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4 storylines to follow as Eagles host the Patriots

Jonathan Gannon 1920 081621

Welcome to preseason game No. 2, a finale after two joint practices with New England. What are we looking for? Everything is always the answer in this three-game preseason. After a solid start last week, the Eagles want to build on the good things they saw in the first half and improve some of the mistakes made in a sloppy second half. Here are some areas I will be watching ...

1. The starters: To play or not to play?

Head Coach Nick Sirianni hasn't yet determined how he's going to play this game after two days of joint practices with New England, and he certainly has options. The reps taken against New England at the NovaCare Complex were quality stuff, and Sirianni places high value on the sessions (there are two more days of joint practices next week against the Jets). If the starters play, they aren't likely to go very long.

You can include rookie wide receiver DeVonta Smith in the mix as well. He has worked hard to put himself in position to play in the preseason. The only question now seems to be whether Sirianni feels it is necessary to give Smith some reps in the preseason. Smith said he is ready to play if called upon.

2. Wide receiver corps: Taking the next step

Quez Watkins was electrifying last week against Pittsburgh with his 79-yard catch-and-run for a touchdown. He then went out and had two outstanding days against the Patriots in the joint practices. He is just brimming with confidence.

"To start things off the way it went last week helps my confidence, yes," he said. "We're out there trying to make plays like that, and to have that happen, it was great. We're all pushing each other in the wide receiver room and we're all having fun and taking turns making big plays."

Jalen Reagor also had a huge week against New England. J.J. Arcega-Whiteside and Greg Ward and all of the receivers had moments. Now, let's see them take that momentum into this preseason game. The Eagles have shown a lot of faith in the young guys and that faith has been rewarded with collective improvement. Stacking days and weeks is what it's all about.

3. Defense staying basic and continuing its evaluation

Jonathan Gannon continues evaluating talent and assessing where to put his players into positions where they can be productive. What he's showing in the preseason games is his basic scheme, and by the time the regular season begins this defense will have its specific assignments down. That said, Gannon provided an overview of where he feels the defense is in a conversation we had on Wednesday, and there is no doubt that he's pleased with the progress.

How has the integration gone given so many new faces learning the scheme?

"Easily, and it's because of the veterans we have," he said. "The veterans that were here and the veterans we brought in are high-character guys, so they're about the team first and they understand what we're trying to get done and none of the vets that we have put themselves over the team. That's why it's been such an easy transition, because they're on the same page of, 'Hey, the 2021 Philadelphia Eagles, it's the defense first, it's you second.' We didn't have to sell it at all. That's the type of players and people that they were. It's been a breeze."

We may not see it in these preseason games, but Gannon is putting his system in place and it's going to be fun to find out what it's all about. In the meantime, he has preseason games to coach. And a successful Thursday night for him would mean ... what, exactly?

"I want to see high effort from our guys. I want to see good tackling. I want to see hitting," he said. "And I want to see strip attempts and hopefully we get a couple of turnovers. I'd like to take the ball away."

And there you go.

4. Arryn Siposs in his punter/holder/more? role

In case you didn't notice, Jake Elliott is listed as "day to day" with an ankle injury. If that injury prevents him from kicking against New England, Arryn Siposs would have the assignment of kicking off and attempting field goals in addition to his punting duties (Nick Mullens would be the holder on field goals and PATs). Siposs could have a very, very busy evening. He averaged 51.3 yards on his punts last week and he was flawless holding.

What we're potentially looking at here is an emergency situation and, of course, it's always worthwhile to address an emergency in the preseason. It's great practice. Siposs has practiced kickoffs in Training Camp, so that shouldn't be too much of a challenge for him, but the field goals? Let's just see what happens if the Eagles keep Elliott on the sidelines until he's 100 percent good to go and ready to pick up where he left off after three successful field goal attempts last week.

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