As we continue through the preseason we uncover more and more questions in regards to our beloved Eagles. Like all other 31 teams the Eagles have some issues. Some we thought wouldn’t be an issue like Lane Johnson and others we thought would like the depth at safety. Here’s what we will have our eye on tonight.
Can Stefan Wisniewski rebound off his poor week 1 performance?
I’ve been banging the Stefan Wisniewski drum for the better part of training camp. He didn’t do anything week 1 to further my confidence. In fact he was down right bad. Poor footwork and multiple missed blocks (particularly on pulls) led to an unimpressive night. It’s looking more and more likely Lane Johnson will be missing the first 3 months of the season so the Eagles will be counting on a bounce back performance from Wisniewski. Alan Barbre will kick out to RT. Early week practice notes had rookie Isaac Seumalo getting some first team reps. Seumalo missed part of OTA’s because of an NCAA rule which led to a late start. 1st teams reps for Seumalo is more of an indictment on Wisniewski than the improved play of Seumalo in my opinion. I still believe the starter will be Wisniewski during the early part of the season. However another poor performance could leave this in doubt let alone his roster spot in my opinion.
What can we expect from rookie RB Wendell Smallwood?
After missing some practices and the first preseason game Wendell Smallwood is set to make his debut. I’m excited to see what he can bring to the table. It’s well known there isn’t a lot of RB depth on the roster so all eyes will be on Smallwood. I’m going to be watching how he handles pass protection responsibilities and his pass catching prowess. Smallwood was a duel threat at West Virginia. Particularly with the west coast offense he needs to be an all around back. Coming off an injury it will be interesting to see how hard he hits the hole. He will be jacked up for his first game so he just needs to play with in himself.
Which WR aside from Paul Turner is going to step up and consistently catch the football?
I should have added to the question “get open” as well because that’s part of the problem. DGB will travel with the team however he will not play. This is all about one player. Nelson Agholor needs to step up. He doesn’t think the trade for DGB is an indictment on the current WR group per profootballtalk.com. He’s either extremely naive and clueless or he’s just towing the company line. Either way his play needs to improve. It’s clear his confidence is lacking. Somewhere inside that skinny frame of his there’s talent. He was explosive at USC. If I’m the Eagles I would feature him early and often. Get the ball in his hands any way possible. End arounds, screens, hitches and drag routes are a good way to get him going early. He’s a 1st round pick, he has talent. The question is where is it and will it ever come out? Agholor not withstanding some of these WR’s are now fighting for jobs with the addition of DGB. Jimmy Kempski pointed out Ruben Randle’s poor effort last Thursday. He needs to be careful because I now believe he’s in a fight for a roster spot.
What to expect when the offense gets into a rhythm?
I’m only talking about the 1st team offense here. Pederson confirmed early in the week the 1st team will play the 1st quarter and possibly into the second. I want to see this offense get into a rhythm and how this offense will look when it’s clicking on all cylinders. After only 3 plays last week this unit needs reps. From the OL to Bradford I want to see the football being moved up and down the field. I want to see Sam adjust at the line of scrimmage. We got a glimpse of the 3 TE sets last week and I want to see more. I want to see what personnel groupings the Eagles like. Although it’s a vanilla game plan the principles are still in place for what the Eagles will be doing in the regular season.
Now that Wentz is out which player or position should we focus on?
The Carson Wentz injury sucks. We were all looking forward to his growth and development at the QB position. However just because he’s out doesn’t mean there isn’t a number of guys we can keep our eye on. I mentioned one earlier. Wendell Smallwood is someone I’m looking forward to seeing. Add some of the rookie OL to this list as well. This team is need for depth at a number of positions however no more than the OL group. After a rocky start rookie Bruce Johnson from Maine is on my radar. He has some flexibility to play both guard and center. After the release of Malcolm Bunche even more pressure will be on these rookies to step up. Johnson has an opportunity here. Isaac Seumalo is another guy who we need to watch. After getting 1st team reps as mentioned before it’s clear the Eagles are extremely desperate for someone to fill that LG spot. The Steelers will have an active front 7. It will be nice to see how these guys react and handle the pressure.
How will the Eagles defensive line fare against a quality Steelers offensive line?
