On Friday night, we'll finally get to see the Eagles in action against another team. I can't wait to see the team play a game. Watching training camp highlights and following the team all spring has been a lot of fun, but nothing replaces actual game action.
Preseason games feature little to no gameplanning. Each team is more focused on their own players than what the opposing team will do. You will hear the word "vanilla" in reference to playcalling for the next four weeks. Vanilla simply means that teams are running very basic plays and schemes. Teams stay basic for a couple of reasons. First, you don't want to give away any looks to regular season opponents. Those teams can study what has happened in the past, but you don't want to help them out by showing them any new wrinkles or changes that are now being used.
The other reason teams stay basic is that it helps them with player evaluation. Teams want to see how well guys perform. The best way to do that is by running basic plays. Coaches and scouts are then able to judge players without worrying about whether the design of the play made a big difference on how the player looked. Take DeSean Jackson for example. In a regular season game, the team will be creative to make sure he gets open and the ball gets to him. In a preseason game, Jackson will have to use technique to get open. The coaches want to see if he's learned what they've been teaching him up at Lehigh. They want to see how Jackson reacts to those plays when he does get manhandled.
I'd love to see the Eagles play a great game and win, but more important will be how individual players perform. I do have some goals for the team. Last year the preseason was a real struggle. The team went 1-3 and was blown out in two of the losses. The other loss was incredibly sloppy. The one win was impressive, but it had as much to do with the Panthers playing poorly as the Eagles playing well. I can live with the team going 1-3 again if that is how things work out, but I do want to see the team play better. The offense scored a total of four touchdowns in the entire 2007 preseason. A couple of those came in the fourth quarter. That doesn't say much for the starters and the main backups. Opposing teams averaged almost 20 points per game. We might have out-gained teams in yardage in three of four games, but it didn't show on the scoreboard. Unfortunately that trend carried over to the regular season.
We need to see the starting offense score touchdowns. I'm not looking for the 1998 Vikings or 1999 Rams, but there has to be some scoring. Two touchdowns in four games isn't going to cut it. Eagles quarterbacks were sacked 15 times last preseason. That needs to be cut down. I'm not expecting to see a finished product. I just want to see signs that the guys will be ready to go when the Rams come to town on September 7th.
Here are some thoughts on individual players/position battles:
- Donovan McNabb – I think all Eagles fans will be closely watching McNabb to see just how good he looks. The reports from Lehigh have been very positive. I doubt he'll play much, but I hope McNabb plays well. A touchdown on the opening series Friday would be great.
- Max Jean-Gilles – The coaches are saying all the right things. That's encouraging, but I sort of expect coaches to say that kind of stuff. Jean-Gilles proved last year that he can be a good run blocker. I'll be watching his pass blocking to see how much he's improved in that area.
- Fullback – Hopefully either Jason Davis or Luke Lawton will stand out. I'm looking for one or both of the guys to block well. Special teams will be crucial as well. We need solid special teams play from the fullback position. Thomas Tapeh didn't deliver in that area and it is one of the reasons the team didn't try to re-sign him.
- L.J. Smith – Last year he wasn't healthy. That was true in the preseason and regular season. I just want to see Smith run around and look healthy. Watching him catch a short pass and then motor downfield would be a good start to the preseason.
- Lorenzo Booker – Booker has gone from "Who?" to being the talk of training camp. Now we get to see him on the field. The Eagles aren't going to be too creative with him in the preseason, but I do expect him to get a fair amount of work. I'm excited to see what he can do as a runner and receiver, as well as being the primary kickoff returner.
- Jason Avant – The word from Lehigh is that Avant has played as well as any receiver. His route running and ability to get open have shown up in the daily highlight packages. I hope this is the start of a breakout season for him.
- DeSean Jackson – The Eagles finally have a receiver with big-time speed and playmaking ability. I can't wait to see what Jackson can do in a game situation. The team has aggressively worked him into the offense over the course of the spring and summer. Jackson isn't getting normal rookie treatment. They want him to be part of the offense this year. I don't know how many touches he'll get on Friday, but I'm looking forward to seeing just what he can do. Jackson will also be the primary punt returner. Hopefully we'll get to see that speed of his on at least one of the returns.
- King Dunlap – He's playing left tackle on the number two offensive line. Dunlap has been up and down, typical for a rookie. He now gets a chance to show us what he can do. I need to see some pass blocking ability out of him. I'll also be looking to see how hard he plays and if he really battles on runs.
- Stewart Bradley – Bradley played well as a rookie last summer with the backup units. This year we get to see him as the starting middle linebacker. From everything I'm hearing, he could be a major breakout player in 2008.
- Trevor Laws – We need someone to step up as a backup defensive tackle. Laws has the talent to be that guy. He needs to be disruptive when he's on the field. He's a high-motor guy and should be fun to watch.
- Dan Klecko – Every time I've seen highlights of the linemen going one-on-one, Klecko has stood out. Can that translate to games? He can be very quick off the ball. I need to see if he can be stout and play the run. He also can help his cause with a strong showing on special teams.
- Darren Howard – The surprise of camp has been the play of Howard. He's in great shape and has been very disruptive. I really hope that carries over to the games. Just like Mulder and Scully, I want to believe.
- Chris Clemons – I want to see Clemons pressure the passer, simple as that. He's athletic and knows how to get after the quarterback. I just need to see him do it as an Eagle.
- Bryan Smith – The surprise third-round pick will answer a lot of questions if he shows he can rush the passer. If Smith is anywhere near 100 percent, I think he'll get good pressure off the edge.
- Joe Mays – My big question with Mays was whether he has the speed to play in the NFL. That hasn't been a problem in camp. I'll be interested to see what kind of range he has in game action. I'm looking forward to seeing him hit some opposing players. Mays is another guy who needs to stand out on special teams.
- Quintin Demps – Demps was a ballhawk at UTEP and that has carried over to training camp. The main concern I had with him was his hitting and tackling. Andy Reid and Tom Heckert said he's played the run well so far. I'll be watching that closely.
- Sean Considine – The biggest hitter so far at Lehigh has probably been Considine. That may be surprising to fans, but give him credit for stepping his game up. A strong preseason showing will force Jim Johnson to find ways to get him on the field.
- Therrian Fontenot – There is no clear-cut leader for the fifth cornerback spot right now. Fontenot stood out at times in the minicamps and at training camp. Can he do that in preseason games?