Welcome to Week 3 of the preseason, the turning point in the race toward the start of the regular season. Miami comes to town for joint practices at the NovaCare Complex on Monday and Tuesday with preseason game No. 3 on Thursday. Big week. A lot of storylines to discuss. Here we go ...
- The offensive line is going to be fine, just fine, says coach Jeff Stoutland. He is focused not on the rushing statistics from two preseason games, which are unimpressive, but rather he is looking at the technical nuances of the collective performance. "Right now the mission for us to make sure the player is taking the appropriate departure angle and surfacing the blocks the right way," he said.
What is his level of confidence in making sure all of that is right for September 10 against Washington?
"We're not there yet, not like we were last year doing some of the things," he said. "This is like getting on a spaceship and going to the moon. You gotta program everything just right."
- By the way, Stoutland has high praise for the play of left guard Isaac Seumalo, which bodes well for the interior of the offensive line. Brandon Brooks was having a terrific summer until he sprained his ankle, and Jason Kelce has been on point, so if Brooks can get back to where he was, and if Seumalo continues to make progress, the Eagles are going to be powerful inside.
- Mychal Kendricks is the Eagles' starting WILL linebacker and that isn't likely to change this year. He's handled his difficult situation well and he's playing excellent football. Rather than exploring ways to get rid of Kendricks, as many in the media have speculated, it appears the Eagles are instead exploring ways to use him and play to his strengths on the field. Jim Schwartz doesn't blitz a lot, but he's got a weapon in Kendricks off the edge playing at the line of scrimmage and using his speed to get to the football.
- Big week for Wendell Smallwood. After an outstanding spring and early summer, he suffered a hamstring injury and did not play in the opening two preseason games. Now it's time to suit up and show something in both the practices against Miami – while there will be contact and it will be physical, there won't be any "live" periods during which players are tackled to the ground – and in Thursday's game. The Eagles are counting on Smallwood.
- How many running backs will the Eagles keep on the 53-man roster? Four? They can't keep five, can they? So you've got to figure that LeGarrette Blount, Smallwood, and Darren Sproles are in for sure. Then there's Donnel Pumphrey, the fourth-round draft pick. And then there's Corey Clement, an undrafted player who has shown a lil' somethin' somethin' in camp and in the preseason games. There are no cuts until after the fourth preseason game, so it's very conceivable that Pumphrey and Clement will see a lot of action in that last preseason game with a roster spot on the line. Unless the Eagles think it's worth keeping five running backs, which will be very tough to do.
- Kind of lost in the shuffle from Thursday night was the play of wide receiver Marcus Johnson in his preseason debut. He had two receptions for 45 yards, including a 38-yard catch-and-run on which he showed speed and good vision in the open field. Johnson is in line to make this 53-man roster. The numbers at wide receiver? How about Alshon Jeffery, Torrey Smith, Nelson Agholor, Mack Hollins, and Johnson? That's five. Bryce Treggs? Maybe, but he's got to show up in these last two preseason games. It's a very interesting group. If you want to keep six receivers, you can't keep five running backs, right? Can you keep 10 offensive linemen? A fourth tight end? Numbers, numbers, numbers ...
- Despite a shaky first two preseason games, the special teams are coming along just fine, says coordinator Dave Fipp. And why would anyone doubt Fipp, who has made the Eagles one of the best special teams groups, collectively, over the last several seasons? "I feel really good about this group," he said. "We're going through some bad moments in the preseason, but that can happen when you're moving players in and out. We want to take a look at everybody and see what they can do so sometimes there are breakdowns. But overall, we have a lot of dedicated, very good special teams players and our core group is there. I'm excited about this group." Darren Sproles will return punts and Fipp said he has a pool of kickoff return possibilities, including Smith, Clement, Agholor, and, of course, Smallwood.
- Wide receiver Alshon Jeffery was a big topic for the media on Sunday after he caught two passes on Thursday and was targeted five times. He had one route on which he made a mistake, but says he is pleased with where he is in his preparation for the regular season. "I like where I am, but I can still improve and get better," he said. "Just keep working."
- We'll learn more about the cornerbacks and the linebackers in coverage this week working against Miami's good group of skill-position players in the passing game. Quarterback Jay Cutler has a big arm and can make any throw, so let's see how the Eagles do against wide receivers like Jarvis Landry and DeVante Parker. It's going to be an educational two days of practice at the NovaCare Complex.