What to Watch For: Philadelphia Eagles Preseason Opener vs. Pittsburgh Steelers

Jasen Shen@jaysizzlesCorrespondent IAugust 8, 2012

What to Watch For: Philadelphia Eagles Preseason Opener vs. Pittsburgh Steelers

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    The Philadelphia Eagles’ offseason began with DeSean Jackson’s uneasy contract discussions, but has culminated in an impressive, yet emotional training camp. 

    Along the way, we’ve seen a trade for a former Pro Bowl linebacker, Andy Reid receive high marks for his overhaul of talent in the NFL draft and a change in upper management.

    With all these preliminaries taken care of, Philly fans will finally be treated to what they’ve long awaited—football.

    Yes, it’s merely preseason and the starters won’t play much, however, there are still plenty of things to look out for.

    Here are four things you should keep your eyes on...

Backup Center

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    The Eagles are returning four starters from last year’s stellar group, but still lack depth along the interior of the offensive line.

    Once Jason Kelce and the rest of his first-team teammates are pulled from Thursday’s game, expect Howard Mudd to watch the backup center intently. 

    Dallas Reynolds is currently listed as the backup on the depth chart, but Julian Vandervelde and Mike Gibson have all taken snaps at center in training camp.

    So far, the results have been mixed, and each lineman has had his struggles.  Whether it’s fundamental tasks like snapping the ball, or more complex duties such as making line calls, this young group should benefit from seeing Pittsburgh’s 3-4 scheme.

New-Look Defensive Line

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    Last year’s entire starting defensive line of Trent Cole, Mike Patterson, Cullen Jenkins and Jason Babin have all missed time in training camp. 

    And while Patterson is the only one who has been replaced on the depth chart, it will be interesting to see who Philadelphia starts against a young Pittsburgh Steelers offensive line.

    If the Eagles don’t want to risk further injury to Babin and Cole, we just might see Jenkins line up at defensive end and first-round selection Fletcher Cox in the starting lineup.  Another possibility is that Brandon Graham could run with the first unit and remain with the backups.

    Whatever Jim Washburn settles on, Philly fans will be getting a sneak peak at his rotation and what the defensive line coach plans on doing when faced with injuries.

Distribution of Carries

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    Since I doubt LeSean McCoy touches the ball more than five times against a hard-hitting Steelers defense, this leaves three backups to fight for secondary carries.

    Dion Lewis has set himself apart from Bryce Brown and Chris Polk in camp, but we should still see a heavy dose of the rookie running backs.  Brown currently occupies the all-important No. 3 spot on the depth chart and will be tested in pass protection—something he admits to have “never” done before.

    On the other hand, will Lewis be as impressive as he’s been in practice?  Does Polk have the ideal skill set to be a sneaky good fullback?  

    While none of these questions will be answered in one preseason game, it could develop into something to keep an eye on.

DeMeco Ryans

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    We probably won’t be seeing too much of DeMeco Ryans, but that doesn’t mean we should overlook the little things he’s expected to do.

    When the Eagles acquired the former Pro Bowler, they believe they got a three-down linebacker who can drop into coverage and play behind their aggressive Wide-9 front. If Ryans falters in either aspect, it wouldn’t be the end of the world. 

    However, an impressive performance would set the tone for the defensive unit and put some of the linebacker concerns to rest.

    Aside from his play, watch how he commands the huddle and if he can get his teammates aligned correctly.  These things might not seem like much, but it’s something Philadelphia struggled with in 2011.