This year we are doing something different for our coverage of Eagles games. Instead of doing the cookie cutter preview and recap blogs we will be doing 10 Questions. Before every game we will pose 10 questions related to the game and how we think certain scenarios will play out. There will be 5 for Offensive and 5 for Defense.
1. Will Lane Johnson play?
The elephant in room is clearly this Lane Johnson situation. There are so many layers to this it’s almost hard to keep track of it. Now that the cat is out of the bag and we all know he could possibly be suspended (pending appeal if/when he does actually get suspended) the Eagles will have a decision to make. Will he or should he play? I think the Eagles should plan and act as if he’s going to miss 10 games. They need to be prepared and have others prepared for the worst case scenario. Everyone has a prediction of who will play and move where. I think the best option is kicking Alan Barbre out to RT and having Stefan Wisniewski who’s had a great camp fill in at LG.
2. Can some of these young Wide Receivers step up and make some plays?
With the injury bug hitting the WR position these young guys will guys have an extended opportunity to make some plays. Jordan Matthews is out and will be out for most if not all of the preseason. All eyes for me will be on Paul Turner and Marcus Johnson. I don’t think it’s a lock Huff will be making this team. Honestly he’s just not that good. Paul turner has been solid in camp so far. He’s not the biggest guy nor the fastest but he competes and makes the most of his opportunity. Earlier in camp he was getting some work with the number 1 unit in the slot. Can he push Huff off the roster? My best guess is, yes.
3. How will Trey Burton be used?
We’ve speculated all camp about how Burton will be used. Obviously the Eagles are going to keep it Vanilla but I do want to see where he lines up and how often. Although listed as a Tight End I view him more as an H-Back. I expect him to be a lead blocker on plays and motion to and from the backfield on occasion. Having Burton in this role only gives the Eagles another weapon play with. I have a feeling Burton (maybe not tonight) will have a vital role in the screen game this year.
4. Can the rookie RB’s make the most of their opportunity?
Ryan Mathews will not be playing and I would be surprised if Sproles played as well. This clears the way for Wendell Smallwood, Byron Marshall, Cedric O’Neal and Kenyon Barner. Out of these 4 the Eagles will be keeping 1 and possibly 2 making 4 total on the 53 man roster. Being taken in the 5th round I would be shocked if Smallwood doesn’t make it. He is banged up so he might not see the field tonight. If Smallwood is out I’ll be focusing my attention Byron Marshall. This kid has been solid this camp. He’s proven to be effective out of the backfield catching the football and is tough between the tackles. What we haven’t seen is how will he hold up in pass protection? This is clearly the biggest obstacle for rookie RBs. Byron Marshall could be this years Henry Josey.
5. How much will Carson Wentz play and how will he play?
Earlier this week Coach Doug Pederson said Wentz would play a half vs the Bucs. If you remember years back Andy Reid always let Kevin Kolb get the bulk of the preseason snaps. I expect more of the same with Pederson and Wentz. Wentz has had his ups and downs through camp like most rookies and in particular rookie QBs. They key for me will be his decision making. How many reads does he get through? How will he command the huddle and lead the offense? Can he be effective and put up some points? Although its preseason and the outcome of the game doesn’t mean anything leading a few scoring drives will be great for his confidence.
6. Can Steven Means play push Marcus Smith off the roster?
The Eagles switch back to a 4-3 defense under Jim Schwartz also brought forth a change in position for former first round pick, Marcus Smith. Smith converted from an outside linebacker in the 3-4 to defensive end with his hand in the dirt. Smith’s time thus far in Philly has been uneventful to say the least especially for a first round selection. He suffered a concussion during last Friday’s practice and will likely be out for at least the first preseason game against Tampa Bay. Enter Steven Means who was signed during the offseason after not appearing in a 2015 regular season contest for an NFL team. Means was drafted in the 5th round of the 2013 draft by Tampa and spent his first two seasons with the Bucs. He has yet to record a sack in the NFL, but the lack of depth on the Eagles roster has provided Means with an opportunity. Vinny Curry, Connor Barwin and Brandon Graham are the obvious regulars at the defensive end spot. However, behind those three lies great uncertainty with the likes of Means and Smith as well as rookie Alex McCalister. Jim Schwartz might be just what the doctor ordered for Means as the defensive coordinator mentioned him during his press conference as to what he’s seen in practice thus far. Means is expected to receive increased reps this week with Smith likely out and the starters figuring to get limited time.
