The countdown begins. Seven days. A lot of work to do. A roster to put together. An NFL opener to play on Thursday against the Atlanta Falcons. You think about the preseason that was as the Eagles rallied to win, 10-9, against the Jets on Thursday night at Lincoln Financial Field, and you have to pause. You have to recall. It passed in a blur, and the truth was it isn't something we'll remember for very long.
But a few bullet points to take away from the preseason that could, you have to think, carry over into the regular season at least a little bit.
- The rookie class has a chance to make a pretty nice impact in 2018 and certainly in the years to come. Tight end Dallas Goedert is going to play and he's going to contribute to the offense. You wonder just how much the Eagles will rely on two-tight end sets and creative mismatches with wide receiver Alshon Jeffery still a question mark. Jeffery will join the active roster, said head coach Doug Pederson after the game, but he may still be a week or two or three away from playing. So the Eagles are going to have to use their personnel in a variety of ways. That includes Goedert, who is ready to play. Cornerback Avonte Maddox has a chance to help on special teams and also might be the defense's best matchup against smallish, quick slot receivers. Defensive end Josh Sweat is going to be a roster decision when the cut comes to 53 players, but he's going to be hard to let go. You can see the ability there. Sixth-round draft pick Matt Pryor is also a tough decision as the cut comes. Seventh-round draft pick Jordan Mailata is not a difficult decision. He's going to make the team after a tremendous spring and summer of growth. He's still got a long way to go, but Mailata is oozing with talent. He could be, if he continues to work very, very hard, an outstanding left tackle.
- Jim Schwartz's defense has pieces. There is a lot of speed here, there's some depth, and you can see how much more advanced the players who have been in the scheme for a couple of seasons have become. Defensive end Steven Means stated his case, emphatically, with three quarterback sacks against the Jets, so the question is can the Eagles keep both Means and Sweat, giving them six defensive ends on the 53-man roster? Pass rushers and cornerbacks. The Eagles have a lot of both, rare treasures in the NFL. The immediate question is replacing linebacker Nigel Bradham in the opener. Bradham, of course, is suspended for off-the-field actions from July 2016. His absence creates a void in the defense against a strong Atlanta offense.
- We still don't know the quarterback situation, whether it's Nick Foles or Carson Wentz in the opener. Does it mean anything that Nate Sudfeld didn't play in the preseason finale? We'll find out soon. Friday is Monday and Saturday is a Tuesday so by Sunday – a Wednesday – for the Eagles with a Thursday game the team will have a 53-man roster and will be deep in preparation for the Falcons.
- The tricky part for Howie Roseman and Joe Douglas as the Eagles construct this 53-man roster is accounting for players like Bradham, who won't play in the opener, and for Jeffery, who has yet to practice, and for tight end Richard Rodgers, who has a brace on his right knee and is officially "week to week" and even for Wentz, if he isn't cleared to play against Atlanta. That's four players on the 53-man roster who could be inactive, and that strains the process. And what about Mailata? Is he even close to being able to play in an NFL game? It's a challenge the Eagles have known about for some time, so they're prepared.
- He didn't play in the preseason but running back Darren Sproles is just as electric as he's always been. Look for the Eagles to use him in a multitude of ways around the formation and try to get him into space against linebackers. That's a win for the Eagles.
- In a similar line of thinking, left tackle Jason Peters will be ready to go against Atlanta after recovering from his knee injury suffered in Week 7 last season. Is Peters ready to play for 60 minutes at a high level against an excellent Atlanta pass rush? He's a future Pro Football Hall of Famer, and that's a big challenge.
- Everything you saw from an offensive standpoint was about as "vanilla" as can be, so you can expect the offensive coaching staff to come up with some fun stuff against Atlanta. The teams are familiar with one another after last year's NFC playoffs, so it's on. The race to Thursday is here. What happened in the preseason isn't going to matter a whole lot, but there's going to be some carryover.