Everything matters. That is the message as the Eagles begin their three-game preseason on Saturday night (7 PM kickoff, NBC10) at Baltimore against the Ravens, a team on a 23-game preseason winning streak.
For each player who steps on the field – and Head Coach Nick Sirianni has not specified his plans for the personnel rotation, but with joint practices starting on Monday against Cleveland, there is much to take into account for the starters – the experience means something. This is the first game experience of the summer and, as much as the Eagles value practice and challenging each other, it is just going to be different going against the Ravens.
And it is going to be a huge part of the evaluation process for the roster.
"I'm really looking forward to it," rookie cornerback Kelee Ringo said. "I feel like every practice here will definitely be harder than the games, so I feel like we'll be well prepared, so we can go out there and show what we've been working on and how we'll prepare for that."
A fourth-round draft pick – the Eagles traded up to have the third pick on Day 3 (No. 105 overall) of the 2023 NFL Draft to select the standout cornerback from Georgia – Ringo said he has "grown a lot" in the two-plus weeks of Training Camp, and now it is time to take it to another level. Working against receivers like A.J. Brown, DeVonta Smith, and Quez Watkins and a deep group of pass catchers against an offense with a lot of motion and innovation has helped Ringo develop his recognition skills, but Saturday represents something new: The Eagles aren't going to gameplan a whole lot for Baltimore's offense, so a lot of this is going to be on the fly.
"It's pretty huge, honestly," Ringo said. "I have been waiting my whole life for this, this exact opportunity. I definitely feel like I'm comfortable in the situation I'm in right now and I want to continue to grow even past that. This is a huge showcase for me."
A deep defensive tackle room makes these preseason games extremely important for someone like seventh-round draft pick Moro Ojomo, who understands that he has to stick out every single day in practice and then in the preseason games and the joint practices to follow to make the 53-man roster.
With players like Fletcher Cox, Jordan Davis, Jalen Carter, Kentavius Street, and Milton Williams in the room, Ojomo has his work cut out for him.
"I'm excited, blessed, and want to compete," Ojomo said. "I want to destroy people at the end of the day, right? We play football for a reason. The mindset going in is 'compete' and 'dominate.'"
That is the mindset that Reed Blankenship had one year ago when he was an undrafted rookie from Middle Tennessee State and nobody outside of the NovaCare Complex knew his name or considered him a real contender to help the 2022 Eagles. Blankenship stacked his practices, dug into his playbook, and when the pads when on and the preseason games started, he went out and won a roster spot. Later, with the same approach, Blankenship ended up playing the most snaps of any rookie on the roster and started four games and is now lining up with the starters in this year's Training Camp at safety.
It is just football, Blankenship says. High school, college, football. It is the same game.
"I have been playing it for a long time, and I just kept that frame of reference throughout last season. I still think that way," Blankenship said. "I am out there expecting to make plays. I know where I am supposed to be. I know I have a job to do."
Playing in the preseason is a great thing. It is football and it is an opportunity to go out there and make some plays. That is how everybody feels when they are on the field. You are on the field, and you are doing something that you love to do.
There is a lot to look at in this game. The Eagles have some tough roster decisions to make up and down the 90-man group, with particular depth at running back, along the front seven, in Jeff Stoutland's offensive line room, and at cornerback, where a veteran like Greedy Williams has a chance to take a big step toward making the roster in a room that has some major depth and talent.
"You're always working on your game," cornerback James Bradberry said. "Whether it is at practice or in a game, it is important. You have to sharpen your tools and define your technique, and that is what this business is all about."
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.