The final hurdle to the regular season is upon us - preseason games. I'm pretty darn excited to see the team in action. Starters only play a quarter at the most. The backups play for about a quarter. Then the young guys play most of the second half. These players tend to be rookies or guys new to the team. Still, we finally get to see football and that is a good thing no matter how you slice it.
The biggest goal for Friday's game against the Jaguars is to come away healthy. Beyond that, we're just looking to see where everybody is at this point. Some players will look rusty. Some young guys may look lost. Veteran players just want to knock some rust off and get back in the flow of game situations. Young players are fighting for roster spots and playing time. They will go all out to try and impress the coaches.
We won't get answers on what to truly make of the team, good or bad. Every year we see some team go 3-1 or 4-0 in the preseason and then win about that many games in the entire regular season. Some teams take the preseason more seriously than others. No one really game plans, but some teams do put more emphasis on winning, hoping to build confidence in their players and have some positive momentum carry over to the regular season. We haven't done anything like this in a long time, if ever. With such a young team it is possible that Andy Reid will take a different approach this time around, but I doubt that happens.
It will be nice if the team plays well and we come out with a win, but I'll really be focused on specific units or players. My first focal point will be the offensive line. We have the makings of a great offense this year, but the line must block well in order for Kevin Kolb and his weapons to shine. I'm confident in tackles Jason Peter and Winston Justice. The interior trio is more of a mystery, mainly due to injury. Starting center Jamaal Jackson is still recovering from a torn ACL. Backup Nick Cole has had to deal with a swollen knee the last few days which will keep him out of the preseason opener.
Mike McGlynn takes over as the starting center. He was the backup center last summer in preseason games and had a good showing. I've liked him a lot since his days at Pitt. McGlynn has spent two years on the bench. I know he's dying to get on the field and play. I want to see what he can do. He has played with the starters up at Lehigh when Cole missed time with his knee problem. McGlynn has always gotten good reviews.
Max Jean-Gilles is in at left guard. He's shown some good things in camp so far. Watching him run onto the field at Flight Night was interesting. Who's that "little" guy wearing number 62 and what did they do with Max? He is now under 350 pounds due to the lap band surgery. He looks the best I've ever seen him and I expect his play to go up a notch. As a pass blocker, I expect him to look more nimble. I hope we mix in a screen pass or two and an outside run play so that I can see him on the move. We'll know Jean-Gilles is really changed if we see him looking good out in space and blocking well on the move.
Right guard Stacy Andrews is another mystery man. The coaches are solidly behind him, but fans are still waiting to see why we paid this guy a lot of money. His knee is fine now and Andrews has been the starting right guard for virtually the entire offseason. He missed a couple of practices with a sore shoulder, but has gotten a ton of practice reps this spring and summer. Friday's game is going to be important for him. Andrews needs a solid showing. He's got to start building up some confidence as we head toward the season. Watch his run blocking. Andrews will move his defender off the ball on some plays. The real test for him will be pass blocking. He's got to show the lateral quickness needed to keep rushers from beating him inside or outside.
We all know the line is supposed to be a cohesive unit. I'm looking forward to watching double team blocks and seeing how well we execute them. Is there some chemistry? Remember now, what you see on Friday night is a work in progress and not a finished product. Expecting a revamped offensive line to play mistake-free in the preseason opener isn't realistic.
The other position we're all pretty curious about is right cornerback. I will admit that Ellis Hobbs has grown on me during training camp. Hobbs has played better than I expected up at Lehigh. He's certainly confident. Heck, I think Hobbs is curious why he wasn't inducted into the Hall of Fame last weekend. You want cornerbacks that think like that. Now he's got to back up that confidence and bravado with a game performance. Hobbs started a couple of years in New England so he knows what he's doing on the field. He has quick feet. I think he's solid on short and intermediate routes. My concern is deep balls. I hope the Jaguars test him down the field.
We don't need Hobbs to be great. We need him to show that he can be an effective starter. That means covering his guy pretty well, playing the ball when he gets a chance and making the tackle when his guy gets the ball. It would be great if the Jags throw several passes to his side. I want to see what Hobbs can do. As for his competition, I'm not sure how that will play out. Macho Harris is out with a hamstring injury. Joselio Hanson may get some time on the outside. I expect we'll see a fair amount of rookie corner Trevard Lindley. The coaches will want to get as much game tape of him as possible so they can do a lot of teaching afterward. The guy quietly lurking in the shadows is still Dimitri Patterson. A good game from him could put some pressure on Hobbs.
There are other positions that I'm looking forward to watching. We've got a rebuilt set of linebackers. Ernie Sims has impressed everyone with his speed and hitting up at Lehigh. Now we get to see him do that to players wearing different uniforms. That should be fun. The thing to watch with him is how well he handles blockers. We get to see Stewart Bradley in a game for the first time since the NFC title game loss to Kurt Warner and Arizona. That seems so far away, doesn't it? Bradley has looked great this summer. It is good to have him back. I had some questions about Akeem Jordan as the starting SAM linebacker initially, but he's grown on me as I've watched him. I'm genuinely excited to see the new set of linebackers playing. Rookies Keenan Clayton and Jamar Chaney should be fun to watch in the second half.
LeSean McCoy is playing well this summer. I hope that carries over to the game. He looks more natural this year. He's not thinking about every little thing. That has helped him to be quicker and faster. A good game by McCoy would be very encouraging. I'm not looking for him to run for a bunch of yards. Just give me a screen pass that goes for 15 or 20 yards and a couple of runs that show the improved burst and quickness.
Two defensive linemen that I'm excited about are Brandon Graham and Trevor Laws. Graham has had a terrific camp and has the Eagles very excited about his future. Now we get a chance to see what he can do in a game. The thing I most want to see is a quick burst off the ball. That isn't something that you can coach or develop. You have it or you don't. Graham did at Michigan and up at Lehigh, but I want to see it in a live NFL game. Laws seems to have found his stride this summer. He's earned playing time in the nickel defense as well as being a backup defensive tackle. Laws needs to be disruptive in the game to keep the good momentum going. It would be great if we could have him cement a role on the nickel defense. That would make it tougher on teams who want to run draw plays on us.
Friday night can't get here soon enough. We finally get to see the Eagles in action. Football season is just around the corner.