Philadelphia Eagles News

Stage Set For A Revealing Opener

We're at a great point in this Eagles season, one that simply couldn't get here quickly enough. Once the 2012 season ended, thankfully, every Eagles fan fast-forwarded to this point, to see how the organization would turn the page and bring forth brighter, more productive days.

And so here we are. One preseason game isn't going to define the Chip Kelly Era, of course, but it's the start of the preseason schedule, which then transitions into the regular season and then, as we know, there is no telling what happens after that.

What are we going to learn when the Eagles line up against the Patriots? Understand this: It's all about the personnel. Kelly isn't going to tip his hand from a scheme standpoint. The Eagles are going to play it smart, and they're going to play vanilla football, and they're going to evaluate the roster and further identify players they will move forward with as the roster narrows its way to 53 players in September.

If you're expecting Kelly to run a lot of no-huddle offense and order up some special formations and clever play calls, you won't know what to make of his approach. Defensive coordinator Bill Davis isn't going to dig deep into his scheme and tip his hand as the rest of the NFL peers in to get a hunch of what the Eagles are all about, or what their tendencies might be.

The Eagles are going to play it straight. That's what NFL preseason games are all about. Oh, the Eagles would love to win, and the players are going to play hard and the purpose is to execute what is called, but the higher calling is to find out about the roster. The Eagles want to know what they have.

A couple of days of practice against New England -- Thursday was a long walkthrough as the teams practiced some game situations -- gave the coaches their first concrete evidence to evaluate, and the preseason game deepens those grades.

From this standpoint, the preseason opener is an irresistible moment. It's Eagles football, and that alone is enough to elevate the excitement level. Beyond that, we all want to watch everything and gauge everything and start to put our own rosters together.

With that in mind, here is what tops my must-see list for the preseason kickoff against New England ...

THE PLAY AT QUARTERBACK

Michael Vick starts and Nick Foles sees some time early, and then their roles will be reversed on Thursday against Carolina. I want to see both quarterbacks get the team to the line of scrimmage quickly and show a command of the offense and make good decisions and get the football out of their hands quickly.

And yes, putting points on the board is important. Scoring touchdowns in the red zone is an important goal for an offense that struggled in that department the last several seasons.

I want to see the quarterbacks play like they deserve to be starters, and to make this competition one that heats up because of the success there.

Matt Barkley? He's still in the mix, but clearly is behind Vick and Foles. I want to see Barkley adjust to the speed of the game, make timely throws and show that the concerns the draftniks had over his arm strength were unfounded.

The same goes for Dennis Dixon and G.J. Kinne, should they both play. Go out and run the offense, no matter what personnel groups are on the field.

OFFENSIVE LINE: A STEP TOWARD BEING GREAT

Jason Peters isn't playing, so Allen Barbre has a chance to show the coaches that he is a quality, reliable player on whom they can count. Barbre replaces Dennis Kelly, who is out with a back injury. The Eagles need to know that they have some depth along the offensive line. They're pleased with Danny Watkins, who is coming along at guard nicely. Barbre stepping up would be a huge plus, so he has the opportunity to advance his chances in this game.

The rest of the line goes like this: Evan Mathis at left guard, Jason Kelce at center, Todd Herremans at right guard and No. 1 draft pick Lane Johnson.

If it all comes together, the line could be really super. There is a fine combination of athletic ability and veteran experience and strength and some road-grader mentality. Can't wait to see this group come together.

THE ROLE OF THE TIGHT ENDS

It feels like old-school football to label James Casey and Zach Ertz and all of these super-athletic pass catchers as "tight ends." They have the ability to line up all over the offense and get into the passing game as wide receivers do. When the Eagles spread the field and run the ball, the tight ends have to block well.

It's a new era in the NFL and the Eagles have caught up with the additions of Casey and Ertz to go along with Brent Celek and Clay Harbor, who has had a fine summer. Let's see how it all works in the preseason opener. Add in Derek Carrier and Will Shaw and Emil Igwenagu and the Eagles have numbers, numbers, numbers at the position. How are they all going to be used? Just how deep will the players here be ingrained in the passing game?

ARE THE EAGLES AS GOOD AT RB AS WE THINK?

Keep your eyes on Chris Polk, who has been outstanding through the spring and summer. I say he's mounting a very serious challenge to Bryce Brown for playing time, so this is a competition that bears a lot of attention.

Polk is healthy after leaving college (Washington) with a bad shoulder after so many touches there. He's in fantastic shape and is running well, with much more spring in his step than last season. Brown hasn't been a disappointment at all in camp, but Polk has just been that good.

Where is Felix Jones? A bit banged up with an injury, so he's a question mark to play. This is going to be a night to watch Polk and Brown and see how they fare in some extended duty.

DEFENSE: IT'S ALL ABOUT THE PLAYERS

Bill Davis is going to play it straight. That means the pre-snap movement could be minimal and the changes in fronts and coverages could be little. Davis wants to see his players run and play hard and be physical and recognize the things they need to recognize.

There is no need to break down any position-by-position battles here. Davis wants his defense to be sound and fundamental and smart. He wants to see his players compete, and then he wants to start to firm up the depth chart defensively.

Will the Eagles blitz a lot here? I would be very surprised if they did. Will they change up a lot of what they do from one series to the next? A bit, perhaps, but Davis wants to see his players straight up in action and see the corners in man coverage and some zone combinations.

This is the beginning, folks. This is the first step toward a preseason of determining the best 53 players the Eagles can possibly put together. It is not about wowing the rest of the league with fancy-schmanzy X's and O's. It's not about tipping off the Washington Redskins and a curious NFL watching every move Chip Kelly makes.

It's about finding out who is going to be here this season. It's about grading the players and their performance in the first preseason game of the summer.

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