Five things Eagles fans should watch out for in preseason opener

PHILADELPHIA, PA – AUGUST 08: Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts (1) throws a pass during Philadelphia Eagles training camp at Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday, August 8, 2021 in Philadelphia, PA (Photo by John Jones/Icon Sportswire)

The Eagles are gearing up for their first preseason game on Thursday and it will probably be one of the most-watched Philly preseason games in a long time. Probably since 2016 when the team drafted Carson Wentz. Five years later and they’re right back where they started in 2016, a new starting QB along with a new coaching staff.

Nick Sirianni will make his coaching debut against the Steelers with Jalen Hurts as his QB1 to usher in the new era of Eagles football. While that tandem is something you should keep an eye on, there’s plenty more that you should watch for this Thursday. Here’s a couple of situations to keep an eye on from my perspective:

The Revamped Secondary

Howie Roseman and company invested in this Eagles secondary this year. The additions of Anthony Harris, Steven Nelson, and Zech McPhearson won’t go unnoticed this season.

Harris was labelled as a standout safety after his incredible season where he recorded 6 interceptions. Following that year the Vikings franchise tagged him which led to disappointment on both ends. Now he’s an Eagles in a safety room that’s growing with youth outside of veterans Rodney McLeod.

Where Steven Nelson lines up this season will be key. His unique ability to play in the slot or on the outside will pay huge dividends to how far this defense can go. It will also play a role in the deployment of rookie Zech McPhearson, who has been looking great on the outside during training camp. If Avonte Maddox isn’t able to find his footing this year then you should expect to see a trio of Slay, Nelson, and McPherson a lot more often.

Beyond those four as the Eagles are pretty invested in the youth at CB. Josiah Scott and Michael Jacquet should see plenty of playing time on Thursday as they’re also fighting for a roster spot come September 12th. With Jonathan Gannon’s reputation as a strong DB coach, it’ll be fun to watch these young corners scrap it out.

The RPO offense

Miles Sanders recently gave us a hint on what to expect to see from the offense. It’s an old friend of the Philadelphia Eagles, one that was recently used in the win against the New Orleans Saints and it also helped the Eagles on their Super Bowl run. The RPO offense has made its way back to the Novacare complex as Sirianni and company try to find a way to maximize the strengths of Jalen Hurts.

This offense has been proven to be effective with Hurts already. Hurts and Miles Sanders ran wild against the Saints for a combined 220 rushing yards that night. It could also help with the play-action plays especially with the speed threats that this team currently has. Keep an eye out for that sneak preview from the Eagles coaching staff.

The Eagles Running back rotation

While we may not see a ton of work from Miles Sanders, the rotation behind him is going to be key. You have two sets of styles from four different players. Jordan Howard is currently listed as RB2 on the team’s unofficial depth chart but his counterpart in Kerryon Johnson is equally important this preseason.

Both players are great pass protectors and we’ve seen how they both can play a part in the receiving game. Howard was on the verge of retirement until the Eagles interrupted that thought. Seeing how he runs this time around after an injury and failed leap to Miami will be a deciding factor on the fates of both he and Kerryon Johnson. We haven’t heard much buzz about Johnson out of camp but we’ve heard a ton about how hard Howard is running.

The second style is between Boston Scott and Kenny Gainwell. The latter missed all of last season as he opted out due to COVID but highlights of his previous season will show you just how special this kid is. His ability to line up as a receiver or catch out of the backfield is exactly what motivated the Eagles to go and draft him. He’s always a very elusive runner with the ball in his hands.

We’ve seen what Scott can do and to be honest, when he had the opportunity last season he flopped a bit. The way this team rotates these backs this preseason/training camp is going to be something you should keep your eye on.

The First Eagles Drive under Nick Sirianni

For the past few seasons, the Eagles have been terrible in the first quarter especially on their first drives. It’s going to be interesting to see how Sirianni handles the first drive of his games with all of these tools at his disposal. The Eagles were ranked 24th in the league last season in points scored in the first quarter. If Sirianni is to succeed this year then he has to find a way to get this team to establish a tempo early and often.

Jalen Hurts

All eyes are honed in on the number 1. It’s his team now which means it’s his time right now. It would be great if we could see some flashes from Hurts early on this game but don’t feel bad if we don’t. Jalen is going to be the biggest x-factor for this team going forward, so if we can get a little glimpse as to how Sirianni uses him it may go a long way.

Photo by John Jones/Icon Sportswire