It’s only the Philadelphia Eagles’ second preseason game of 2009.
And it goes against just about everything I’ve said in terms of taking the preseason seriously.
But tonight’s game against the Indianapolis Colts could be a huge indicator of things to come, specifically as it relates to three key Eagles.
Yes, you can have it both ways.
See, tonight, the Eagles will be missing a lot of key players. And while Indianapolis will too, the Colts’ big guns that will be on the field will be matched up against these three Eagles to watch.
While it might be way too early to say they will “sink or swim” this season, a solid performance tonight could boost not only their stock, but management’s (and even the fans’) confidence in them as well.
Get used to it: Joe Mays is the starting middle linebacker for the Philadelphia Eagles this season.
At least it’s about 85% certain, as Omar Gaither really hasn’t done much to justify reclaiming his spot. That’s not to say Mays has done anything specific to keep it, mind you, it’s just the way the depth chart shakes out.
But tonight will be a huge test for the second-year man from North Dakota State, as the Colts’ top guns will be blazing on offense.
Indianapolis’ offensive playbook contains a lot of stretch plays, which means a lot of lateral movement for the middle linebacker. They go outside, he goes outside.
Mays’ speed is one of his biggest question marks, so we could find out in a hurry whether or not his lateral quickness is going to be an issue other teams may choose to exploit.
And if that’s not bad enough, he’s calling defensive signals against Peyton Manning, who seemingly calls more audibles in a series than some teams call in a season. It’s possibly going to be a “Rowdy” Roddy Piper-esque case of “just when you think you know the answers, I change all the questions” kind of night for Mays.
But if he can handle that kind of test, or even excel against it, it will be a great stride up the learning curve.
All the factors are there for Clemons to have a breakout game tonight, which may go a long way towards helping him shake the “bust” label.
First and foremost, the defensive line will be very thin. All three men currently listed at RDE on the Eagles’ depth chart—starter Trent Cole, backup Darren Howard and third-stringer Bryan Smith–will not play tonight.
Starting LDE Victor Abiamiri makes his preseason debut, but he’s also coming off an injury, meaning that Clemons, new signee Jason Babin and stalwart Juqua Parker will be the men tonight.
Secondly, the Colts offense looked shaky in their pre-season opener. Peyton Manning was sacked three times in one series–an offense that is egregious enough even in the preseason without knowing that he usually gets sacked once every three games or so.
Third, he has the history. Clemons was a star at training camp, and with Babin (one sack, one nearly missed interception against New England) looking to push him, Clemons needs to keep up his good play – or he could be out of a job in a few weeks, just like Babin was a few weeks ago.
King Dunlap has never taken a snap in a meaningful NFL game.
Of course, he’s only a second-year man, and spent his entire rookie campaign on IR.
But with four-fifths of the Eagles’ starting offensive line sitting out tonight, there’s plenty of opportunity to shine—and Dunlap’s is the biggest.
He will be matched up against Dwight Freeney, perhaps the best speed rusher in the NFL, in his initial starting assignment. That’s no easy task for even the best of left tackles, let alone someone in Dunlap’s position.
But if he can have a good game tonight against a beast like Freeney, it will boost his confidence and go a long way towards proving he can handle his position.
The X-factor in that equation is on the other side of the line–namely tonight’s starting left tackle, Winston Justice. He and Dunlap are ostensibly battling for that third tackle spot (and perhaps the starting job if Shawn Andrews’ back continues to bark), and Justice should have the edge in experience.
Yet while he played well last week, Justice has looked more like a subway turnstile than an offensive tackle in his NFL career. Few will ever forget that one miserable game in New York a couple years ago where Osi Umenyiora ate him alive en route to a six-pack of sacks.
There’s really nowhere to go from that but up–but history is often unkind, and if he struggles tonight–especially if combined with even an above average effort from Dunlap–it could be quite detrimental.