Everything gets going tonight when the Eagles take the field against the Jacksonville Jaguars for their preseason opener in front of what is sure to be a packed crowd at Lincoln Financial Field. Our Insider Dave Spadaroalready highlighted some of the players to watch throughout tonight's game, but here's a further primer on tonight's biggest storylines.
- How will the quarterbacks fare?
The most important question has to do with the most important position on the field. Kevin Kolb will start with the first offense and will play about a quarter. If Andy Reid's preseason history is any indication, Kolb could see as little as one or two drives, if they happen to be successful marches down the field. Kolb is, of course, entering his first season as the unquestioned No. 1 under center, and he'll have his full complement of weapons in DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, LeSean McCoy, Brent Celek and Jason Avant. Going up against a revamped Jaguars defense that includes defensive end Aaron Kampman, Kolb and the offense will look to hit on all cylinders. It will also be interesting to see how aggressive Andy Reid and Marty Mornhinweg are with their play-calling.
After Kolb, Michael Vick is expected to lead the second-team offense into the third quarter. How improved is Vick in running the offense after a year in the system and a year to adjust physically to the NFL game? Vick has had his moments in training camp, and he could bring some of his old electricity in the running game to buttress his passing abilities against the Jaguars. And then there's rookie Mike Kafka, who will lead the third team. Kafka has earned rave reviews from the coaching staff for his advanced command of the playbook, as Mornhinweg called him the best rookie he's ever seen in that capacity. Can Kafka make all the right reads with the lights on tonight?
- How much pressure can the defensive ends create?
The biggest focus of the off-season for this team was revamping the pass rush. Brandon Graham was the team's top draft pick, and he'll be expected to play some significant time tonight and to get after David Garrard and Luke McCown on the left side. Trent Cole is already established as one of the best in the game at his position and the reliable Juqua Parker will get some time ahead of Graham on the left side. The first-team defense will also have the advantage of going against a Jaguars offensive line that will be without both starting tackles, Eugene Monroe and Eben Britton.
But the bigger focus will be on the quality of depth. Along with Graham, rookie Daniel Te'o-Nesheim, Darryl Tapp and Ricky Sapp will have plenty of opportunities to create havoc in the backfield and to state their respective cases for more playing time. Moise Fokou has also been getting some extended looks at defensive end after playing linebacker exclusively in his rookie year, so it will be interesting to see what he can do in game action.
- Which rookies will step up?
Aside from Graham, Te'o-Nesheim, and Nate Allen, who will work with the first-team defense as the starting free safety, there are still 10 other draft picks who will get extended action, but Sapp and Kafka have been covered above. Linebackers Keenan Clayton and Jamar Chaney are both incredibly fast for their positions and will also get plenty of action on special teams. Clayton has been working as the third-team strongside linebacker in practice, while Chaney has been with the third-team in the middle, but they can both make cases to move up. But the linebacker position is pretty deep, so Clayton and Chaney could be competing for one roster spot.
Trevard Lindley appears a solid bet to make the team and will get plenty of time at right cornerback. Keep an eye on how physical Lindley is, as he's considered to be already one of the team's better bump-and-run guys. Clay Harbor and Riley Cooper will both have opportunities to make plays in the passing game. Running back Charles Scott will get his opportunities to carry the ball and prove his physical style, as he's locked in what seems to be a heated competition with Eldra Buckley for the third running back job, though he'll also be the primary fullback once Pro-Bowler Leonard Weaver exits the game.
Defensive tackle Jeff Owens will get plenty of playing time after starters Brodrick Bunkley and Mike Patterson leave, and, with Antonio Dixon sidelined with a concussion, will have an opportunity to prove his value as a pocket-collapsing powerful inside player. Finally, safety Kurt Coleman will work as the second-team strong safety and as a special teamer. Coleman has an advanced grasp of the defensive playbook for the rookie, and appears to have the inside track for a spot on the roster. How will he perform against the Jaguars offense alongside Quintin Demps?
- Who will make a play on special teams?
Speaking of Demps, he'll have an opportunity to make an impact as the primary kickoff returner. Wide receiver Chad Hall will handle the punt return duties is capable of breaking a long return. The opportunity for Demps and Hall has been covered here.
Ken Parrish has an opportunity as a punter to push Sav Rocca, though Rocca appears well-suited to keep his job, especially after coming off a year in which he set the franchise record for net punting. But the real interesting part of special teams tonight will be the opportunity for some under-the-radar player fighting for a roster spot to make a name for himself. Tracy White and Kelley Washington are established special teams aces, but could a player like Simoni Lawrence, Geoffrey Pope or Antoine Harris do something "special" to stand out?
- How will the roster battles shake out?
Most of the starting positions appear to be established at this point, but there are plenty of battles that are a long way from being decided for backup spots. Tight end is one of the more intriguing spots, with Harbor and Cornelius Ingram, who will be playing his first live game in over two years, each looking to establish themselves. Along the offensive line, Austin Howard and King Dunlap appear set as the second-teamers at left and right tackle respectively, but is there room for both on the 53-man? And on the interior, Mike McGlynn will have his opportunity to push Nick Cole at center, as Cole is out with a swollen knee, but could A.Q. Shipley make his own case at center? And how does the pecking order rank for guys like Fenuki Tupou, Dallas Reynolds and Greg Isdaner?
The other important position to watch will be cornerback. With Ellis Hobbs and Asante Samuel set as the starters, and Macho Harris out with a hamstring injury, who will stand out? Veterans Joselio Hanson and Dimitri Patterson are both having impressive training camps - Patterson was singled out by general manager Howie Roseman for his play at Lehigh - and, in addition to fighting for roles on the outside, are both capable nickel cornerbacks. After the aforementioned Lindley, rookie David Pender appears to be somewhat of an afterthought, but he'll have an opportunity to make some plays against a young Jaguars receiving corps.
-- Posted by Bo Wulf, 3:48 p.m., August 13