This is the time of the preseason when legs get heavy and the bumps and bruises from three weeks of Training Camp hurt just a little bit more. It’s also the time when the second preseason game ramps up the intensity and the focus of a 90-man roster that will be cut to 53 at the end of the month.
So, time is ticking.
“Every chance you get on the field, you have to make the most of it. That’s just the reality of this business,” quarterback Cody Kessler said. “Go out there and execute and do your job. That’s what the NFL is all about.”
Kessler will have his chance on Thursday night in some capacity or another. Head coach Doug Pederson hasn’t announced yet whether starter Carson Wentz will play at Jacksonville, and whether he does or not, Kessler is going to get a lot of time. The Eagles need to find out about Kessler, who bumps up in the quarterback picture with Nate Sudfeld (wrist) sidelined. Kessler’s rep count has increased since Sudfeld went down against Tennessee and Kessler is, at this moment, the No. 2 behind Wentz.
And the more the Eagles know about Kessler, the more he’s going to succeed. This is how it works, then: Kessler huddles with offensive coordinator Mike Groh and they go over a series of plays that Kessler especially likes within the system. The goal here is to provide Kessler as much confidence and understanding as possible heading into the game. His series of plays, the ones he likes the most, are included in the play calls.
And then it’s "go" time for Kessler, a third-round draft pick of Cleveland in 2016 who played for two seasons there, was traded to Jacksonville and played with the Jaguars in 2018, was cut by them when Nick Foles signed as an unrestricted free agent, and made his way here after Foles spoke so highly of the big picture in Philadelphia – the coaching staff, the quarterback room, the organizational culture, and the rabid fan base.
All of that appealed to Kessler, who knew he was heading to a quarterback situation that was stacked with Wentz and Sudfeld leading the way.
“It’s been everything I hoped it would be,” Kessler said. “Nick painted an accurate picture. This is a great organization and a city that loves its team. I feel like things have gone well for me and these last couple of days, the last week, I’ve gotten more reps and played well. Even before that, it was coming together for me as I learned more about the offense.
“I’m excited to go out there and execute the offense, get the ball out fast and in the right spots to the receivers. This is another chance for me to prove myself to the coaching staff.”
Kessler completed 3 of 6 passes in the preseason opener, a get-your-feet-wet night that did just that. The urgency level has risen, of course, in light of Sudfeld’s injury. It’s clear the Eagles believe that Sudfeld will heal quickly enough, combined with their confidence in Kessler, to keep the quarterback situation as it is – Wentz, Kessler, and rookie Clayton Thorson, in that order.
Yeah, Kessler has to show something on Thursday night. He knows it.
“I understand how all of this works and I’m confident that I’m going to go out there and work within the offense and take what’s there,” Kessler said. “It’s a performance-based league. I’m here to perform. I’m excited to play and put some drives together and put some points on the board.”
The Eagles have proceeded matter-of-factly in light of Sudfeld’s injury. There is no panic at One NovaCare Way. The Eagles are employing the next-man-up approach with Training Camp about to take its next turn – Baltimore is in for two days of joint practices next week – and with the players feeling the effects of a long summer.
“You have to push through the grind,” Kessler said. “That’s the name of this game. Every player goes through the same thing.”
We’ll get into the what-to-watch element of this second preseason game closer to kickoff, but it’s clearly Kessler and Thorson who lead the list. The Eagles need better play from the quarterback position than they had last Thursday against Tennessee.
Everybody knows it.
“Our job is to score points, move the offense,” Kessler said. “That’s the job we’re here to do. The second time out, having a little bit more of an understanding of the offense and what we’re going to run, I have a lot of confidence in my ability to play well. That’s what I’m looking forward to doing.”