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Spadaro: 6 things to watch in the preseason finale

Kelee Ringo
Kelee Ringo

We gathered in a hotel meeting room the day before the Eagles concluded their 2022 preseason in Miami and discussed ideas for game's television broadcast. The Eagles' preseason television team knew that, for the most part, the players on the field wouldn't be starters for the team in that season, but that a large handful would make the 53-man roster and, beyond that, another dozen or so would be part of the Eagles' practice squad.

And, sure enough, that's how it played out. Look back at who started that game for the Eagles: Andre Dillard at left tackle, Sua Opeta at left guard, Jack Driscoll at right tackle, Jack Stoll at tight end, Britain Covey at wide receiver, Gardner Minshew at quarterback, Kenneth Gainwell at running back, Milton Williams and Jordan Davis at defensive tackle, Nakobe Dean at linebacker, K'Von Wallace at safety. Among the substitutions, safety Reed Blankenship, a prime example of what the preseason is all about.

All of those players had roles, some larger than others, in the success the 2022 team had advancing to Super Bowl LVII, and many of them remain on the Eagles' roster with anticipated roles more substantial than last season.

Tonight is the 2023 preseason finale, and it is the annual reminder that the it-doesn't-mean-anything crowd isn't watching the game the right way. The Eagles are approaching Tuesday's 4 PM deadline when rosters must be reduced from 90 to 53 players, and they need to make final evaluations. Plus, there is a practice squad of up to 16 players to consider, and we all know just how important that practice squad is during the course of a 17-game season.

With that in mind, here are some things to watch when the Eagles and Colts go at it tonight (8 PM kickoff, Amazon Prime nationally, FOX 29 in the Philadelphia region) at Lincoln Financial Field ...

1. Two young quarterbacks should play a lot

Sixth-round draft pick Tanner McKee and young veteran Ian Book should see a lot of snaps tonight, and for them this is an important stage. Teams are watching. The quarterback position is the most valuable in the sport. McKee has played well in his two preseason outings and that has been so encouraging. Book relishes the reps. Very important game for both of them.

2. How does the running back room sort out?

The team's confidence in its running back room has been evident all summer and the results have been encouraging. There is talent, depth, and versatility here. So how will it work out with regard to the 53-man roster? How many backs will the Eagles keep? Getting to 53 always requires some creative juggling. This year will be no exception.

3. For some of the draft picks, tonight is big

That's the case for McKee, no doubt. Same with cornerback Kelee Ringo, safety Sydney Brown, and offensive lineman Tyler Steen. It isn't yet known how much or if they will play, but every rep means something and further prepares them for the regular season. Go back to the top of this story and see the names. All of those players were on the field at critical times last season for the Eagles. The reps gained now benefit players in the regular season. That's just a fact.

Check out the best images from Training Camp, presented by Independence Blue Cross, as the Eagles whittle the roster to 53 and prepare for the 2023 season.

4. Are any starting jobs up for grabs?

Not sure that there are, particularly on offense. But there are still some questions about a few positions on defense that may or may not be answered tonight. Who starts next to Nakobe Dean at linebacker? Who are the starting safeties – back to Blankenship, who last year at this time was fighting for a roster spot and now appears to be a starter at safety, an example on so many levels of the importance of these games, of making the giant leap from Year 1 to Year 2, of just being a really good football player, no matter the odds – as the Eagles have rotated in so many players during Training Camp? Who will be the team's punter on September 10 at New England? Questions, questions ...

5. For those undrafted rookies, tonight is huge

There has been a large focus on the team's Draft Class, and deservedly so. It is off to a great start, collectively. But there is also a large group of undrafted rookies who are going to see a lot of time tonight, and again I circle back to last season when Blankenship, cornerback Josh Jobe, and offensive lineman Josh Sills made the initial 53-man roster and Covey was promoted to the gameday roster as the punt returner before joining the 53-man active roster. There are jobs to be won tonight, folks. That's what matters. The entire reason for these games is so important: To evaluate talent and keep the best 53 players, plus a practice squad.

6. Position by position, we just don't know

It always seemed like in the past it was kind of easy: Two or three quarterbacks, four running backs, five wide receivers, three tight ends, etc. On the way to 53 players, it just seemed like there was a consistent roadmap. Not necessarily the case any longer, not with a 17-game schedule and more liberal rules for Injured Reserve and the promotion of practice squad players. The Eagles could go heavy at this position and light at that position just to keep the best 53. There may be a player or two who jumps out tonight and alters the thinking in a significant way. It's all about 53 players, not a certain number at each position.

And that makes it fun for everyone. I know it's the third preseason game and the Eagles aren't likely to play many (if any) starters (Indianapolis could, with a young quarterback in Anthony Richardson looking for reps), but it sure means a lot to a group of young men who are chasing a dream, who have put everything they have into this goal since the spring, and who understand that tonight could be a start of something great or, sadly, the end of doing something they love.

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