Preseason football is right around the corner. It feels a little surreal typing that, but the Philadelphia Eagles will be suiting up and storming out onto Lincoln Financial Field for their first NFL game as Super Bowl champions. For some, this four-week spell is a chance to get back into the swing of things. For others, it’s an unpredictable rollercoaster that could ultimately decide their footballing fate.
37 players from the 90 man-roster will eventually be cut. That’s the nature of a grueling offseason and a business just as punishing. The importance of these four games could not be greater for those on the fringe of making a Super Bowl winning roster and opportunities will either be plentiful or few and far between.
“All these games are different.” Eagles offensive coordinator Mike Groh told reporters on Monday. “You never really know how they’re going to go. You can’t really script them out the way you’d like. You’ve just got to take the games as they come. The guys that get constant exposure usually are the lines, so from that standpoint, it’s probably easiest to evaluate linemen. Little bit more challenging with skill. Whether a ball goes to them or doesn’t go to them, that kind of thing, you can’t predict.”
The Eagles may have a deep roster, but there’s plenty of questions that still need answers. Who will be the starting nickel cornerback? Which running backs will scrape onto the bottom of the depth chart? Can Isaac Seumalo transition to center with ease? How will the wide receiver corps shake out? Who will step up in places of Timmy Jernigan and Beau Allen? These are just a few of the queries making their way into the fray as a fixture with the Pittsburgh Steelers begins to loom larger.
With battles raging on at just about every position from quarterback to cornerback, this preseason is going to be a very important time for Doug Pederson and his coordinators. For Jim Schwartz, this is one of the few times this offseason he will get to see his ever-lethal pass rushing machine in full effect.
“We see a lot of stuff from these guys on the field, but we have very few chances to tackle live. You want to see that, see guys finishing to the quarterback.” The Eagles defensive coordinator explained. “I mean, it’s hard to rush in training camp when you’re not trying to hit the quarterback. You finish a rush by laying out and trying to knock the ball away or trying to power through, and we don’t do that in training camp. See those guys finish rushes, to see guys finish tackles. It’s one thing to say, Yeah, I would have had it. Well, guess what, they’re good players too.”
Just because the Eagles are Super Bowl champions, it doesn’t mean that the attention to detail is any less intricate. The performances of starters, backups, bubble players and longshots will all go a long way in deciding the shape of this team moving forward. Training Camp has seen plenty of explosive moments so far, from the gun-slinging Nate Sudfeld, to the rise of De’Vante Bausby. But until the pads go on and there’s a live-game scenario in a stadium of screaming fans and a man lining up opposite you who wants to shine just as badly, who wants that roster spot just as much, it’s difficult to see who can and can’t make those jumps.
As Mike Groh mentioned, preseason is a strange time of year. Each quarterback who enters the game will have targets they’ve grown accustomed to throwing to in camp. In game one, a wideout may explode with 5+ catches and in the next be completely invisible due to schematics, rotations and the man throwing the football. We saw this with Donnell Pumphrey specifically, who despite being ridden heavily during preseason was unable to make the most of those opportunities.
The message has to be clear. A chance to make a highlight play, score a touchdown, record a sack, down a punt inside the 5,or coming up large on special teams may not come around very often in an environment that is constantly changing due to both teams constantly rotating players in and out. Making the most of those rare moments could be all the difference by the time that the final cuts have to be made.
Mandatory Photo Credit: AP Photo/Michael Perez
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