This game means something. A win on Friday night in Kansas City would be nice, and the Eagles certainly want to execute on offense, defense and special teams. They want to get something going and build some momentum heading toward September and the opening game against Green Bay. But the real, big-picture story for preseason game No. 3 is to evaluate personnel and get closer to determining the 53-man roster. There are still some roster and depth-chart battles out there. Let's take a look ...
ARE ANY STARTING SPOTS UP FOR GRABS?
Well, yes. Brandon Graham is taking reps with the starters at left defensive end but his name is not inked into that position. Juqua Parker, hampered by a sprained ankle, is competing to retain his starting spot. In the end, it probably doesn't matter a whole lot who the starter is because both Graham and Parker are going to play a lot.
The center position is also one in question, largely because of injuries. If Jamaal Jackson were healthy and on the field, there would be no question about the job. But he is recovering from his knee surgery and isn't ready to play quite yet. Backup Nick Cole is also hobbled with a knee injury and may not play in Kansas City.
Right guard also bears watching. The coaching staff wants more from Stacy Andrews. He has been up and down and the coaches want more consistency and performance. Cole can play right guard. Max Jean-Gilles, too. If Andrews falters, the coaches will not hesitate moving him out of the starting spot.
Otherwise, the starting positions seem pretty secure. Trevor Laws is challenging for more playing time at defensive tackle and the linebackers rotate in situations.
WHAT ISTHE WIDE RECEIVER OUTLOOK?
At this point in time, it appears that the top four are DeSean Jackson (he may make it in this league, maybe?), Jeremy Maclin, Jason Avant and Riley Cooper. Hank Baskett has taken a bunch of reps in every package, so he appears to be the fourth receiver. Kelley Washington? He remains in the picture and his career speaks for itself. I still see this one going down to the wire. The Eagles have generally kept five receivers in the past. Would they keep six here? It's tough to say they would, with the offensive line a bit banged up, with questions in the secondary and with so much talent on this roster along the defensive line.
Players like Chad Hall and Jordan Norwood and Dobson Collins have to really impress in the next two games to put a dent into the on-paper 53-man roster.
The Baskett-Washington battle is one to watch. Baskett rebounded well from the knee injury that kept him out of the lineup for several days in training camp and has played particularly well on a daily basis. Washington has been, honestly, relatively quiet. Very, very interesting to see where this goes.
DO THE EAGLES HAVE WHAT THEY NEED AT RUNNING BACK?
So much depends upon Mike Bell's health and his performance on Friday night. If he is the back who looks so good when he practices -- hard runner, physical, catches the ball well and has good speed -- then the Eagles have a very good situation. Bell and LeSean McCoy would, potentially, be a strong combination, a little bit of Thunder and Lightening and all of that.
The key, of course, is that Bell stays healthy. He has been nicked up with a hamstring injury followed by a calf injury, but Bell has been on the field for the last week and he looks terrific. Keep your fingers crossed.
The third halfback, clearly at this point, is Eldra Buckley. He has had a fine summer and appears entrenched here. Buckley is a hard-charging back, a good blocker and he plays well on special teams.
Martell Mallett continues to play well and is pushing, and you wonder if he has a chance to unseat Buckley. If not, maybe a spot on the practice squad? The missing man here is J.J. Arrington. He is practicing, but he isn't making any noise at all here.
HOW DO THE CORNERBACKS LOOK?
So far, so good. Ellis Hobbs is playing at a high level and Asante Samuel was tremendous in the six snaps he played against Jacksonville, making two stops on third down to get the defense off the field. Behind them, of course, there are some questions. Joselio Hanson played pretty well in Cincinnati, but was beaten on the fade route to Terrell Owens. He's been aggressive and confident, however.
Dimitri Patterson has really had a strong summer and is pushing for more playing time. This is a big game for him against a former team. Patterson is one of the team's better special teams players, too.
Trevard Lindley is in line to earn a roster spot but he has two games to go and he will play a bunch in that fourth game. Special teams coordinator Bobby April praised Lindley for his play against the Bengals.
Where does that leave Macho Harris? He has to earn his spot, so Friday night's game is huge for Harris. It will be his first preseason action of the year and he has to step up and impress.
The Eagles are likely to keep five cornerbacks, as they mostly have done in the past. There are more candidates than spots available, so something has to give and the Eagles have to keep their options open.
**WHICH LINEBACKERS STAY, AND WHICH ONES GO?
Let's say the Eagles keep seven linebackers -- they have kept either six or seven in the past -- when the 53-man roster is put together. In for sure are starters Ernie Sims, Stewart Bradley and Akeem Jordan. Omar Gaither is a valuable, versatile guy. He makes four linebackers. Then it really seems up in the air.
Rookie Keenan Clayton has been a playmaker in the preseason games. He would seem to have a good shot to make the team. Moise Fokou is a backup SAM linebacker, he can rush the quarterback a little bit and he plays a lot on special teams. Jamar Chaney runs well, covers, is a backup middle linebacker and is playing a lot on special teams. Tracey White has a history of playing well on special teams. Simoni Lawrence is not getting a ton of reps, but he is a physical player who learns quickly and who has his best football days in front of him.
There is a lot of youth here. There are also players with one-year contracts -- Sims, Jordan and Gaither. So if the Eagles want to make sure they keep their best six or seven linebackers, but they also have to make sure they don't say goodbye to a good, young player who could help in future years.
These two games are big for the reserve linebackers. There are jobs to be won.
AND WHAT ELSE?
I enjoy looking at the situational lineups, such as who is lining up at first nickel on defense? The Eagles are using Graham, Laws, Te'o-Nesheim and Trent Cole in the preseason games. Parker will factor in there as well. Hanson remains the nickel cornerback.
On offense, Clay Harbor seems to be ahead of Cornelius Ingram for the No. 2 tight end job but that battle still has some time to go. That Ingram is having an MRI on his problematic knee and won't play in Kansas City is, obviously, very telling and concerning.
April is configuring his special teams groups based on available personnel, and those coverage units and return groups won't be finalized until the roster is set in stone.
For now, everything is movable. Kansas City waits, with an important 60 minutes of football that will determine roster spots -- the Eagles must cut from 80 players to 75 players by Tuesday, August 31 at 4 p.m.
Wins are nice in the preseason, but what the coaches and scouts are really looking for are individual performances that stand out. That is the theme for Friday night.