It is, as far as preseason games go, meaningful. The starters are scheduled to play the first half, and the second-team players and third-team players will look to impress in the second half. The Steelers are a formidable team, of course. And there is a lot to look forward to ...
- General manager Howie Roseman says that wide receiver Jeremy Maclin could join the team at the NovaCare Complex this weekend and that Maclin is expected to be a big part of the team in 2011, despite an illness that has kept Maclin off the field through training camp. That's encouraging to hear. We will know more when we actually see Maclin and can evaluate him, but the thought of having Maclin good to go, at full speed, is exciting. Newly acquired Steve Smith feels he is closing in on practicing and that he could be ready for the opener in St. Louis. So if it all works out perfectly, the Eagles are going to have the most talented group of wide receivers they have ever had. And that begs the question: How will the Eagles use all of these wide receivers? Can they have six receivers on the 53-man roster? Can they use five wides in a formation? Who starts? How does Michael Vick keep all of this talent happy?
- The player to watch on offense against Pittsburgh is right tackle King Dunlap, who starts on Thursday night. He has a huge assignment against a varied Steelers blitz. This is a pressure defense the Eagles will face, and you can expect the Steelers to test Dunlap and rookie right guard Danny Watkins with some twists and stunts early in the game.
- I really hope the Eagles' rookie kickers get some chances to establish a rhythm in Pittsburgh. Both Alex Henery and Chas Henry have a tremendous amount of talent and confidence. They need to be more consistent, and they know it. This game represents another step in their learning curve.
- Obviously, Casey Matthews has a big moment on Thursday night. The Steelers are a downhill running team that will try to establish the running game. The Eagles like what they've seen from Matthews to date, and to me this is the kind of game that represents a trusting moment for Matthews. Teams are going to try to pound the rock against the Eagles this year. Is Matthews up to the task? He has covered sideline to sideline well in the preseason so far. The litmus test comes against the run.
- Defensive tackle is a position that needs to be sorted out. Trevor Laws won't play, but he could practice in the next few days. Meanwhile, Anthony Hargrove and Derek Landri are getting valuable game reps and more chances to impress the coaching staff.
- How are players like Brian Rolle, Keenan Clayton, Rashad Jeanty and Akeem Jordan playing? They are in a great battle for roster spots -- do the Eagles keep six linebackers? -- and Pittsburgh likes to dump the ball off to running backs in the passing game. Coverage and tackling is critical here.
- We saw a relatively clean game by the Eagles last week. Only eight penalties. Pretty good tackles and, at times, outstanding tackling. Will they be as crisp after breaking from training camp? The "getaway" game in the preseason is sometimes the sloppiest.
- Any guesses on how many of the team's 11 draft picks will make the 53-man roster? The top five are in, as I see it. The sixth pick, running back Dion Lewis, is off to a great start. Center Jason Kelce is battling for a roster spot, so count him in. Rookie guard Julian Vandervelde has taken a lot of reps in practice and has a really good chance. That's eight picks. Then you have Rolle, who played very well in the preseason opener against Baltimore, linebacker Greg Lloyd, who is injured, and seventh-round pick Stanley Havili, who is playing behind Owen Schmitt at fullback.