The worst news possible hit the Washington Redskins in the gut on Friday: Rookie running back Derrius Guice, the 59th overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in the first quarter of the first preseason game, ending his season, really, before it started. And just like that, all of the team's planning took a wrong turn. It's the lesson of the hazards of preseason football, and one reason the Eagles came out winners in Thursday's preseason game against Pittsburgh.
Oh, not everything went right for the Eagles, who committed 11 penalties and gave up too many big plays in the passing game and couldn't get the offense off the ground in the second half. Head coach Doug Pederson wasn't particularly pleased after the game, and he let his team know about some of the parts he wants to improve.
But deep down, Pederson knows that Preseason Game No. 1 was a victory as the Eagles emerged intact.
This is a week-by-week proposition, as you well know. And while the Eagles overcame significant injuries last season to win the Super Bowl without their star left tackle, Jason Peters, or their star quarterback, Carson Wentz, or without their ballhawk middle linebacker, Jordan Hicks, the emphasis on staying healthy has been a theme of this summer. Pederson has been acutely aware of the need to back off some of the veterans who played through the long championship season to save them for September. He's called for "live" periods in two Training Camp practices, and so while the Eagles have maintained a terrific tempo and aggressiveness in camp, they haven't had the need to make it more physical than it needs to be.
The day after the preseason opener, while the players were off and recovering, the coaching staff graded the tape and jotted down the teaching moments and looked forward to the next day of instruction with their position groups. As a general overview, here is how each position group fared in the 31-14 defeat against Pittsburgh.
Two interceptions marred the first-half performance from Nate Sudfeld, who was on point delivering touchdown passes to tight end Dallas Goedert and wide receiver Shelton Gibson. Sudfeld will learn from his mistakes, and he will have plenty of throws ahead in the three remaining preseason games. Joe Callahan had trouble establishing any kind of rhythm until late in the game when he moved the pocket to create some throwing lanes.
Jay Ajayi looked terrific on a 22-yard run and continued his outstanding summer. He's in fantastic shape. Corey Clement stepped up in the running game and in the receiving game and is ready to take that next step in his second NFL season. Darren Sproles didn't play and likely won't play much, if at all, in the preseason. Wendell Smallwood had a nice burst and carried Steelers defenders for 2 yards on his two-point conversion attempt, but he also had a fumble and that just can't happen. Rookie Josh Adams gained 30 yards on six carries and earned some words of praise from special teams coordinator Dave Fipp on Friday for his play on special teams. Donnel Pumphrey lost a valuable chance to impress by missing the game with a hamstring injury. Matt Jones is in the same boat; he's clearly behind Smallwood and now Adams in the battle for the fourth running back spot.
Terrific job from Gibson on a 63-yard catch-and-run from Sudfeld. Gibson had a good release off the line of scrimmage and just ran past the defense, hauled in the perfect pass, and got into the end zone. Gibson plays well on special teams and now he's making strong strides in the receiving game. It's all about confidence with Gibson. The talent is clearly there. Bryce Treggs had three catches and DeAndre Carter made a nifty grab for a 20-yard gain.
Rookie Dallas Goedert had a touchdown catch among his four receptions and looked comfortable from the very beginning. He also got his hands dirty in the running game. Goedert was as advertised. Joshua Perkins had one catch for 7 yards and Billy Brown was targeted three times with zero connections.
The starters were really good and opened some gaping holes in the running game. Backup center Isaac Seumalo missed on one snap but otherwise played a strong game. He's at home playing center, but certainly needs to get better on his snaps. Jordan Mailata had a few rough plays to open and then settled in and improved. Taylor Hart looked so much more improved at tackle from a year ago. Chance Warmack played well inside. The Eagles are going to have tough decisions to make in a few weeks here.
Check out the best photos from Thursday's preseason opener against the Steelers at Lincoln Financial Field.
As expected, the defensive line came out firing. Fletcher Cox had an early sack and pressure. Michael Bennett played very well in his 12 snaps. Up and down the line, the Eagles just brought a lot of heat. It's going to be interesting to see how the Eagles make this all work in the numbers game as they get down to 53 players. A veteran like Steven Means, for example, just kills it in the preseason and in Training Camp and he's deep on the projected depth chart. Deep and talented and competitive – a good way to describe the defensive line situation.
Having Jordan Hicks on the field means so much, doesn't it? He made it through the first game and played well. Kamu Grugier-Hill made some plays, including stopping an option pitch in the running game in the red zone. He's made huge strides. Nathan Gerry started at WILL and seemed to be in the right place at the right time. Nigel Bradham shared a sack with a blitz off the edge. And LaRoy Reynolds, a veteran who is under the radar, got to the football. He is opening eyes.
Ronald Darby has had a strong spring and summer, along with Jalen Mills. They have cemented themselves as starters on the outside. The real battle is inside at nickel. Sidney Jones played well early and then suffered a low ankle sprain, but he's going to be fine. De'Vante Bausby had a lot of good snaps and had two passes defensed. Avonte Maddox lost in a jump-ball battle, but he buzzed. Rasul Douglas had an interception, but also gave up a jump-ball that went for a touchdown and was in coverage on a second touchdown throw.
Malcolm Jenkins was terrific in his quarter of play, sharing a sack with Bradham and playing fast and aggressive. He and Rodney McLeod are outstanding together. Corey Graham didn't play. Jeremy Reaves, Stephen Roberts, and Tre Sullivan had some moments as reserves. Safeties coach Tim Hauck praised all of them on Friday and wants to see more in the final three preseason games.
Overall, a really good job. The kickoff coverage won the battle on the opening kickoff and made the tackle at the 16-yard line. Gibson had a couple of nice kickoff returns. He's really got the burst and speed. Jake Elliott made his PATs, which were both taken off the board as Pederson went for two points after accepting Steelers penalties. Punter Cameron Johnston averaged 45.8 yards gross and 43.9 yards net on six punts. There were too many penalties, but overall the special teams production was good.