7. Who will emerge in the backup defensive tackle cluster?
I discussed a couple weeks ago the lack of depth behind Fletcher Cox and Bennie Logan at the defensive tackle position. Former Titan, Mike Martin, appears to have one of those backup spots secured based on his experience. The other roster spots are up for grabs between an assortment of players. Beau Allen and Taylor Hart are the returning Eagles with undrafted free agents Aziz Shittu as well as Destiny Vaeao in the mix too. Allen largely played nose tackle since being drafted by the Eagles and will need to prove he can make the transition to a 4-3. Hart has shown little during his two seasons with the Eagles and most likely was selected because he went to Oregon. I don’t think Hart’s frame and style of play fit with the aggressivenes of Schwartz’s defense. Shittu and Vaeao are two intriguing players to watch on Thursday. They both provide versatility and showed flashes of performance during their college careers that they could be serviceable NFL linemen. Head coach Doug Pederson went out of his way to praise Vaeao and mention the fact he’s competing for more than just a practice squad spot.
8. Can rookie Joe Walker earn a spot as a backup linebacker?
Another former Oregon Duck is in the conversation for the Eagles except this time he wasn’t selected by Chip Kelly. The Eagles selected Walker during the final round of this year’s draft and he’s turned some heads thus far during camp. Pederson specifically singled out Walker for his play and his chances of sticking as a backup linebacker. All three of the starting linebacker spots have question marks for the Eagles. Nigel Bradham is facing potential legal trouble, Jordan Hicks has a long injury history, and Mychal Kendricks once again injured his hamstring during Monday’s practice. Najee Goode is the only seasoned vet behind the starters, but his role is best suited for special teams work. Walker has been taking reps at the MIKE with the two’s and even ran with the starters during Friday’s practice according to my blogging partner. Walker raised some eyebrows within the scouting community after his surprising pro day numbers which likely got him drafted. He will not blow anyone away with his physical prowess, but he’s an instinctual player who is a productive tackler in the open field. Walker could see significant time on Thursday with the injury to Kendricks.
9. Will an under the radar cornerback crack the 53 man roster?
The cornerback position is certainly not a strength at this particular moment for the Eagles. However, five corners appear to have a pretty solid strangehold on a roster spot barring any injuries or unforeseen trades. Leodis McKelvin, Nolan Carroll, Ron Brooks, Jalen Mills and Eric Rowe are the consensus five. The reserves vying to make the Eagles carry an extra corner or replace them one of the previously mentioned are JaCorey Shepherd, Aaron Grymes, and Denzel Rice. Shepherd appears to be a long shot at this point as his health is not cooperating and allowing him the chance to play in meaningful action on Thursday. Aaron Grymes was signed during the offseason by the Eagles after previously playing in the CFL. He’s been noticed by many of the coaches at camp for his tenacity and scrappy play. Grymes stands at 5 foot 11 and 185 pounds so don’t expect him to be physically imposing to wide receivers. He has an opportunity to earn a practice squad spot. Denzel Rice made the team last year, but appears he’s destined for either the practice squad or outright release this time around. The cornerback position is one of the most hotly contested during camp and the preseason games should do a lot to figure out the depth chart.
10. Can Blake Countess be the Eagles third safety behind McLeod and Jenkins?
The Eagles selected Countess in the sixth round out of Auburn and the expectations were moderate at best. Countess has played well during camp and the Eagles lack of depth at the safety position has provided an opportunity for the rookie. He’s considered undersized at only 5 foot 9 and 185 pounds, but plays with the physicality Jim Schwartz likes for his defense. Countess has already drawn the ire of tight end Zach Ertz for his low hits during training camp practices. He played safety, corner, and nickel last season at Auburn so he provides versatility to the secondary as well. His competition for the backup safety spot appears to be Jaylen Watkins who has made the switch from corner. Watkins doesn’t have a great size either, but does have more NFL experience than Countess. Chris Maragos will make the team as a special teams ace, however him seeing any extended snaps on defense would be a problem. Ed Reynolds had a few nice plays last season, but he doesn’t seem like the type of safety Jim Schwartz covets for his defense. Reynolds lack physicality is what I’m trying to say. It sure would be nice if the Eagles can get contributions from two defensive backs, Blake Countess and Jalen Mills, who were selected in the later rounds.
Offensive Questions by Ryan and Defensive Questions by Brian.
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