We’re just a few hours away from the Eagles third game of the preseason. It’s scary to think that we’re just over two weeks away from the return of regular season football, but there is still plenty to be decided between now and then. With that said, here are five things to watch when the Eagles clash with the Dolphins this evening.
The Eagles backfield has been the subject of many debates since preseason began. Whether it’s the surprisingly slow-looking LeGarrette Blount, an explosive 24-yard run from Corey Clement, or the quiet carries from rookie Donnel Pumphrey, there’s been no shortage of attention on the Eagles running backs. The position becomes even more interesting to watch tonight as another back enters the fray.
Wendell Smallwood has missed both preseason contests so far due to injury but is slated to make his debut tonight, making up for lost time and seeing a bulk of carries. The WVU product made a strong impression during camp, running with a new tenacity in his game and a ferocious new mindset. But his availability has kept him sidelined, opening up the door for Corey Clement to continue impressing in the days and games Smallwood missed.
Which ever way you look, there’s plenty of intrigue when it comes to the Eagles running backs tonight. Can Smallwood shine or will Clement steal the spotlight? Is this the game Blount and Pumphrey finally put all doubt to rest? I guess we will have to wait and see…
Will Eagles finally give Dane Evans the reins?
The last two weeks have seen former Raiders QB Matt McGloin take center stage…but he’s hardly put on a convincing performance. With 42 pass attempts against Green Bay and a further 20 against the Bills, McGloin has seen plenty of action this far and it’s clear what he brings to the table. It’s not flashy, it’s not exciting, but it’s consistent. Of course there are some strange wayward throws, confusing picks, overthrown passes too, but McGloin is a great fit for Pederson’s Offense as a backup if Foles can’t go. What’s frustrating is that the Offense becomes so marginalized when McGloin is in the game. It’s rare to see deep pass attempts, it’s rare to see explosive plays. But the moment former Tulsa QB Dane Evans steps onto the field it all changes.
Evans is a gunslinger. His impressive arm hasn’t gone unnoticed and the Dane Train has already left the station. A huge pass attempt to Shelton Gibson which drew a PI call surged the Eagles to the one-yard line and eventually resulted in a touchdown. Evans isn’t afraid to take shots and simply elevates those around him and highlights different strengths in his wide receivers. If Nick Foles misses tonight’s game, it would behove the Eagles to get Evans out onto the field for more than the garbage time fourth-quarter reps. Allow him to compete with McGloin and challenge for a QB3 spot that realistically should be up for grabs.
Efficiency along the Offensive line
Regardless of whether it’s down to the running backs or the offensive line, rushing production so far has been underwhelming. Chance Warmack was flagged twice against the Bills and without Jason Peters manning the Left Tackle tower, the line simply hasn’t lived up to a reputation of being one of the most deepest and dangerous in the league.
To place the unit under an even bigger microscope lens, the team recently traded away Matt Tobin. Following in the footsteps of Allen Barbre, the move has left the Eagles light at tackle depth and with plenty of competition remaining, a lot of experimenting to be done over the next two weeks. Perhaps the Eagles O-Line can finally spark the run game and break the mold of missed assignments and blocks that’s plagued them so far, or maybe it will open the door for some late veteran help to help reenforce the depth on the outside. We’ll get our first insight into that answer a little later today.
A bitter return:
It wouldn’t be a preview without mentioning the Elephant in the room. A showdown with the Dolphins of course means the return of both Kiko Alonso and Byron Maxwell; two players who were signed by the Birds’ during Chip Kelly’s final season as Head Coach and lone season as de-facto GM. Both players were kicked out of the NovaCare Complex doors after he was fired.
The former Seahawks and Eagles cornerback has already told the media how he wants to do better than the Eagles, but in their joint practices it was the tandem of Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith with the upper-hand. It’s safe to say that the Eagles fans won’t exactly cheer the returns of Alonso and Maxwell, but will the Offense make that return even tougher to swallow?
Linebacker becomes a position of intrigue
Mychal Kendricks has been a man on a mission this preseason, his future however remains uncertain. When you factor in the battles behind the starters that involve Kamu Grugier-Hill and Joe Walker, the linebacker position is suddenly one worth watching closely in tonight’s game, especially if Jordan Hicks doesn’t play.
After picking up an injury in practice, it was special teams ace Najee Goode who took first team reps during the second joint practice with Miami. Does this mean that Goode is ahead of the likes of former Oregon Duck Joe Walker on the depth chart, or was this the Eagles simply rotating pieces as they do elsewhere? Who knows…but a big night for any of the Eagles depth linebackers could be the difference between a roster spot and a hope of making the practice squad for some. For others, it’s now or never.
Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports