One preseason game didn't offer any concrete answers about the 2021 Philadelphia Eagles, but it did provide some digestible tidbits. With the players having a day off on Friday, I'm going to pull out the notebook from the preseason opener and clean up some topics to discuss ...
• Youth is serving. The Eagles, as all organizations do, dipped in 2020 with a 4-11-1 record. It was a shocking departure from the postseason for a team that had been there for three consecutive seasons, including a Super Bowl win in the 2017 campaign. The best teams minimize that downtime and bounce back quickly because they create great trust and chemistry and because they have a new wave of young players stepping in. The Eagles are developing that next wave. Players like left tackle Jordan Mailata, wide receivers Jalen Reagor and Quez Watkins, and quarterback Jalen Hurts, along with running back Kenny Gainwell were productive in the preseason opener for the offense. On the other side of the ball, the defensive line remains a force, aided by the likes of end Josh Sweat, tackle Javon Hargrave, and the versatile Milton Williams, the third-round pick who spent Thursday night on the edge and who has also lined up at tackle in Training Camp. To jump back into the playoffs and become a contending team, the Eagles need that group of young players to continue to develop and expand and play consistent football.
• I've written about this before and it’s worth revisiting: The Eagles have shown trust in a very young room of receivers and they are seeing the kind of progress they want to see. On Watkins, Head Coach Nick Sirianni said after the preseason game: "Excited about his development. (Wide Receivers Coach) Aaron Moorehead has done a great job developing him, and Quez has done a great job of just getting better every day." Sirianni could say the same thing about every one of his receivers in camp. They're all taking the responsibility of developing. There is no veteran "leader" in the room. Instead, it's been a collective maturing and it's very much a positive for an offense that has depth with its playmakers.
• It is important to remember that the offensive line was ravaged by injury last season, because it seems that some have forgotten just how good this line has been for so many years. Having Brandon Brooks and Lane Johnson together on the right side of the line on Thursday night for the first time since the 2019 regular season was a sight for sore eyes, and a big boost for the offense.
Isaac Seumalo is making progress coming back from his hamstring injury. Jason Kelce is having a fine camp. Mailata obviously has taken steps forward. Reserve players like Sua Opeta, who started at left guard against Pittsburgh with Seumalo out, and Jack Driscoll and Nate Herbig – all of whom played last season – give the Eagles depth. Luke Juriga had a taste (13 snaps) at center last season and is more developed in his second season. Andre Dillard has a knee injury and is listed as week to week as the Eagles anticipate his return to the field. It's a good situation for the Eagles, who have outstanding starting talent – among the best in the league, right? – and have a deep group in reserve.
• Did we learn anything about the schemes on either side of the ball? No, not really. This is the preseason and the coordinators are going to keep things simple. Having that time off between the third preseason game and the opener of the regular season is going to be interesting. It conceivably would be a perfect time for coaches to install wrinkles into the game plan for Atlanta, and that's likely to happen. In the preseason, though, we're going to see straight basics. Remember, these games are about evaluating personnel and finding the best 53 players and candidates for the practice squad.
• Isn't this exactly what you want to hear from your quarterback after a preseason game? Said Jalen Hurts following the preseason opener: "I mean, I want to come on the field and complete every pass, score touchdowns every time I touch the field. The competitor in me is like, 'Damn.' But I think it was a good day. I think it was, you know, we have to be better on third down (the Eagles were 0-for-8 in the game), for sure. But coming out there, for the most part, executing. There's a lot to learn from that, always."
• The 2020 Eagles Draft Class and its importance to this team – Reagor, Hurts, Watkins, and linebacker Shaun Bradley (who was all over the field on Thursday night with seven total tackles, including one for loss) came right out and contributed in a big way against the Steelers – cannot be understated. Linebacker Davion Taylor, safety K'Von Wallace, and wide receiver John Hightower made nice progress before injuries in camp sidelined them, so they need to get back on track. That 2020 class is so important to the 2021 success of this football team.
• Arryn Siposs averaged 55.8 gross yards (51.3-yard net average) on his four punts Thursday night, with a 69-yarder that bounced into the end zone. A couple of the punts weren't perfect, but Siposs had some good fortune on bounces. He's got a huge leg and he certainly wants to be more consistent, and the Eagles believe that's going to happen. Not lost for Siposs is that he was perfect on his three holds for placekicker Jake Elliott, who was perfect in the preseason opener. That's a great sign.
• Something that caught my eye early in the game was the big lick safety Anthony Harris put on running back Najee Harris – all 230 pounds of him – on a short pass in the first quarter. Anthony Harris has looked at home in this defense from the jump. Having him in the deep secondary gives the Eagles a ballhawk who excels with his football IQ and who is going to be physical. Looking forward to seeing more of Harris and how he takes charge of the secondary from a leadership perspective. Having Harris with a rehabbing Rodney McLeod, who is still aiming to be ready for the regular season, and an experienced set of cornerbacks bodes well for the defensive backfield.
• The Eagles practice on Saturday and Sunday, as normal, and then New England visits South Philadelphia for joint practices Monday and Tuesday ahead of Thursday's preseason game at Lincoln Financial Field. This is going to be a very fun week.
• Finally, the quarterbacks. The Eagles have put together a strong group, with the youth of Hurts bolstered by the experience of Joe Flacco. Nick Mullens is better than he was on Thursday night – remember, he's coming off of elbow surgery and he played with many players with whom he has not taken a ton of reps. The Eagles have three quarterbacks who have started and won games in this league. There aren't a lot of teams able to say that. Taking avoidable sacks and turning the football over are no-no's in Sirianni's system, and that is something to watch moving forward. The turnover ratio is huge for Sirianni, as is hidden yardage – measured largely in special teams yardage differential and penalties – and big plays, defined here as pass plays 16-plus yards and running plays that gain 10 yards or more.