Ask someone who does it for a living about the weight of what happens at Training Camp and you hear something like, “It’s part of the evaluation.” Because, well, there is only so much Howie Roseman and his department as well as the coaching staff can learn from seeing Eagles against Eagles day after day.
That’s why the preseason games are so important. We’ve reached that point, where the Eagles have gone through an entire spring and then nearly two weeks of Training Camp and every question directed at a coach about a position is met with a non-answer because, well, there are no answers yet.
Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, for example, met the media before Sunday night’s practice at Lincoln Financial Field and was asked about the collective play from the cornerback position. His response was spot on.
“I don't know. We'll see. When you go live and offenses and the pass rush is real, I think that's when you really see what your corners can do,” Schwartz said. “A lot of times in 7-on-7 (in practice) a corner might not look great, but in reality the quarterback pumped one way and held the ball for four seconds and the coverage isn't designed to last that long. Or other plays where maybe they'll throw a short pass and the corner will come off and tag off on the guy and you're like, ‘OK, he's down right there,’ but you don't always make those tackles.
“I think when you really get live in preseason games is when you can really see it. And, obviously, regular season.”
So, we’re about to see it. The player evaluation process goes to a new level in the preseason game on Thursday night (7:30 p.m., NBC10, 94WIP) when Tennessee plays at Lincoln Financial Field. We want to see the new Eagles in action, of course, and we’ll see how head coach Doug Pederson plays it as far as the starters go – no determination has been made on that front – and the preseason games are incredibly important for a number of reasons as the Eagles get into the nitty-gritty of evaluating this roster. In less than a month’s time, the Eagles will have the roster reduced from 90 players to 53. A lot is on the line here.
With that in mind, I’ve got a list of players I’m going to keep particular eyes on, players who haven’t generated a lot of conversation this summer and who are likely going to have their roster chances made or broken based on the preseason performances.
T.J. Edwards, linebacker
A standout at Wisconsin, T.J. Edwards went undrafted largely because, by NFL standards, he lacks the ideal footspeed to excel at the position at this level. We’ll see about that. It’s hard to say how Edwards has played to date given the Eagles’ limited “live” periods in Training Camp, and that’s why the preseason games are going to be so important for Edwards. There are some questions about linebacker in general here – who is playing where, for starters – so Edwards is going to get some reps and the coaches want to see what he can do.
Carlton Agudosi, wide receiver
After playing 45 games at Rutgers with just 35 career receptions, Carlton Agudosi signed with the Eagles this past offseason after spending most of his 2017 rookie season on the Cardinals' practice squad. He’s here and he's getting plenty of reps in camp. He’s an intriguing 6-6, 220 pounds and he seems to have good feet. Maybe he’s a project worth developing. The Eagles are stacked at wide receiver, but they felt that Agudosi was worth adding to the summer roster so now he has to produce in the preseason games.
Josh Sweat, defensive end
OK, so Josh Sweat has generated quite a bit of talk. A fourth-round draft pick a season ago, Sweat is in the mix at defensive end as the Eagles search for quality depth. Sweat has played well in Training Camp and now he’s got to go out and get to the football in the preseason games. He should get a fair number of reps against quality offensive tackles. The Eagles want to see his work this summer translate to the preseason.
Josh Hawkins, cornerback
A veteran in this league with 32 games under his belt, Josh Hawkins knows how difficult it is to find a firm foothold in the NFL. He’s got a chance here, but it’s not going to be easy. The Eagles have a lot of talent at cornerback, including Hawkins. He’s a big guy who has experience and savvy. A strong performance in the preseason from Hawkins would really make things interesting at this position given all of the injuries and the depth still on the roster.
Jordan Mailata/Andre Dillard, offensive tackle
Two young tackles in the developmental stage, Jordan Mailata and Andre Dillard are going to be watched very closely. Is Mailata able to transition to right tackle after playing left tackle last season, his first at any level in this game? Is Dillard, the first-round draft pick, making the progress the Eagles want to see? Stay tuned. This is a critical four-game stretch for both players.
Matt Pryor, offensive guard
In his second season, Matt Pryor is trying to make the team as a quality depth player inside along the offensive line. He’s gone against some of the best defensive tackles in the NFL this summer, so playing against Tennessee’s quality linemen shouldn’t be too much of a jump up. Pryor is in a competitive situation here. He’s got to play well.
Hassan Ridgeway, defensive tackle
Acquired in a Day 3 trade during the 2019 NFL Draft, Hassan Ridgeway has generated some buzz at Training Camp. He’s experienced, he is explosive, and he is hungry to make this roster. Keep an eye on Ridgeway, who is in a battle to make the roster.
Orlando Scandrick, cornerback
A 12-year NFL veteran, Orlando Scandrick signed less than two weeks ago and is going to get reps in the nickel cornerback position as the Eagles look at candidates to play there with Cre’Von LeBlanc recovering from his foot injury. Scandrick knows the deal: He isn’t a lock to make this roster. He has to get good reps in the preseason.
Clayton Thorson, quarterback
A fifth-round draft pick, Clayton Thorson has gone through the usual ups and downs a rookie quarterback goes through in his first camp. It’s hard to evaluate Thorson, who is playing with an assortment of backups amid the usual chaos of the changing lineups. A game situation will serve as a more accurate stage to look at Thorson’s poise, play in the pocket, and delivery of the football. The Eagles have a new picture at the backup quarterback positions. Thorson wants to fit in and inspire confidence among the coaching staff.