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Updating 5 Preseason Storylines

Posted Aug 17, 2014

We arrive at the halfway point of the preseason with questions, always. As head coach Chip Kelly said on Sunday when asked if the Eagles are where they should be, "No, you're never where you should be." ...

We arrive at the halfway point of the preseason with questions, always. As head coach Chip Kelly said on Sunday when asked if the Eagles are where they should be, "No, you're never where you should be. You want to be clean."

The Eagles aren't clean. They are sorting through the same task list of every NFL team. They want to make sure they have the best 53 players possible on the roster. They want to make certain the players are absorbing and applying the techniques being taught. With an eye on Preseason Game No. 3 against Pittsburgh (Thursday, 7:30 PM, 6abc and NFL Network), let's go through a couple of storylines with some updates.

1. HOW SERIOUS IS THE INJURY SITUATION?

In the big picture, not bad at all (knocking on wood, trust me). Wide receiver Riley Cooper returned to practice on Sunday. Wide receiver Jeremy Maclin has a "tight" hamstring, according to Kelly, but it isn't anything thought to be serious. Rookie wideout Josh Huff had X-rays taken on his shoulder and they were negative. He is probably out for the Steelers game, but he may have avoided any long-term injury on what was a nasty hit on a kickoff return in New England.

Kelly said that cornerback Cary Williams, who injured his hamstring on his 77-yard interception return for a touchdown against the Patriots, is hopeful to play vs. Pittsburgh. Running back Chris Polk remains out, and there is no timetable for when he will get back on the field. Center Julian Vandervelde remains sidelined after having back surgery.

None of the injuries appear to be ones that will drag into the regular season, or at least significantly into the regular season. That's comforting to know in this preseason of attrition around the league.

2. WHAT KIND OF PROGRESS IS THE OFFENSE MAKING?

This is going to be a really, really fun offense to watch. It's not all perfect right now and everyone understands that there is a lot of work to do, but the Eagles certainly have liked a lot of what they've seen from this group. Tight end Zach Ertz's rapid development and the rise of rookie wide receiver Jordan Matthews and the explosiveness of running back Darren Sproles are elements that will create some very favorable matchups this season.

Tight end Brent Celek has been outstanding this preseason and LeSean McCoy is as good as ever and when the receivers are all healthy and on their games, the possibilities are truly exciting.

The Eagles are nicely stocked at quarterback with Nick Foles, Mark Sanchez and Matt Barkley. Sanchez has played so well that he's now going to have trade rumors circulating. That's almost a guarantee, because the media will take the idea of Sanchez to a team desperately in need of a quarterback like, say, Houston, and make a big deal of it. The trade scenario is great fodder for the fans and media.

Sanchez is just great for the Eagles. He's a perfect fit here backing up Foles. And Barkley's strong play in New England was very, very encouraging.

The offensive line has been up and down so far, so that group has to put it all together, and once it happens the offense will be humming in a big, big way.

3. IS THE DEFENSE GOING TO BE OK?

There is every reason to think the defense will be improved in Year 2. Malcolm Jenkins is going to make a difference at safety. There is more depth along the defensive line. The cornerbacks have the physical ability to match up with the size apparent in the NFL at receiver.

There are also some concerns. The Eagles must generate a pass rush on a consistent basis to be elite. The emphasis placed on certain rules - specifically, no contact after 5 yards - requires better technique and discipline for defensive players. The problems on third downs in the first two preseason games need to be fixed.

Keep in mind, though, that defenses aren't game planning in the preseason. Everything changes when the regular season begins. The Eagles will be ready to go when Jacksonville comes to town.

4. WHICH PLAYERS ARE MAKING ROSTER MOVES?

1. Defensive end Brandon Bair is impressing the heck out of the coaching staff. He does all the little things a 3-4 end does, and while he's not going to have big numbers or eye-popping plays, Bair looks like a great fit as a reserve behind Fletcher Cox and Cedric Thornton.

2. When you get a chance, you take advantage of it. That's exactly what running back Henry Josey did on Friday in New England, with 56 yards on 8 carries and a great catch-and-run play on which Josey caught a screen pass and worked his blockers well and went down the sideline for a 27-yard touchdown. He may not make the roster, but he's in the conversation for sure.

3. With Vandervelde out, David Molk has stated his case as the backup center. His block helped spring Josey on Friday and Molk is a strong and physical player who is pushing for a spot.

5. ARE THERE OTHER THINGS TO WONDER WITH 2 GAMES LEFT?

  • Alex Henery is the leading candidate to kick here in 2014, but he's got to deliver on 47-yard field goals. He knows it. His effort on Friday night was disappointing.

  • Arrelious Benn put forth a strong effort in New England to win a roster spot with a blocked punt and a touchdown catch. The next two games are very important. That sixth wide receiver spot is still very much open.

  • Emmanuel Acho has quietly been around the ball in both preseason games and he led the Eagles in tackles against the Patriots. He could be the team's fourth inside linebacker at this point.

  • Damaris Johnson returns kickoffs, returns punts, plays wide receiver and can be a piece to move around out of the backfield in the passing game. It will be interesting to see what happens with him.

  • How much will the starters play against Pittsburgh? History shows that the starters usually play the first half in the third preseason game. If Nate Allen gets the majority, or all, of the starting reps at safety in that game, does that mean he's the starter for sure next to Jenkins?

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