Philadelphia Eagles News

What I Want To See In Preseason Opener

The list is too long for one story. What do I want to see tonight in the Eagles' preseason opener against New England at Lincoln Financial Field ((7:30 p.m., 6abc; 10:30 p.m. post-game show on PhiladelphiaEagles.com) is the same as you want to see: Everything. I want to see the Eagles execute from start to finish. I want to see the new Eagles make a good first impression. I want to see all of these roster hopefuls show they can really provide quality depth.

I want to see quality, Eagles football. And, yeah, there are some real specifics to look for. I've seen enough of Jason Peters in practice to know that he could be one of the best to play left tackle, what with his great feet, strong punch and range. I've seen fullback Leonard Weaver day in and day out and have no doubt that he will be an impact here. Obviously, there are players like Asante Samuel and Sheldon Brown and so many veterans who don't have a thing to prove as they gain some timing and get back into game-ready shape tonight.

But for the sake of having a conversation as our hearts thump-thump-thump faster and the anticipation grows -- finally, some football!!! -- here is a top-of-the-list list to consider for this game ...

*Winston Justice: Is He For Real? *

No question that Winston Justice has played with more urgency, more pop and more precision than in his previous three seasons here. Whatever the reason, Justice was better in training camp than he had been. Now, before anyone thinks he has arrived as the next Pro Bowl offensive linemen, Justice must do it in a game. He goes against the New England 3-4 front, so the pressure is likely to come from Justice's right. He will have to slide his feet and show quickness to the edge to cut down the angle of the pass rush. Justice starts at right tackle and the Eagles want to get a good, long look at him. Every mistake the kid makes is going to be magnified, especially with Donovan McNabb back there in the pocket.

*The Logjam At Wide Receiver: A Nice Thing To Have *

You've watched every practice during our Training Camp Live! shows and you saw the wide receivers go one-on-one against the cornerbacks here and you had to be impressed. The Eagles have a lot of good receivers on this roster. DeSean Jackson is clearly the best. There is no argument about that. Jackson is ready to take his game to a new level. Next in line is Kevin Curtis and Jason Avant and then, well, who? Is it Reggie Brown, who played a more consistent brand of football in training camp? Is it Hank Baskett, who caught just about everything thrown his way and who used his body and his strength to full advantage in drills? How about Jeremy Maclin, the No. 1 draft pick who missed 15 practices and then came on strong in the week he was at Lehigh? Or could it be Brandon Gibson, who went out and balled every day in camp and who showed more separation than perhaps some (OK, me) expected? Then there is Danny Amendola, the ultra-quick receiver who is likely to see a bunch of reps in the second half tonight. He is a good player, but he has a lot of talent in front of him.

The Eagles will keep five, and perhaps six, wide receivers. They have to keep their eyes open if another team has a need, and the truth is that the Eagles have the know-how to make a trade and send one of these receivers for a player who can help this roster at tight end or linebacker or defensive tackle. Hope for a big game by the wide receivers tonight. It would help things all around.

*Making It Right In The Middle Of The Defense *

Joe Mays was a dominating player in last year's preseason, but this is a different situation entirely. He'll start if the Eagles are in a base defense; otherwise, Omar Gaither and Akeem Jordan will be the linebackers and Joselio Hanson will be the third cornerback should the Pats start in a three-wide receiver set. Mays will play a lot and the Eagles will get a chance to see how he reads and reacts and runs the defense. Mays not only to make plays, but he has to lead the huddle and show a leadership and confidence to bleed over to everyone.

Also consider Matt Wilhelm, the second-team middle linebacker in the base defense. He hasn't been here all that long, but Wilhelm has picked up on the defense. He has some range, but Wilhelm has to show that he is physical and wants to play downhill against the run.

The entire linebacker situation is interesting to watch. Seventh-round draft pick Moises Fokou is second on the depth chart at SAM linebacker and is going to have to show that he can play the run and cover the tight end and -- this is most important in his bid to make a roster spot -- play well on special teams.

