The Eagles are in Pittsburgh to take on the Steelers in their second preseason game. After a successful start to the exhibition slate with a 13-6 win over the Baltimore Ravens, the Eagles look to build upon that good start with an eye towards the season opener on September 11 in St. Louis. With the starters expected to play the first half, here are the players I'm keeping an eye on (listed in alphabetical order) against yet another AFC North foe ...
1. S Colt Anderson - A midseason signing from the Vikings practice squad last season, Anderson was a special teams captain for the playoffs and even earned playing time on defense by the end of the season. Anderson nearly hauled in a pick last week against the Ravens and every play is important as there is a good roster battle brewing at the safety position. The Eagles have their past two second-round picks - Nate Allen and Jaiquawn Jarrett. They have starting free safety Kurt Coleman. Veteran addition Jarrad Page had a pick in the end zone last week against Baltimore. Whether it's on special teams or defense, Anderson is a player to watch tonight.
2. OT King Dunlap - The King gets the start at right tackle and Dunlap has a chance to stake claim to the throne with a good performance Thursday night. Injuries have kept Winston Justice (knee) from practicing during camp and will keep last week's starter Ryan Harris (back) sidelined against the Steelers. Dunlap will be tested by outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley, who has had 23.5 sacks in the past two seasons and recently signed a contract extension to become the team's highest-paid player on defense.
3. WR Chad Hall - Hall has made plays throughout training camp and was the team's leading receiver in the preseason opener against the Ravens. How much time, if any, will he see with the first-team offense? Will he get a chance to help in the return game? The great news regarding the health and eventual return of wide receiver Jeremy Maclin will have a domino effect on the depth chart. Hall has to keep flashing as he has all of camp.
4. WR DeSean Jackson - Michael Vick gets his deep threat back as Jackson makes his preseason debut against the Steelers. How much will the Eagles try to work him in? Will he see any action on punt returns? It's going to be fun to watch one of the team's biggest playmakers back in action.
5. DT Derek Landri - The relentless Landri made plays with the first-team defense and with the backups last week as he had a sack and another tackle for loss. Landri was a very under-the-radar addition to the team, but he started all 16 games for the Panthers last season. Defensive tackle is another position on the roster which is all of a sudden stocked with a well of talent. Landri can continue to solidify his case for a roster spot with another good performance.
6. RB Dion Lewis - Lewis appears to have put a stranglehold on the No. 3 running back job after gaining 26 yards on the ground and another 16 through the air on a screen pass against the Ravens. Lewis showed good quickness, hands and the willingness to block in the pass game. The former Pitt Panther is no stranger to Heinz Field, so even though he may not get to see a ton of action Lewis could be a difference-maker in the fourth quarter.
7. LB Casey Matthews - Matthews received rave reviews from defensive coordinator Juan Castillo for his coverages and directing the huddle in last Thursday's preseason opener. Matthews' ability to read and react to the offensive scheme was impressive for a rookie who is being asked to be the quarterback of the defense. Matthews was directly responsible for snuffing out a screen pass and on another play his coverage helped allow Trent Cole to get a sack. The Steelers boast a healthy running game with Rashard Mendenhall and one of the more underrated improv quarterbacks in Ben Roethlisberger. Expected to play the first half, Matthews should see a little of everything in his second preseason game.
8. G Evan Mathis - Between training camp and the preseason opener, I believe that center is the only position that Mathis has not lined up at some point. A versatile lineman, it will be interesting to see exactly where Mathis lines up Thursday night. Mathis has primarily taken reps in the last week at right tackle, even earning some first-team reps. Could Mathis be a dark horse for the right tackle spot?
9. LB Brian Rolle - Rolle has received some first-team reps in the nickel package at training camp and he led the team with four tackles against the Ravens. Rolle has tremendous sideline-to-sideline coverage ability and appears to be a good fit in Castillo's scheme. With a lot of quality depth at defensive line and cornerback, the Eagles could be forced to go light at another position. If it's linebacker, Rolle wants to make sure to stay out of a numbers crunch.
10. QB Michael Vick - Vick left fans wanting more after his performance last week against the Ravens and it was the best way to open the preseason slate. Vick was 4-of-6 for 74 yards and a touchdown which was a beautiful dart in the red zone to Brent Celek. Vick made short throws on timing routes. He tried a fade in the end zone which was nearly hauled in by Jason Avant. Now, Vick will get a test from one of the best defenses in the game. If Vick can move the ball and have success against this defense, it will be another step in the right direction for the offense.
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