Last Friday, the scoreboard read Eagles 28, Jaguars 27.
That sounds close, but anyone who watched saw a pair of teams that are worlds apart. The Eagles are loaded, with weapons all over the place. The Jaguars are still trying to find out what they have. Both teams went into the game wanting to see what the young players and new faces would do.
The results were very good for the Eagles. The main areas of focus heading into the game were the offensive line, right cornerback and the revamped linebacker corps. The starting line had a good showing. The Eagles are comfortable with the offensive tackles, but there was intrigue about Stacy Andrews and Mike McGlynn on the inside.
Andrews had a good game. I wanted to see him be physical in the run game. I wanted to see him move his feet in pass protection and keep control of pass rushers. I liked what I saw in both areas. Was Andrews perfect? No. He gave some ground in pass protection, but that's OK. Blockers aren't expected to stonewall rushers completely on every pass. The goal is to keep control of the defender so that he doesn't hit your quarterback or have serious impact on the play. Andrews was beaten to the inside on one pass. That is something he needs to work on. Andrews played his best game as an Eagle on Friday, but that hardly means he's at his peak. I expect him to play better in the next game. I'm sure offensive line coach Juan Castillo would tell you the same thing. Each week Andrews should get better as he gets more comfortable in a game setting.
McGlynn got his first NFL start at center. He had a solid game. The Jaguars didn't do much in the way of exotic blitzing so that kept McGlynn from having to make a lot of line calls before the snap. McGlynn didn't have any standout individual blocks, but also didn't make any serious mistakes. His shotgun snaps were fine. The offense moved up and down the field with him at center so that's a very positive sign.
Ellis Hobbs started at right corner. I was very curious what we'd see. Hobbs didn't set the world on fire last season when he played. He spent all off-season telling us that wasn't the real him. I wondered just how true that was. His performance against Jacksonville sure has me thinking he might be right. Hobbs had a couple of really good tackles. He was very fast and aggressive on the field. He played with confidence. Hobbs looked like a starting cornerback. He wasn't really tested, but I came away feeling a lot better about him.
I was more curious than pessimistic about the linebackers. Would the guys be adequate or could they be a lot better than that? It was great to see Stewart Bradley out in the middle of the defense. You forget just how big and mobile he is. The return of Bradley is going to have a major impact on our defense. Ernie Sims flew around the field, but didn't really get to hit anyone. We tackled really well so pursuit players didn't have the opportunity to do much. Akeem Jordan started at SAM linebacker and had a tackle-for-loss. Jordan fired into the backfield and took down running back Maurice Jones-Drew. Jordan looked good on the play, showing a good burst to get to Jones-Drew and then making a clean tackle. I'm starting to get excited about this group. We need to see them really tested, but things are definitely looking up.
The starting defense was too good in a way. They only got six snaps. I barely got to evaluate Nate Allen at all. I wanted to see more of the linebackers. I wanted to see more of the No. 1 nickel defense. Of course, this is a good problem to have.
Everyone was interested in how Kevin Kolb would look in his first start as "the man." Kolb had a good game. He wasn't perfect, but led the team on a pair of scoring drives and played well. He threw a couple of terrific passes. Maybe just as impressive was seeing how mobile he was. He looked good on the run. Kolb showed that if protection breaks down or if there is a big hole in the defense, he will take off and get what he can. Kolb's performance was helped by DeSean Jackson. Is there any player that is more electric or fun to watch? Jackson had three touches and gained 64 yards.
The offensive starter who had the best showing was LeSean McCoy. The saying in football is that players will make their biggest jump from year one to year two. McCoy had a solid rookie year, but we all wondered what he'll do in 2010. Against the Jaguars, McCoy looked worlds different than last year. He ran hard between the tackles. He bounced off a couple of defenders. That shows that he's bigger and stronger, but also that McCoy is running with better balance and power. He ran hard and didn't hesitate. Last season he was always peeking to the outside. McCoy did bounce a run to the outside against Jacksonville, but did so fluidly and instantly. He saw the hole wasn't there and immediately went to his left and got upfield. I loved the way McCoy ran in that game. I saw some of the guy that I watched dominate at Pitt. Things have slowed down for McCoy, which means he'll play faster and better.
McCoy only had eight carries for 30 yards. The results aren't as important as how he played, something key to remember when watching preseason football. McCoy looked like an NFL running back who knew what he was doing and not a rookie trying to figure things out. He also carried the ball high and tight. Last season, he swung the ball and left it exposed way too much. I'm sure running backs coach Ted Williams stayed on McCoy's case all spring and summer about holding the ball better this year.
The player who really opened my eyes was offensive tackle Austin Howard. In a word - wow. I loved his potential, but thought that a game might expose his limitations and show how raw he really is. Oops. Howard acquitted himself very well. He looked like a left tackle, the highest compliment you can pay to a young lineman. Howard showed good footwork. He looked natural at mirroring pass rushers. He extended his arms and did his best to keep control of defenders as they tried to go wide. Howard also showed us a nasty streak. He put a couple of players on the ground. That was great to see. Finding big guys that are athletic isn't easy. Finding athletic big guys with a mean streak is even harder. Howard still has a long way to go. He wasn't facing elite competition and he still needs a lot of work on technique and form. Kudos to coach Castillo for doing a great job to get Howard this far this quickly, and to Howard for listening and working hard.
Quick Thoughts On Other Players
• First round pick Brandon Graham didn't come up with a sack, but he got a big hit on the quarterback and got pressure on several plays. Solid start for him.
• Cornerback Trevard Lindley had some really good moments. He showed he can tackle. He covered well and almost came up with an impressive interception.
• Kurt Coleman was our final draft pick this spring, but he sure didn't play that way. Coleman flew around and had a very good showing. He hit and tackled well. His coverage on underneath routes was good. He's got to work on downfield coverage.
• Keenan Clayton was a surprise pick in the fourth round. I think he showed why the Eagles liked him. He blitzed three times. He had a sack on one play, almost forced an interception on another, and got some pressure on the other play. Last year our linebackers didn't do much when they blitzed. Clayton has the speed and instincts to be a good playmaker for us.