Thursday night's outcome isn't going to feel good, even when it's the preseason. That said, it's important not to get carried away with the score and spend more time looking at the individuals on the field and how they're carrying out their assignments.
Typically, in the preseason, there are so many questions to answer. How are the young players performing? How are the players who are competing for either roster spots or for playing time executing? What roles are these guys playing? How do they react when thrown into adverse situations? Are all of these players improving based on the last time we saw them on the field? Are they adjusting to a new scheme? There are several other questions as well.
For me, there were three examples of position groups where I could try and answer some of those questions, and for today's piece, I wanted to spotlight a couple of players from those groups.
Let's first start at wide receiver, one of the youngest position groups on the team that features two recent first-round picks in DeVonta Smith and Jalen Reagor. When you're at practice every day, you see the hard coaching this group gets. Whether it's from Wide Receivers Coach Aaron Moorehead, Passing Game Coordinator Kevin Patullo, or Head Coach Nick Sirianni, the wideouts are being drilled constantly on the game's finer points, in real time, out on the practice field. What's great to see is some of that coaching in practice transfer over to game action. Here's an example of what I mean.
These routes don't seem like much, right? Just quick, simple slant routes.
Here's the thing, though. I had a coach tell me a few years ago that if you can't win on a slant route, you can't win in the NFL. Cornerbacks are too good at this level, and things you did in college won't work well enough. Sleepwalking through these quick-game routes will result in incompletions, interceptions, or even injuries.
Reagor and Smith don't just take three steps forward and then cut left on a 45-degree angle here. Instead, they have to focus on creating separation, selling the idea that they're going to try and win vertically downfield (multiple times) before sticking their foot in the ground and exploding inside. You see the coaching staff preaching these details every single day in practice, whether it's in team drills, one-on-ones, or even when they're running routes on air. Seeing that coaching carry over under the lights is a good sign.
Another position group that stood out? The linebackers.
Eric Wilson, Alex Singleton, and T.J. Edwards all made impressive stops against both the run and the pass game on Thursday night, but I thought it would be cool to look at how all three guys sniffed out screen passes, defeating blocks in space in three different ways on their way to the football. This is all coaching as well! Credit to Nick Rallis and the rest of the defensive staff, who have a lot of faith in this group to execute the defense at a high level.
I wanted to throw in Edwards' diving pass breakup as well, mainly because he's such an instinctive pass defender. Edwards consistently makes impressive plays on the ball in practice, especially down in the red zone (where he had an interception of Cam Newton on Tuesday on a play just like this one). I'm really liking how this group is coming together.
Lastly, I want to look at a couple of the safeties. With Rodney McLeod (knee) still sidelined due to injury, we've seen a steady rotation of a handful of players alongside Anthony Harris in the deep part of the field. Andrew Adams has had moments in camp (he nearly picked off a pair of passes on Monday against the Patriots), but here let's look at K'Von Wallace and Marcus Epps.
Wallace and Epps both did some good things on Thursday against New England. This is a pair of young players vying for playing time defensively, and it's great to see them do this in the game after practicing well for most of camp.
There is a ton that the team needs to improve on from Thursday night, to be sure, but there were some good things to take away from the film. Let's see how the squad rebounds, starting at Sunday's final public practice at Lincoln Financial Field before going up to Florham Park, New Jersey, for two joint practices against the Jets. We'll cover it all this week on the Eagle Eye in the Sky podcast.
Check out the best photos from our preseason game against New England