Here are the five storylines that I'm following for tonight's preseason opener against the New England Patriots ...
1. How Will Sean McDermott's Defense Look? I certainly don't expect all of the little wrinkles and nuances to be shown, but I do want to see how smooth the communication is. How will he react if the initial gameplan goes off-track? I want to see a cohesiveness amongst all of the units even though that might be a lot to expect for the first preseason game of any coach. Does the defense play with discipline? Will they do the little things well like swarm to the ball and tackle properly? We've been asking ourselves since McDermott was promoted to the defensive coordinator spot just how would this defense look. It's not going to be a polished product, but it gives us our first taste to see match wits with another offensive mind.
2. Can Joe Mays Solidify The MIKE Linebacker Role? Mays played at a 100 MPH last year in the preseason. He had to. He was trying to do whatever it took to win a job and he just flew downhill and blew plays up. Now that he's the starter, he has to play with more control. He can't be overaggressive. We have to see how he plays in coverage. He knows the system and has to play within it, but play to his strengths at the same time. There can't be a whole lot of wasted movement. The fans are certainly pulling for him. Let's see if "The Headbuster" is up to the task.
3. What Will The Offensive Line Look Like? I expect to see a number of different looks and variations, but we get to see Jason Peters against an outstanding pass rush linebacker in Adalius Thomas. The Winston Justice redemption tour reaches another stop. What is Shawn Andrews can't go at the start of the regular season? Justice earned the right to start tonight with his performance at training camp. Now, it's different when the quarterback can get sacked and completely alter the outcome of the play. Jamaal Jackson gets a look at an opposing 3-4 defense and a very good nose tackle in Vince Wilfork. Max Jean-Gilles gets his first game action since he suffered the broken fibula. Nick Cole still wants to prove that he can be a viable starter and he'll get another shot taking over at left guard for the injured Todd Herremans.
4. Will The Real Shady McCoy Please Stand Up? Sorry to borrow the line from Eminem, but LeSean McCoy has been so impressive in training camp that there has to be a setback at some point. Right? Maybe not. Maybe McCoy is simply that good. He quickly learned at training camp the dancing around he did to get extra yards at Pitt won't cut it in the NFL. Will he remember that lesson? He's shown amazing hands and I hope he does the same with the lights on and a defender trying to tackle him. The pass blocking? He gives great effort it's a shame that he didn't do it in college because he appears to be so proficient at it. But now there's a punishment if he doesn't make the block. If McCoy wants to get on the field, he needs to be able to do all three things - run, catch and block - at a level where the coaches will trust putting him in the game.
5. Which Of The Bubble Boys Shine? In the second half, there is usually a player who the fans might not know about who makes a dynamic play that gets him noticed. Could it be rookie wideout Brandon Gibson, who has looked worthy of a roster spot in training camp? How about one of the new tight ends - Rob Myers or Eugene Bright? There are so many good cornerbacks on the roster that a good player will get cut and be quickly signed by another team. Which one steps out of the shadows and helps himself win a job? It's not as glamorous as watching Donovan McNabb and DeSean Jackson in action, but it's some of the most contentious football because the guys fighting in the second half are the ones with everything to prove.
-- Posted by Chris McPherson, 1:38 p.m., August 13