We're one week away from the end of the preseason and the start of really tough decisions that Howie Roseman and the Eagles' front office have to make to reduce the roster to 53 players. With that, there are some reminders of what Training Camp and the preseason are all about, and why it's not always a wise thing to leap to conclusions ...
1. There is little or no gameplanning happening
The purpose of preseason games is to evaluate talent and to determine who are the best 53 players on the roster. That's why you see very little blitzing on defense, for example. Coaches and personnel evaluators want to see defensive linemen in one-on-one battles for the most part, to be challenged by situational football to see how they react, and to grade players on the technique they've been taught these last many months.
There is the obvious "we don't want to show anything" part of the preseason strategy that virtually every team employs, but it's also about player evaluation. This is the most important factor in preseason games: With 53 roster spots and up to 16 practice squad spots available, the Eagles are looking to hit on each of the 69 available slots on the expanded roster.
The lack of gameplanning in the preseason also emphasizes just how important good scheming is when the regular season begins. A lot of folks judge coaches on their in-game time management and the way they manage their personnel, but the entire week of mapping out the game plan and then how it is employed separate coaching staffs in this league.
2. Injuries stink
The Eagles announced a slew of roster moves Saturday morning after a rash of injuries on Thursday night. In the midst of players going down is the loss of cornerback Zech McPhearson with a torn Achilles tendon. McPhearson played both nickel and on the outside this summer and he has been a key gunner on special teams in his two seasons here. Losing McPhearson and linebacker Shaun Bradley (Achilles tendon) taxes the special teams and the depth on defense.
The optimistic part of Thursday night is that edge player Nolan Smith (shoulder), wide receiver Olamide Zaccheaus (shoulder), and offensive lineman Josh Andrews (ankle) were all out on the sidelines after being examined in the locker room and that wide receiver Tyrie Cleveland (concussion, neck sprain) and defensive lineman Moro Ojomo (concussion) both had feeling and movement in all of their extremities after being carted off the field.
Injuries are part of the game and they are always difficult to digest, but teams understand how it works. And when one man goes down, it's time for another man to step up, so that's where the Eagles are at a few positions (linebacker and cornerback). It is also important that we all keep injuries in perspective: Edge star Haason Reddick underwent thumb surgery on Thursday and it was successful and there is every bit of confidence that he will be ready to go when the regular season begins on September 10 at New England. That's the goal here: Have as many players as possible healthy for the regular season.
3. If the biggest summer story in the media is backup quarterback, it's been a pretty great Training Camp ...
There is a lot of attention being paid to the quarterbacks' room this preseason, and Head Coach Nick Sirianni has made it clear that Marcus Mariota is the backup to Jalen Hurts and that Tanner McKee has made nice progress. But, look around the NFL. Doesn't every team have more pressing issues than backup quarterback? Don't you think those teams wish that backup quarterback was the dominating conversation with the fans and the media?
Keep it in perspective: This has been a solid, no-drama, all-football kind of summer for the Eagles and that's exactly how they want it.
4. The rookie class has a chance to contribute
As expected, this moment is not too big for the rookies. First-round draft picks defensive tackle Jalen Carter and edge player Nolan Smith have made eye-opening plays and they've quickly adjusted to the tempo of the Eagles on and off the field. Tyler Steen has shown position versatility along the offensive line. Sydney Brown is a missile at the safety position and is already playing fast, effective football. McKee has made strong progress. Ojomo was off to a good start before his injury and hopefully he resumes that upon his return. Cornerback Kelee Ringo is developing and improving and he's exactly where the Eagles hoped he would be at this early stage in his career.
Can they help this season? They could very well be in position to do just that, all at positions that have some depth and promise.
5. Joint practices mean so much
They don't tackle, but there is a lot of physical play and the intensity is great. The Eagles and Browns got after it for two days last week and the action was awesome – and beneficial to the evaluation process. The Eagles played well on defense both days and on offense they were not quite up to the standards they wanted on Monday and then ramped it up on Tuesday. Good work. Great work, actually. Coaches love this stuff. And the Colts come to town with a joint practice scheduled for Tuesday and another excellent opportunity to see how the players react in that environment.
6. By this time in one week ...
You won't remember much, if anything, about the preseason. The team's record in the three games? Maybe. The scores of the games? Unlikely. Breakout stars? A bit, but you will put it in context because in a week's time everyone's focus is on what's ahead. It has been a very successful Training Camp and preseason for the Eagles and now we are coming down the home stretch with a lot on the line.