Philadelphia Eagles: 5 Things to Watch for in Friday's Preseason Game
It's called preseason football for a reason: The starters won’t play more than a series or two, and winning or losing the game really doesn’t matter as much as the teams staying healthy.
Backups have a chance to steal a roster spot or even push a starter for regular playing time. Head coach Chip Kelly and the Philadelphia Eagles return largely the same offensive unit as the one that captured the NFC East title a year ago.
The defense isn’t much improved and will have to rely on coordinator Billy Davis’ creative scheming in order to win ballgames.
The offense is what could propel this team far in the postseason, although don’t expect to see Kelly give too much away in a meaningless game in early August. Nick Foles will take snaps in his first preseason game as the unquestioned starter, and it will be interesting to see which of the wide receivers breaks through the logjam at the position.
Who Among the Rookie Draft Picks Will Make an Impact?
The preseason hasn’t even started yet, but second-round wide receiver Jordan Matthews has already been compared to one of the greatest wide receivers in NFL history. That certainly will make Philadelphia Eagles fans watch him closely in August games, although he’s not the only rookie looking to make a big impact.
First-round outside linebacker Marcus Smith was seen as a reach when the Eagles grabbed him 26th overall, but he can certainly silence his critics with his play on the field. He will begin as a backup to veterans Trent Cole and Connor Barwin, although Smith should be the first off the bench.
Third-round receiver Josh Huff is a former Oregon Duck who will line up primarily in the slot. Mid-round rookies Jaylen Watkins and Taylor Hart are near locks to make the roster, and where they fall on the depth chart will largely depend on how they play in their first taste of NFL action. Watkins will benefit from Nolan Carroll’s injury.
Ed Reynolds, a fifth-round rookie safety, could conceivably lose his spot to Chris Maragos, so it’s imperative that he plays well. Seventh-round nose tackle Beau Allen is likely to compete against last year’s backup nose tackle Damion Square for one of the final roster spots. A good showing from Allen will go a long way.
Can Ifeanyi Momah Earn a Roster Spot?
The Philadelphia Eagles will be sending out a limited group of wide receivers on Friday night. Riley Cooper and Jeremy Maclin are both banged up, and it seems unlikely either will suit up, especially considering it is essentially a meaningless preseason contest.
Jordan Matthews and Josh Huff have been playing largely in the slot role, lining up inside in which both can take advantage of ideal matchups. That means 2013 camp favorite Ifeanyi Momah will have a golden opportunity to steal a roster spot.
Momah was released from the Eagles during last year’s training camp, although he was a member of the practice squad. Momah is 6’7”, 239 pounds and runs a 4.45 40-yard dash. Those are extremely intriguing measurable, hence why Chip Kelly signed him.
After struggling at times last year, Momah has reportedly been much better in 2014, and he’s earning the trust of Nick Foles.
For Momah to make this year’s roster, he will have to prove that he can compete against this competition. Doing well in practice is one thing, but doing it in a game is another. Momah gets a Chicago Bears defense that finished near the bottom of the league in pass defense in 2013, and he should see more snaps with Maclin and Cooper likely out.
Will Nate Allen or Earl Wolff Stand out at Safety?
Malcolm Jenkins is one of the starting safeties, considering he signed a three-year deal in free agency worth $15 million. Defensive coordinator Billy Davis will utilize Jenkins in a variety of ways, whether it’s safety, cornerback or a nickel back.
That means Nate Allen or Earl Wolff will start at the other safety spot. Allen is a fifth-year veteran who played his best ball under Davis a year ago. Wolff was a rookie in ’13 who held up well when asked to contribute.
It will be an interesting competition. Allen is currently listed as the starter, according to the team’s first official depth chart. He will likely win the spot. But that doesn’t mean Wolff wouldn’t play. Wolff would be the top backup, and an injury to either Jenkins or Allen would thrust Wolff into action.
Is Matt Barkley Really in Danger of Losing His Spot to G.J. Kinne?
There has been speculation this offseason that Matt Barkley may end up losing the final QB spot on the depth chart to G.J. Kinne. That would be a disastrous fall for Barkley, a fourth-round pick last year who was projected to be a first-round pick had he opted to enter the 2012 NFL draft.
Kinne looked good in last year’s preseason. He and Barkley will both get reps Friday night, and they will definitely be competing against one another to backup Nick Foles and No. 2 quarterback Mark Sanchez.
It would be a long shot for Kinne to actually beat out Barkley; teams don’t usually release fourth-round quarterbacks after just one year, especially considering it was the first quarterback Chip Kelly ever drafted.
Who Earns the Final Running Back Spot?
Obviously this battle won’t be decided in the first preseason game. But it will give Chip Kelly a good look at the depth behind Chris Polk, where Matthew Tucker, Henry Josey and David Fluellen will battle it out.
Last year, Kelly kept only three halfbacks, so there’s a chance none of the three makes the official 53-man roster. It’s likely that Kelly goes with four though, considering the multidimensional Darren Sproles is essentially more of a slot receiver than a running back. Should LeSean McCoy get hurt, Polk would handle the bulk of the carries.
That means Tucker, Josey and Fluellen will compete to see who can back up Polk. Tucker has the edge, seeing as he was on the roster for a few games a year ago. He also led all Eagles backs in preseason carries in 2013.