Sam Bradford is going to play a series or two tonight, throw the ball around a little bit and get off the field early in the preseason opener. He's a different quarterback than he was 12 months ago, as is the entire Eagles quarterback situation …
We get our first game peek at the Eagles' offense tonight (7 PM, Comcast SportsNet and Cozi TV) and it's fair to say that there are a lot of questions. The quarterbacks are, no question, at the top of the list. Bradford, Chase Daniel and Carson Wentz have split the reps in Training Camp and all three have had their moments of excellence and all three have had learning periods.
So, tonight is a big step for the quarterback position. Bradford wants to be on the same page with the first team and move the ball, get some timing down with his receivers and retire into the night safe and sound. Then it's Daniel's turn to play for the remainder of the first half. He knows the offense inside and out and he treasures time in the preseason. Let's see if the second-team players on the field with Daniel get to the right spots at the right time.
Wentz will play most of the second half and everyone is eager to see how the first-round draft pick reacts in his preseason debut.
"Number one, I'm excited to watch Sam play against another team, another opponent and how well he manages not only the offense, but the first part of this football game," head coach Doug Pederson said. "Then to watch Chase come in and his comfort level with the offense and watch him play and lead that second unit. Then you get into the second half and Carson and the players that he's with, just manage the game. Eliminate turnovers, eliminate mistakes. Because the game plan is a little more vanilla for them, it's just the execution."
Bradford threw his first interception of Training Camp on Sunday after more than 200 passes. He's looked sharp and decisive and truly has given the coaching staff everything it asks.
"The three attributes we look for in our quarterbacks are decision-making, timing and accuracy, and he's succeeding in all of those right now," quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo said. "We need to keep him going and he will. There is no doubt in my mind, the type of player he is, he's going to do those types of things on Sundays as well."
Twelve months ago, Bradford had basically just started taking reps in 11-on-11 practices. He was coming off his second knee surgery in two years. He was gimpy. He was unsure in the new offense and the new city after the Eagles acquired him in a trade from St. Louis. Now Bradford has an offense overseen by three former quarterbacks on the coaching staff – Pederson, DeFilippo and coordinator Frank Reich – and he's found a different level of comfort and confidence. Bradford returned from his two-week walkaway in the spring a different man, one with a sense of purpose to play his best football and let the chips fall where they may during the course of his two-season contract.
Daniel is the steady No. 2, an undersized quarterback with a sufficient arm and an innate knowledge of the offense. He's going to get the ball out on time, make the right reads and put the ball in the right places.
The second half is all about Wentz and how he handles the preseason opener. Playing mostly with third-string players who are unlikely to make the team, Wentz is going to be asked to manage the game and work the huddle and get the plays off on time and stay away from giveaways. How does he handle the jitters? How does he adjust to the increased tempo in play from camp to the preseason? How does he read defenses that, while vanilla, will still have some complexity to them?
"He's handled everything that we've thrown at him, which has been a lot," Pederson said. "He's absorbed a tremendous amount of information and he's digested it well. We're all excited to see how he does out there. He's going into new territory."
We've got a lot of questions about the preseason opener and how it relates to one month from now when the Eagles host Cleveland in the regular season opener. For Pederson, it is the first step in a game situation, so how he handles the game operation is critical. The offensive line is a huge focus. Wide receivers and running backs are in question and the new Jim Schwartz defense has been a topic of conversation since he was hired.
But it comes back to the quarterbacks, doesn't it? The Eagles have created a unique situation and they insist that things are proceeding swimmingly. Tonight is the first time we see how it works in a game environment. Bradford and Daniel are, in a sense, the appetizers with Wentz the main course in a second half that will be must-see football in the preseason.