PITTSBURGH -- I want to see them all, so let's get that out of the way right off the top. As far as preseason games go, this one rates highly for me, because it has been too long since the Eagles played and because there is a huge sense of wonder about a football team that has enjoyed a strong spring and an excellent summer.
I can't wait for the kickoff.
After an 8-8 season, one that ended with the Eagles watching the playoffs from the misery of their living rooms, a new opportunity awaits. Tonight at Heinz Field against the Steelers, a new era begins. A new season starts, kind of. We can judge the players on this roster moving forward not on what they've done in practice, but what they've done against players in other uniforms.
I have a long list of players to watch intently, and here are a few of the names circled ...
QB DONOVAN McNABB
This is an obvious one, yes. McNabb has looked so good in training camp and you want to believe that his play will carry over to game situations. The Steelers like to blilz, which should give McNabb an opportunity to fully test his mobility, his quick release, his recognition. I expect the Eagles to throw early to get McNabb into his rhythm and then get him out of the game.
Whether he lasts more than one or two drives depends largely on how well the offense operates against the Steelers defense. Look for some stuff down the field early and then see how McNabb sprays the ball around to his receivers.
RB LORENZO BOOKER
Where is Booker going to line up in the formation? Is his role in this offense going to be more as a receiver than as a running back? How often will Booker and Brian Westbrook (or Correll Buckhalter) play together?
Booker has been an eye-opening player since the Eagles acquired him from the Dolphins on draft weekend. He has great versatility and speed and everything you want in a "space" player. Now we have a chance to project him in a game situation. He is an exciting player. Having Booker gives the Eagles some options, and while the offensive approach is going to be vanilla, we will get a hint of the plan with him.
Another chance Booker has to impress is in the kickoff return game. He is the guy the Eagles need to advance the ball up the field and be a threat to take it to the house.
LB STEWART BRADLEY
He is the man in the middle now, the one who has the speaker in his helmet receiving the defensive signals from Jim Johnson and the guy who needs to line up everyone around him. Bradley, in other words, has a lot on his shoulders. Bradley showed a lot of promise late in his rookie campaign and gained the coaches' confidence right away. He has prepared for this moment, and now should get enough of a challenge against the play-action-happy Steelers to have a good test.
DE CHRIS CLEMONS
I don't know how much Clemons is going to play, but I want to see speed off the edge and I want to see him lead the way from the left end spot when the Eagles go to nickel and play Darren Howard and Juqua Parker inside, along with Clemons and Trent Cole at the end positions.
Clemons is seen as a pass-rushing threat. He needs to be that player from the very start and give the Eagles another player that blocking schemes have to account for. He seems to have taken to the scheme and what the Eagles want from their ends.
WR/PR DeSEAN JACKSON
Waiting for this one, huh? Jackson is perhaps the most-anticipated player on the list, for obvious reasons. He is in line to return punts live for the first time in an Eagles uniform, and Jackson is likely to get quite a bit of time as a receiver.
You know the deal with Jackson: He has speed. He has hands. He has been able to get open in the summer and has made big plays in training camp. The preseason tempo is new for Jackson, so we have a chance to see how quickly he adjusts and see that speed on display against a field of very fast players.
Can't wait ...
OG MAX JEAN-GILLES
Jean-Gilles is the starter at right guard now and for the forseeable future as Shawn Andrews remains away from the team. So Jean-Gilles, who has made rapid improvement in his pass protection, goes against a team that changes its look among the front seven as well as any team in the league.
Jean-Gilles is a road-grader of a lineman who is developing more finesse. It will be interesting to see how much the Eagles run behind Jean-Gilles, and it would be a great test to see him lead the way on a third-and-1 situation.
DT TREVOR LAWS
The team's first draft pick is one of only four tackles who are expected to play in the game -- along with starters Mike Patterson and Brodrick Bunkley, and reserve Dan Klecko -- so Laws' conditioning is going to be tested. He wasn't able to run while recovering from his foot injury and is just now getting back into game shape.
Laws is going to be exhausted after this game. He will, though, gain a pretty fast understanding of the NFL game against a big, bruising Steelers offensive line.
Laws wants to improve his pass-rushing skills more than anything else. He feels his work in the running game is making progress. Let's see how he does getting into the backfield and showing the Eagles they can count on him to help as a rookie.