The linebackers make up the core of the special teams. I know Ted Daisher is bouncing off the walls right now waiting to see what he has to work with on special teams. Tracey White is the best of the group, and a few others will have to emerge to give Daisher the kind of confidence he wants going into the regular season.

*How Good Is LeSean McCoy? *

I haven't raved about a player as much as McCoy since, well, since Jackson last year. LeSean McCoy has been that impressive since he became an Eagle. Having Brian Westbrook sidelined proved to be a blessing for McCoy, who was thrown right into the mix and never looked back. The result is that McCoy enters this preseason opener with a great knowledge of the offense and with an excellent sense of the speed of the game. I spoke with McCoy on Tuesday for our Eagles Television Network and he seems completely at ease with the outstanding summer he has had. He is right up with the speed of the game. The holes he saw in college are now slivers in the NFL. No problem.

McCoy tore it up in Lehigh. He has a chance to do the same in the preseason. The Eagles are likely to get him the ball 8-12 times in his quarter-plus of action, should the offense stay on the field that long.

Sorting Out The Defensive End Spots

The two players to watch are Bryan Smith, who will start at right defensive end, and Jason Babin, who has played left end in this camp. Smith was a third-round draft pick last year. He had a good preseason and then was inactive all year. Smith has been up and down in training camp and now has a chance to extended snaps to put it all together here. He needs to show a burst and a finish, and he needs to be tough against the run. Tom Brady isn't holding on to the ball in this game. Count on that. Smith has to be quick off the ball and force some Brady throwaways.

Babin, a first-round draft pick by Houston in 2004, hasn't had much success in his NFL time since. The Eagles signed him to take a look, and Babin has demonstrated a lot of heart and a high motor. He started off very quickly and has since leveled out.

Someone has to step up. The Eagles want to keep all of the good defensive ends they can, and they'll go with Trent Cole, Juqua Parker, Victor Abiamiri, Darren Howard and the emerging Chris Clemons. Will they keep a sixth end? It is not a guarantee by any means? Smith and/or Babin have to produce to make this team.

**Following Demps, Baker, Jones and Harris At Safety

**

OK, so now we get a real taste of life without Brian Dawkins. And this is just a taste. Quintin Demps starts at free safety with Quintin Mikell at strong safety. All indications are that Sean McDermott -- a whole different story, of course -- will play things pretty much the same as the Eagles have done in the past as far as the safety spots go. Demps has to make plays, have to cover the field, has to support the run, has to call the secondary signals. He has a ton on his plate.

Rashad Baker is his backup and Baker has to make this team. He isn't guaranteed anything. Baker has to play well on special teams and in the defense. And Macho Harris, who started out so well and then suffered a high ankle sprain, must show up and get his hands on the football.

Sean Jones? He is a strong safety here. And he is a darn good football player who makes plays. Can he run in the open field against all of these crossing routes and deep patterns? Can he help on special teams?

This is a biggie, folks. The Eagles are young, young, young at safety. Mikell is the leader and he is a terrific player. But who else comes forth and shows he can start in the backfield?

And The Rest Of What There Is To See ...

Everything, right? We want to see the backups at cornerback. We want to see if newly-signed tight end Rob Myers has any chance at all of helping this football team. If the answer is no -- and probably even if it is yes -- the Eagles must go out and acquire a tight end (and look at New England's tight ends tonight. They have five on the roster). Who is the leader for the third halfback job? Is it Lorenzo Booker (right now, yes, he is leading the group) or can Kyle Eckel or Eldra Buckley take the job?

What about McNabb? The man is in great shape both physically and mentally and now he starts the game action. No red jersey for McNabb tonight. It is all live as McNabb operates behind a line that starts projected reserves Nick Cole at left guard, Max Jean-Gilles at right guard and Justice at right tackle.

We want to get a feel for McDermott and for Daisher and for, yeah, everything. Every bit of it. Drink it all in, folks. It's football, live and in Midnight Green. And even though it is "only" the preseason, it matters a lot about how certain players play and about how certain situations are handled against New England.

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