I realize it’s only preseason, but the Eagles defensive line has a nice early season test on Thursday night in Pittsburgh. In order for the Eagles to win games this season the defensive line will need to play at a high level. Bennie Logan and Fletcher Cox will face quality interior offensive linemen from the Steelers. Center Maurkice Pouncey along with guards David Decastro and Ramon Foster make up one of the better interior lines in the league. Alejandro Villanueva and Marcus Gilbert are a slight step down, but still above average starting tackles. If you remember former Army Ranger, Villanueva, was in Eagles camp two seasons ago as a defensive tackle. I’m interested to see the trio of Vinny Curry, Connor Barwin and Brandon Graham to see the pressure they can generate off the edge. The challenge will be bringing down Ben Roethlisberger if they get to the quarterback. I expect the starters to at least play into the second quarter if not longer. Oddly enough the starters were mixed in throughout the majority of the first half in the Bucs game. Pittsburgh is the week three opponent for the Eagles so prepare for a vanilla gameplan.
Can Destiny Vaeao and Aziz Shittu improve their play in the second game?
The two undrafted rookie free agents made little impact in their first NFL games, and did not help the cause to make the 53 man. Beau Allen and Taylor Hart received the backup reps with primary backup tackle, Mike Martin, sitting out last game. Martin will be sitting out this week as well so the reps will be available in the 2nd half. Vaeao was praised before by head coach Doug Pederson for his play during camp and chances of cracking the roster. He made a nice play in the backfield last week, but otherwise was rather silent during his 36 snaps. Shittu will need to play much better against the Steelers if he has any chance of fighting for a spot beyond the practice squad. He made some interesting comments concerning defensive tackles freedom to call stuns. Jim Schwartz was none too pleased to say the least with the open dialogue from the rookie.
Is there enough depth at linebacker?
In the least surprising news of the week linebacker Mychal Kendricks will miss his second straight preseason game this week versus the Steelers. Kendricks has become the poster child for nagging injuries specifically of the leg variety. Najee Goode will start in his place again following his impressive showing against the Bucs last week. Goode is terrific on special teams and provides quality depth to the linebacker position. Behind him lies uncertainty in regards to the other reserves currently on the roster. I thought Joe Walker played well last week and showed good instincts as a rookie. His size is not in line with a typical middle linebacker in the NFL, but his knack for being around the ball is a positive sign. He appears to be poised for contribution on special teams as well. Fellow reserve linebacker, Deontae Skinner, is nothing more than a fringe NFL player at this point in his career. Skinner had a brief stint with New England and has seen limited action during his time with the Eagles. The Eagles had reportedly been in talks with veteran Stephen Tulloch who has experience in the Jim Schwartz defense. Talks apparently hit a snag and appear to be on hold until further notice. Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports previously reported the Eagles were seeking trade possibilities to upgrade the position too. The play of the backups on Thursday will play a role in how aggressively the front office pursues alternatives.
Can Nolan Carroll cement himself as the other starting corner?
Ron Brooks who was signed as a free agent during the offseason started at corner last week opposite another former Buffalo Bill, Leodis McKelvin. The majority of Brooks’ contributions have come on special teams, and in dime packages during his four year career. Nolan Carroll received the first team reps in place of Brooks during practice this week with Brooks subbing as the nickel corner. Jimmy Kempski of Philly Voice recently mentioned the challenges for Brooks learning both outside and nickel corner. For that reason Carroll has a good chance of being the starting corner opposite McKelvin. Carroll is coming off a season-ending ankle injury he suffered in Detroit, but appears to be close to 100 percent now. Pittsburgh has one of the better wide receiver groups in the league, and the vertical passing attack is a big component to their offense. The Eagles corners will be tested this week and Week 3 of the regular season as well. Jalen Mills will miss Thursday’s contest with a hamstring injury leading to increased reps for Eric Rowe and Aaron Grymes. Grymes played a majority of his snaps in the slot last week, but could be moved outside against the Steelers.
Who will emerge in the backup safety battle?
Jaylen Watkins is coming off a strong performance last week as he started in place of the injured Malcolm Jenkins. Jenkins returns this week and will likely play a good portion of the first quarter with the other starting safety, Rodney McLeod. Watkins stated his claim last week to be the third safety with his ball skills, and willingness to make a tackle in the running game. He had two nice pass breakups while covering the tight end, and almost intercepted Jameis Winston as well. Ed Reynolds was inconsistent missing a tackle on a Russell Shepherd touchdown, but also making a few nice tackles. He’s certainly a player on the bubble fighting for a roster spot. Rookie Blake Countess saw limited action last week which may be the case again as the starters are expected to play more. Countess appears destined for the practice squad unless he makes a major impact in these remaining three preseason games.
Offense written by Ryan/Defense written by Brian
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h/t @jimmykempski, @jasonlacanfora, profootballtalk.com
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