The news that Michael Vick is going to play on Thursday night will, naturally, obscure everything else going on with this football team. But for those who know, and who understand the big picture, Game 3 of the preseason is an opportunity to provide some reasonable insight as to exactly where this offense is with the regular season a couple of weeks away.
Vick is going to command the attention and everyone knows that going in. The daily practice routine says it all: A dozen writers hang around until the very last player leaves the field because that very last player is Vick and the writers are hoping against hope that No. 7 will stop and chat and catch everyone up on his goings on. Not happening, yo. Vick isn't talking until after he plays on Thursday night, leaving us an ample opportunity to discuss other topics of interest regarding this offense.
Without further ado ...
**SORTING OUT THE WIDE RECEIVERS
There are seven of them here who, I think we all agree, have made enough of an impression that you would consider keeping each one of them. Sixth-round draft pick Brandon Gibson caught a touchdown pass last week and has been steady and productive throughout his time here. But can he fit in? How can the Eagles wedge Gibson into a receiver group that already has DeSean Jackson, Kevin Curtis, Jason Avant, Jeremy Maclin, Reggie Brown and Hank Baskett?
That is one issue with this group. Another is figuring out some kind of rotation. Is Maclin ready to make a move and bump up the depth chart and gain more reps in the games? It seems pretty solid that Jackson and Curtis are the starters and that Avant is the slot stud. After that, it is anybody's guess. Baskett had a particularly good game last week and he is a standout on special teams. Brown has been good in the spring and summer. He looks far more consistent now than in the past.
Maclin is on the rise. He may be struggling as a return man, but Maclin is making strides in his receiver's role. He is gaining on the concepts of the offense and on his recognition of the defensive techniques used at this level. Maclin has shown excellent hands, too. He'll pick up in his explosiveness and his separation, but you can see that the skills are there.
**STEPS FORWARD FOR THE OFFENSIVE LINE
Left tackle Jason Peters has practiced all week and is on schedule to play against Jacksonville. Head coach Andy Reid indicated that right guard Stacy Andrews could see his first live action as an Eagle. Both of those developments are extremely important as the Eagles look ahead toward September 13. Should both of the linemen play, we'll obviously keep a close eye on their performances.
Furthermore, there are some reserve jobs to be won. If the Eagles keep nine linemen, they'll have Nick Cole and Max Jean-Gilles as two of the four backups. Who else makes it? Winston Justice is probably a lock after his strong summer. That means the Eagles have one spot, two if they keep 10 linemen, available and they have a large group of young men pushing for the spot(s).
The Eagles wanted good competition up front and they are getting it. Not having all of the starters on the field throughout training camp and the preseason presents a significant challenge, but the upside is that the coaches have had plenty of time to evaluate a group of players who have taken a ton of snaps.
There are jobs to be won and lost on Thursday night. Some of these players will likely end up on the practice squad or, with really good performances, on other NFL rosters.
**WESTBROOK'S RETURN TO ACTION?
I've got to tell you again how exciting it is to see Brian Westbrook on the field in practice. He looks great. He looks quick and powerful and perfectly balanced. He looks like vintage Brian Westbrook. Now it is time to see him in a preseason game. Whether Westbrook plays one down or a full half, it is going to be a big boost for the offense to have him out there.
Playing in a game is Westbrook's last test of a trying off-season. He had two surgeries. He heard people say he would never get back to the "elite back" level. Now he is on the doorstep of playing again, and that has to be a tremendously exciting prospect.
**THE BATTLE FOR THE NO. 3 RB JOB
Both Lorenzo Booker and Eldra Buckley have played well, with Buckley having an edge strictly based on his game performances. There are two games to go in the preseason and both players are going to see a lot of time.
Their styles are different and the skill set varies. Booker is more of a scatback-type of player who moves around the formation and who plays best in space. Buckley is a north-south grinder, a tough guy with a nose for a yard and a physical player.
If the picture stays the same, and if the Eagles keep three halfbacks, either Booker or Buckley stays. And the other one goes. It's that simple. And it's that complicated.
**FINDING SOME TIGHT END DEPTH
I think this is a big game for Matt Schobel. He's been banged up in the preseason, and he has to go out and play and show he can be counted on if the Eagles decide he is the No. 2 tight end behind Brent Celek. Schobel knows the offense and he does the little things right, and he certainly has the trust of the coaching staff. But could he be the starter if needed?
Rob Myers continues to impress with his receiving skills. He needs to mature physically and he has to learn the game at this level, but Myers is doing the job as a receiver. The blocking part of his game needs to be better and Myers is still swimming mentally since he hasn't been here that long, but the young man has done a good job coming from, in NFL parlance, nowhere.
It is still possible that the Eagles will look to acquire a tight end. They have their eyes and ears open. There is the question of how many tight ends the Eagles will keep, and then there is the question of who they will keep behind Celek. Eugene Bright is still a project and is working hard, but it is hard to think he is a strong consideration for a 53-man roster spot.
We'll see. This is obviously a fluid position.
**FINDING SNAPS FOR ALL OF THE QUARTERBACKS
This is an ongoing conversation and it is going to be a challenge for the coaches to get Donovan McNabb, Vick and Kevin Kolb meaningful snaps. Maybe McNabb plays a half and Vick and Kolb share the second half. That is a reasonable scenario.
Vick is going to be the big story on Thursday night, but he won't be the only story for the Eagles offense. This is an important preseason chapter with a lot of storylines for the Eagles to consider.