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Kick Off Camp: Everything you missed from Thursday's preseason showdown with the Browns

Nakobe Dean
Nakobe Dean

While Thursday night's preseason home opener against the Browns ended in an 18-18 tie, there were plenty of winners on the field.

Check out Owen Boyle's game recap for the account of big plays in real time as well as instant reaction from Head Coach Nick Sirianni and the players.

• Eagles Insider Dave Spadaro offered several observations from his perch on the sideline. The lead? Linebacker Nolan Smith's addition to the pass rush.

Nick Sirianni reiterates that Marcus Mariota is the backup QB

Rookie Tanner McKee displayed poise and strong command of the offense Thursday night against the Browns, going 10-of-18 for 147 yards with a touchdown and a game-tying 2-point conversion.

But to think that the sixth-round pick out of Stanford is ready to usurp Marcus Mariota and be the primary backup is a little premature after just two preseason games.

"Way too early on this," Head Coach Nick Sirianni said after the game. "Marcus is our backup, and pleased with the way Tanner is playing."

That's just it. The Eagles are "pleased" about the encouraging signs of McKee's development to this point, while realizing that he's succeeding against preseason defenses.

"I would see the ball consistently going to the right spot on time — that's what you want for your quarterback — with accuracy so he can make all the throws. He can see it," Sirianni said. "So, he's been doing good. To compare him to anybody else based off two preseason games, I don't want to go there, but am I pleased with how he's looked and what he's doing? Of course."

Mariota started the game and played the entire first half before giving way to McKee. He finished 9-of-17 for 86 yards with an interception as the Eagles put up three points in seven drives of work.

"I was sloppy," Mariota said. "I can do a better job of getting our guys operating cleaner and more efficiently. But that is what preseason is for. Kind of get some of that stuff ironed out. Clean off some of the rust. We'll find ways to get better."

"He ran around and made some good plays and moved the ball really well with him in there against Baltimore," Sirianni said. "So tonight, yeah obviously not up to his standard, but it's about us finding what works for him. And that's just us learning him. That's us working together to figure that out."

McKee guided the Eagles on two touchdown drives in the second half. The first was capped off by a Trey Sermon 33-yard touchdown run early in the third quarter. The latter came in the middle of the fourth quarter with the Eagles trailing by eight points. McKee threw a deep ball to wide receiver Joseph Ngata down the sideline for a 21-yard gain to get into Browns' territory. He later found tight end Brady Russell on an intermediate crossing route for the 22-yard touchdown. On the must-have 2-point conversion, McKee drilled wide receiver Johnny King, who did a great job securing the low throw to tie the game.

"I think for me a little bit of my game, my job as a quarterback is to get the football into the playmaker's hands," McKee said. "They are a lot faster and can make guys miss and a lot of other things when they have the ball in their hands. I feel like my job is a distributor to be able to put the ball in their hands and let those guys go do what they do." – Chris McPherson

Tough night for the Eagles from an injury standpoint

There were several injuries incurred by the Eagles on Thursday night.

• Wide receiver Tyrie Cleveland had to be carted off the field in the third quarter with what the team deemed a neck injury.

• Defensive tackle Moro Ojomo also was carted off the field in the fourth quarter with a neck injury.

Head Coach Nick Sirianni said that the two players were "moving around," showcasing that they had full movement in their extremities.

"You never want to see that. Your heart goes out to everybody that gets hurt in a game cause they're working so hard to make the football team," Sirianni said. "That's tough for the team. That's tough for myself. That's tough for the coaches. You care about these guys and you want to see them succeed."

• Cornerback Zech McPhearson left the game in the second quarter with an ankle injury and did not return.

• Center Josh Andrews did not finish the game due to an ankle injury.

• Linebacker Nolan Smith exited with a shoulder injury. Smith said after the game that he was fine and the decision to sit him out was precautionary.

• Wide receiver Olamide Zaccheaus suffered a shoulder injury. He was questionable to return, but out of precaution did not.

• The team acknowledged before the game on Thursday that Pro Bowl linebacker Haason Reddick suffered a thumb injury that required surgery. Reddick is expected to be back for the regular-season opener in New England.

Friday afternoon update: The Eagles provided the following update on Tyrie Cleveland and Moro Ojomo.

Nakobe Dean starts, but who else is in the picture at linebacker?

Nakobe Dean got his first action of the preseason after missing last week's game and numerous practices with an ankle injury. He made his presence known in the 17 snaps that he played.

On first-and-goal from the 1-yard line, the Browns were knocking on the door on the game's opening drive. The ball was handed off to Browns running back John Kelly who had the ball jarred loose by the left arm of Dean. K'Von Wallace was in the right place at the right time to recover the fumble.

Dean finished the night with three tackles and got more experience at the MIKE linebacker position.

"It felt good to be back out there with the guys. Getting the call from the sideline and communicating with everybody was the biggest thing for me," said Dean, who wears the green dot to receive the calls from Defensive Coordinator Sean Desai.

"It was good to have my dawg out there," edge rusher Nolan Smith said. "It just gives you a type of ease when your signal-caller has been the same for four years and now he is the same in the league. Hopefully, we will be together a long time, that is my goal."

Dean's spot with the first-team defense has been set, but he has been paired with several players in practice and on Thursday night including Zach Cunnigham, Christian Elliss, and Nicholas Morrow.

Cunningham was tied for the team- and game-lead with seven tackles. The seventh-year veteran has been with the team for a mere 10 days.

"I am feeling more comfortable," Cunningham said. "It has been a while since I played. Being able to get back out there and make some plays felt good."

Cunningham started in the six games he played for the Titans last season, but was hampered by an elbow injury all year. While tackling is his forte, Cunningham was involved in the pass coverage game against the Browns.

"I had a couple of catches I should have made," Cunningham said. "Pass coverage is something I have looked to improve on in my game and I have been able to show that."

Linebacker Myles Jack saw his first action at Lincoln Financial Field, registering two tackles.

The eight-year veteran was signed on the same day as Cunningham.

"We knew each other before coming here," Cunningham said. "It was a pretty easy transition for us."

"They are just learning the system, and you are seeing them be able to make plays," Head Coach Nick Sirianni said.

Another newcomer, Morrow, and second-year linebacker Elliss both had five tackles in their second preseason game. The latter had two tackles for loss and one pass deflection.

Elliss' pass deflection came on a third-and-5 play in the second quarter that held the Browns to a field goal.

Sirianni was happy with what he saw from the group on Thursday as there is an ongoing competition for roster spots.

"I like that group," Sirianni said. "They are battling. I am really looking forward to letting that continue to play out."

With another joint practice and one preseason game to go next week with the Colts, the linebackers will be looking to make more plays and earn their spots on the 53-man roster. – Owen Boyle

The Eagles hosted the Cleveland Browns in the first home preseason game of the 2023 season. Check out the photos from the Thursday night affair.