Preseason games mean different things to different teams.
Players are learning new schemes and systems if there is a new coach. Teams with big roster changes will use the preseason as a time for players to get used to each other, as well as sorting out roster battles. A veteran, established team like the Eagles has a different focus. They want to build depth by developing young players.
Look no further than Nate Sudfeld. He hasn't even been an Eagle for a full year but has been the key to the two preseason games so far. Sudfeld is third in the NFL in pass attempts but leads the league in passing yards (452) and touchdown passes (5). He has played a ton of snaps for the Eagles so far. Sudfeld isn't just out there eating up reps. The Eagles are developing him to be a quarterback who can play if needed.
The Eagles have a great pair of quarterbacks in Carson Wentz and Nick Foles, but neither is 100 percent healthy right now. This isn't the regular season, so that's not a huge deal, but you never know what will happen once the season starts. It is possible the Eagles could need Sudfeld to start a game at some point. That's why it is critical he plays a lot this preseason and shows real growth. Check and check.
Sudfeld has opened a lot of eyes with his performance this summer. This is not your typical No. 3 quarterback, a player you hope could manage not to lose games if called upon. Sudfeld has shown serious ability as a passer and playmaker.
Against the Patriots, Sudfeld threw a 31-yard touchdown pass and completed a pass 57 yards downfield. He hit rookie tight end Dallas Goedert for a gain of 28 yards. There were a couple of other downfield throws that could have been caught. Sudfeld looks like the best vertical passer on the Eagles' roster.
I have been surprised by how mobile Sudfeld is. In both games, he has shown the ability to avoid free rushers and get the ball off. His accuracy on the move is something he needs to improve, but just being able to escape is impressive. Sudfeld has good pocket awareness and he's elusive. I love the fact that he keeps his eyes downfield and has a playmaker's mentality.
The offensive staff has done a tremendous job with Sudfeld, going back to last year. I had mixed feelings about him coming out of Indiana. The Eagles' coaches have been able to develop his raw talent and turn him into a good quarterback prospect.
The Eagles have also been banged up at receiver this summer. That created a huge opportunity for Shelton Gibson and he's taken advantage of it. Gibson struggled to catch the ball last summer, let alone making impact plays. This summer has been very different.
Gibson averages 24 yards per catch and is second in the NFL in receiving yards this preseason. He has pass plays of more than 50 yards in both games. Those aren't fluke plays where someone fell down or he got lucky. Gibson used his speed to run by defensive backs and then made good catches on both plays.
He is much more confident than he was at this time last year. Gibson was explosive back then but didn't know what he was doing. Pure speed isn't enough. You must know how to run routes. Gibson caught a short touchdown pass at New England where he ran such a good route that he got wide open. That would not have happened last summer.
Gibson caught several passes on crossing routes on Thursday night. He is now able to get vertical or play in the slot and work the middle of the field. Gibson has elevated himself from worrying about a roster spot to being a player that the coaches might want to use for specific plays in games.
One spot where every team in the league is desperate for depth is the offensive line. The Eagles have arguably the best starting line in the league, but no team has great backups. The Eagles spent a sixth-round pick on Matt Pryor to see if they could develop him into a solid player for the future.
Pryor had a terrific showing in the spring and Training Camp. He was way ahead of schedule. The coaches put him at right guard for the two preseason games, and the results have been mixed.
Offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland knows that guard isn't Pryor's best position. Pryor is more experienced and more comfortable at tackle. Stoutland is working him at guard in the preseason to see if Pryor can learn enough to play there in the regular season.
I think Pryor is a lock for the roster. The Eagles love his potential for the future. The question is whether he's good enough to play this year if needed. It would be great if the offensive line stayed healthy the whole year, but that hasn't happened since 2013. The backups have to be ready.
Pryor was better against the Patriots than the Steelers. Every game rep is a chance for him to practice and learn. He is still inconsistent, but the potential is there. He had some good moments in Foxborough. My favorite came on a run play when he fired into a defensive lineman off the snap, released from him, and then went and put a linebacker on the ground. That's the power and physicality the Eagles want to see more of on the field.
The Eagles have been sloppy in both preseason games and lost both, but I think they have to be happy with the fact they have developed depth in some key areas. Just look at last year to see how valuable backup players can be. From Nick Foles to Big V to Corey Clement, the Eagles don't win the Super Bowl without backup players stepping up in a big way.
Here are a few more thoughts on last Thursday's game:
1. Bruce Hector got on the field in the middle of the first quarter. That was a reward for how well he's practiced the past couple of weeks. The rookie defensive tackle played well. He was tough and disruptive. He gave relentless effort.
2. Avonte Maddox played well on special teams and defense. He did give up a touchdown pass to Chris Hogan, but Maddox broke up a pass and was in on a couple of tackles.
3. Issac Seumalo played better than he did in the opener. There weren't any bad snaps. He did a good job in pass protection as well.
4. Dallas Goedert was once again productive in the passing game. He is fifth in the league with 123 receiving yards after two games. Even more impressive, he's averaging 18 yards per reception. Most tight ends are 5 to 6 yards below that.
5. Ronald Darby had a terrific showing in New England. He blanketed receivers. Tom Brady tested him with two deep balls and Darby broke up both of them. He should have picked off one of them and could have picked off the other.
6. Cameron Johnston took a step forward in his bid to win the punting job. He averaged 48.7 yards per punt, with two of them being downed inside the 20. Johnston had better hang time and accuracy this week.