Everything that has happened to this point, all of the Organized Team Activities, all of the reps in practice – they lead to tonight. They lead to the first audition. They lead to the next phase of roster evaluation as the Eagles begin the countdown to the 53-player roster limit.
Welcome to the preseason.
“This is where you make the team,” defensive end Steven Means said. “Every rep matters.”
With that, let’s take a position by position look at the Eagles as they open the preseason against Pittsburgh (7 p.m. kickoff, Lincoln Financial Field, NBC10 and SportsRadio 94WIP) and shake out all of the roster questions.
The general thought is that the Eagles will keep three quarterbacks. Pretty logical. Carson Wentz won’t play tonight, and Nick Foles is questionable after missing the last several days with muscle spasms in his neck/trapezoid area. Nate Sudfeld is going to take most of the game action – not only tonight but throughout the preseason. I’ve said it before and I’m saying it again: The Eagles want to find out as much as they can about Sudfeld this summer. Joe Callahan will also have some extended playing time and he will have the chance to put his game on tape as the Eagles look down the road for quarterback options and Callahan shows the rest of the league his skills.
It would be a surprise to see Darren Sproles play. He will get some preseason time, but for the most part head coach Doug Pederson wants Sproles fresh and ready for the regular season. Jay Ajayi and Corey Clement will likely see minimal time in the first quarter. Donnel Pumphrey was limited in practice in the last week and is a question mark. He really can’t afford to miss any time as he attempts to make this roster. Tonight is an important one for Wendell Smallwood, who understands that injuries have undermined his career to date. Veteran Matt Jones has a chance to show what he can do in the power running game, so he could be in line for quite a few touches. Ajayi, Clement, and Sproles are going to make this team. Who is the fourth running back? Tonight helps answer that question.
No Alshon Jeffery. Both Nelson Agholor and Mike Wallace have had some limiting injuries in the last few days, so they may not play. Look for a lot of Mack Hollins and Shelton Gibson and a host of players, including Kamar Aiken, trying to make this roster. It’s worth noting that chemistry between receivers and quarterbacks is key, so having Sudfeld at practice taking the first-team reps this last week has been important.
Zach Ertz didn’t practice on Tuesday and really doesn’t need the added reps after the long 2017 season, so it wouldn’t be a surprise if rookie Dallas Goedert gets the start and a bunch of looks. Richard Rodgers has also been watching from the sidelines with an injury so he, too, is a question mark. Joshua Perkins and Billy Brown will get some time. Newcomer Gannon Sinclair should also see some important reps.
It would be surprising to see Jason Peters on the field – he needs to be fresh for the regular season – so if he doesn’t go the Eagles will likely start the line that played in the Super Bowl – Halapoulivaati Vaitai, Stefen Wisniewski, Jason Kelce, Brandon Brooks, and Lane Johnson, left to right. Fun stuff. They are likely to play 10-15 snaps, or one long drive should the Eagles score when they get the ball. There is a lot to look at here, including rookies Matt Pryor at right guard and Jordan Mailata at tackle. Isaac Seumalo is the backup center. A great offensive line has a chance to be even better as some of these young players develop.
This is a terrific group and the anticipation is that both Michael Bennett and Haloti Ngata will make their preseason debuts, if only for a brief time. Maybe, maybe not. Rookie Josh Sweat has opened some eyes in Training Camp and he’ll play tonight. The Eagles will give their linemen the green light to be aggressive. This is going to be a blast to watch.
Jordan Hicks insisted all week that he would play in this game as the next test for his recovery from Achilles tendon surgery. He’s looked good in camp. The battle to watch is at the WILL position as Nathan Gerry and Kamu Grugier-Hill along with Corey Nelson compete for the starting job. LaRoy Reynolds gets his first game action in this defense. A group that has had some change has a chance to gain some chemistry tonight.
Ah, now this is going to be interesting. Second-year man Sidney Jones appears to be the leading contender to earn the nickel cornerback job, but everything changes when the games begin. Jones, De’Vante Bausby, and Avonte Maddox are competing inside. Rasul Douglas has been around the football a lot this summer. The Eagles have the kind of competition here they hoped to have. It’s a very promising group and the depth chart has to shake out in the preseason.
Corey Graham has been in camp for only a few days so he is probably a long shot to play. Malcolm Jenkins and Rodney McLeod won’t see much time. A lot of young safeties are going to see snaps as the Eagles learn about them in live action. There have been only two practices with “live” sessions, so this game represents a huge moment for players like Tre Sullivan and Jeremy Reaves. The Eagles love the top three safeties here. Will they keep a fourth? When is Chris Maragos going to be cleared to play again?
This is a big moment for punter/holder Cameron Johnston, who has had his ups and downs in camp. He’s got a big leg, but he’s also got to display more consistency. He’s on the spot tonight.