Five things to watch out for in Eagles pre-season opener

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Football is back. The Eagles are preparing for a trip to Lambeau Field to face the Green Bay Packers in their first pre-season game of the year. After an intense Training Camp, there is still much to be decided. Here’s a guide of five things to keep an eye on when the Birds’ take to the field on Thursday night.

 

Cornerback competition:
Arguably the most exciting battle on the Eagles roster, the cornerbacks will be an area of focus for many on Thursday and for good reason. With every spot at the position still up for grabs, it’s pre-season that will likely decide the entire depth chart heading in to week one. Jim Schwartz has noted that it’s consistency he seeks in his corners…but whether that runs throughout the position remains to be seen. Rasul Douglas has been one name commonly associated with that word recently, with the DB flashing on plenty of occasions but yet to tie it all together. Can Patrick Robinson turn a corner and show up on gameday? If he doesn’t, which of the many sharks lurking in the waters can leap up and take an advantage?

Last year’s four games saw C.J Smith and Aaron Grymes shine under the spotlight and both will be looking to do the same on Thursday night. From Jalen Mills, to Jomal Wiltz and Tay Glover-Wright, the Eagles have an abundance of corners looking to flash at the right time. The fate of the secondary rests on pre-season, so the expectations are high and excitement even higher. We’ll be breaking down the performance of each cornerback in the days after the game with grades and gif analysis for each, so be sure to keep back to see who rises and falls on the ever-changing depth chart.

 

Running back rotation:
There has been a couple of battles in the backfield worth noting during camp, but as things stand it’s situation normal. Wendell Smallwood appeared ahead of Corey Clement on the first unofficial depth chart, with Pumphrey behind both Sproles and Blount. But pre-season means it’s the guys lower on the depth chart who get reps. So what does this mean?

The duo of Sproles and Pumphrey is sure to bring a lot of intrigue…especially with the Eagles showing more and more “pony package” situations during camp which sees both of the elusive backs share the backfield at the same time. It will be interesting to see where Byron Marshall fits into all of this later in the game as well, but seeing two of the most explosive and electric dual-threat backs line up together in the same play is going to cause nightmares for Defenses across the league. First on the list? Green Bay. Should blitzing be at a minimum due to the nature of the game, seeing how Pederson uses his backs in the first game is going to be very fun.

Expect to see a lot from both Wendell Smallwood and Corey Clement. Smallwood has been absolutely tenacious in the last few weeks of Training Camp, running harder than he ever has before and embracing contact and tackles in a completely new light. Meanwhile the brutish Corey Clement will look to combine that same style with the added versatility of catching passes out of the backfield. This may be an underrated battle heading into pre-season, but expect the two to perhaps play a quarter each as the team’s 3-down back. Let the games, begin!

 

 

Spotlight in the slot:
Much has been said about the proposed battle in the slot between Jordan Matthews and Nelson Agholor, but one thing is for sure. The former USC product was listed on the first unofficial depth chart as the backup to Matthews in the middle of the field. Does that mean the team are going to start him inside? Will the Eagles ever decide to run with two slot receivers and take advantage of base personnel? Only time will tell…but we’ll get our first hints on Thursday night.

Shelton Gibson and Greg Ward Jr were the other two names listed at the position. Both of whom will need big pre-seasons for very different reasons. While the Eagles fifth round pick has been reported as having a rollercoaster Training Camp, UDFA and former QB Greg Ward Jr has simply been flying. As things stand, Ward may be a favorite to make the practice squad…but if he can dethrone Gibson throughout pre-season and put on a “Paul Turner esque'” performance, then who knows what the future holds?

Sure, a lot of the WR attention is going to fall on the names outside…but don’t overlook the battle in the middle.

 

The Dane Train:
Nick Foles has missed a lot of Training Camp with elbow soreness and after being absent for OTA’s due to the birth of his child, it’s unlikely he sees a wealth of playing time. With Wentz likely to play a quarter or so, the attention for most of the game turns to Matt McGloin and Dane Evans. The former Oakland Raider has had a topsy turvy camp, mostly struggling to take advantage of the extra reps passed onto him…but then there’s the Dane Train that is preparing to leave the station.

This pro-style quarterback ended his career in stunning fashion. Evans completed 59.4% of his passes in 2016, throwing for 3,340 yards, 32 touchdowns, and 12 interceptions. At 6’1, 210 lbs, Evans has nice size for a pocket passer and has showed that prowess with some darts during camp and some impressive throws down the field. If Evans can really put on a show against Green Bay…then who knows? Maybe “Dan with an E” can move up to QB3.

 

How deep is the Eagles Offensive front?
After trading Allen Barbre, the Eagles placed all of their LG chips on Isaac Seumalo. The O-Line depth has been consistently praised during the offseason, but now we’ll get our first chance to see how the likes of Dillon Gordon, Halapoulivaati Vaitai, and Josh Andrews are developing. The starters will likely perform as expected, but if Brandon Brooks does miss time to a camp injury…who steps up?

Chance Warmack has been recently impressing as the backup to Seumalo and that’s where he’s listed on the depth chart. But will Warmack or even Stefen Wisniewski (backing up Jason Kelce) fill in that spot if needed over backup RG Josh Andrews? Will Tyler Orlosky see a lot of time at center, or will it be Aaron Neary and Wisniewski ticking those boxes?

The Eagles are stacked along the offensive line, and with many excited to get a second look at “Big V”, it’s worth watching as much of the blocking in the trenches as possible with such a strong depth chart of guys all competing for those roster spots.

 

Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

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