Five Things We’re Watching In Preseason Opener

It seems like just yesterday that we were watching the green and white confetti fall from U.S. Bank Stadium and turning the streets of Philadelphia into a weeklong party, but here we are preparing to watch the Eagles take the first step of their title defense when they take the field Thursday night for the first preseason game.

While Carson Wentz’s health will be at the forefront of every Eagles fan’s mind throughout August, there will be plenty to watch for as the Eagles step onto the field for the first time since that glorious night in February. So, as we gear up for another season of Eagles football, here are five things we are watching in the preseason opener.

New Faces

With many of the Eagles’ biggest stars likely to see little or no time in the preseason opener, fans can focus much of their attention on getting a look at the newest members of the nest.

Veteran acquisitions like Mike Wallace, Corey Nelson, Michael Bennett and Haloti Ngata (more on those two later) will garner plenty of attention from the Eagles faithful as they make their debuts.

Then there are the rookies who are set to get their first taste of NFL football. The selection of TE Dallas Goedert was more than just an epic troll of the Cowboys in their own stadium and reports out of camp have been encouraging. Fourth-round pick Josh Sweat will try to play his way into the rotation on the defensive line. Fellow fourth-round pick Avonte Maddox will aim to impress as Daryl Worley’s short tenure as an Eagle opened some room in the secondary.

Quarterback play, vanilla playcalling, playing time, and rust will limit how much we can truly take away from Thursday’s performances, but it will still be fun to get a first look at the newest Birds.

Sidney Jones

After missing all but one late-season game last year recovering from a torn Achilles, Jones is a player Eagles fans have been itching to see. Possessing tantalizing skills at the cornerback position, Jones could prove to be a steal and an incredible difference maker if he returns to form.

We’ll get to see how far along in that journey he is on Thursday night. In addition to his play, pay attention to how he is deployed. Jones is expected to get plenty of time covering the slot but should get some snaps on the outside as well. When that happens and who is on the field with him (both fellow defensive backs and opposing receivers) will provide clues as to where Jones is at physically and how the Eagles might look to deploy the secondary during the season.

Here’s a reminder of what a healthy Sidney Jones looks like.

 

The Defensive Line

The defensive line was an incredible strength for the Eagles in 2017, and the team moved to ensure a repeat performance. We mentioned newcomers Michael Bennett, Haloti Ngata, and Josh Sweat earlier, and getting a first look at that trio certainly adds intrigue to this unit.

In addition to the new faces, the D-line is worth watching simply because of how many players actually see meaningful snaps at the position in the Eagles’ scheme. The Birds love to keep the unit fresh, rotating players in and out. This has proven to be a huge benefit and serves to create both opportunity and responsibility for players further down the depth chart.

Timmy Jernigan’s injury heightens the spotlight on the defensive line, as questions remain about when he will be ready to contribute coming off surgery to repair a herniated disc. Players like Destiny Vaeao, Elijah Qualls, Aziz Shittu and Bruce Hector will be looking to prove they can help ease Jernigan’s absence and become productive members of the rotation. Expect fired up play from this unit.

Players Returning From Injury

It’s no secret that the injury bug bit the Eagles hard last season with a multitude of key contributors going down. Thursday night will provide an opportunity to see some of those players back on the field, which will be a sight for sore eyes. While we’ll have to wait and see who plays and how much, seeing players like Jason Peters, Jordan Hicks, and Darren Sproles doing their thing on the field will feel good for Eagles fans. At this stage pay more attention to their movement and confidence than their actual production.

Nate Sudfeld

This is something I never thought I’d write, but here we are. With Carson Wentz still recovering from his ACL tear (and with no real incentive for him to play in a preseason opener anyway) and Nick Foles dealing with muscle spasms, Thursday night will largely be the Nate Sudfeld show.

Sudfeld appeared in last season’s meaningless finale against the Cowboys in which he completed 19/23 passes for 134 yards, no touchdowns and no interceptions. It would be silly to read too much into that performance, but the completion percentage and no turnovers were encouraging.

More importantly, the coaches believe in Sudfeld and view him as more than a third-string quarterback. His performance Thursday night, and throughout the rest of the preseason, could have major implications for both Sudfeld and the Eagles. His presence, command of both the huddle and the offense, and ability to make the right read will all be worth paying attention to.

The storylines are sure to evolve as we move through August, and we’ll have you covered every step of the way, including with reaction and takeaways from Thursday’s game. For now, you have five things to watch as we get the party started. Eagles football is back, enjoy the show.

 

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