankle injury. This is a great chance for Warmack to make his move. He’ll start at right guard and then move to left guard when the No. 2 offensive line enters the game.

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  • On the defensive side of the ball, yes, everyone is going to watch the cornerbacks and see how they respond in a game situation. The Eagles have a month to figure things out at a position that is wide open for playing time. But how about up front? There have been only two days of hitting in Training Camp, and the quarterback is never allowed to be hit. So now the defense can play all out. What will it look like with Tim Jernigan lining up next to Fletcher Cox? How well does rookie end Derek Barnett finish? He’s been taking practice reps on both edges and the Eagles are extremely impressed, and now Barnett and the defense play football. Preseason games are much more revealing for the defense, obviously, than is practice.

  • Draft pick Nathan Gerry has been a positive producer as he’s made the transition from college safety to NFL linebacker and now he’s got some live action. The Eagles want to see him in coverage. They want to see him attack the line of scrimmage. Gerry is off to a strong start, so let’s see how he progresses tonight.

  • Matt McGloin is going to play a lot at quarterback with Nick Foles out because of an elbow injury, so McGloin has a great chance to impress the coaches by commanding the huddle and moving the offense. Will the Eagles keep three quarterbacks on the roster? A strong preseason from McGloin would certainly make for a compelling case.

  • The Eagles signed safety Corey Graham and he’s had a handful of days to get into football shape and learn the defense. Now the Eagles want to see how Graham fits into the safety picture, which impacts the corner picture, which is, of course, a position with many questions.

  • And then there’s this: The special teams haven’t been live all year. We expect them to be outstanding this year. Tonight, we’ll learn a little bit about Mack Hollins, who was a terrific special teamer in college. Can he step right in and help in coverage? Who returns kickoffs? Having Caleb Sturgis, Donnie Jones, and Jon Dorenbos together again keeps the kicking-game operation smooth. The Eagles start to learn if there are any other “stopper” players on special teams to join core standouts Chris Maragos and Trey Burton. Hollins is a leading candidate. 

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