But tonight, the 2012 Eagles season officially kicks off. Football is back.
The Eagles game against the Ravens tonight is not viewed by many as the most anticipated preseason game for no reason. Their are plenty of questions surrounding this team, and some of them will begin to be answered tonight.
If you have not been keeping up with camp, here’s a little bit about what you should be looking for from each position in tonights game.
Quarterback: For Michael Vick, the mission plan for tonights game is simple: don’t get hurt. The Ravens are a team that likes to blitz, and while it is the preseason, they should bring the blitz on a play or two. It will be interesting to see how Vick does recognizing those blitzes. Vince Young will take the field after Vick, but don’t expect a solid performance out of him. For Young, it will be important to look at what he is able to do when the play breaks down, and also how his throws look. He has had problems in camp throwing an accurate, tightly spiraled ball. It will be interesting to see how Mike Kafka looks, as Reid has spoken highly of him so far. Jerrod Johnson, the rookie quarterback out of Texas A&M, will be playing cleanup and if the game is close, could have the ability to drive his team down the field. Johnson is a big guy, and Eagles fans should enjoy seeing the potential he has displayed at camp.
Wide Receivers: The last time the Eagles offense took the field for a highly anticipated preseason game, Donovan McNabb hit Terrell Owens for an 81 yard touchdown on the first play of the game. While this Eagles offense will have the ability this season to hit long plays with little problem, that will not be the case tonight. With both DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin out, the Eagles will field a wide receiver unit of Jason Avant, Riley Cooper, Andy Hall and Sinorce Moss. Other then Moss, none of those players have the speed or playmaking ability to take one to the house. Even Moss, the quickest of the group, lacks elite NFL speed. The offense tonight will be very vanilla and slow moving, with crossing patterns and 5-7 yard outs. One thing the Eagles have been working on in camp a lot has been bubble screens to their wide outs. It would not be surprising to see them try to get Moss out in space with a screen, as he has had some big plays at camp out of that formation. Johnny Lee Higgins is also a player to keep an eye out for, as he more then any other player in this unit is fighting for a job.
Running Backs: LeSean McCoy is having a great training camp, but with only around 20 offensive plays to be ran, their will likely not be many running plays for McCoy. Look for a 2-3 carries and a catch or two from McCoy, and then he will hit the sideline. Ronnie Brown should carry the load for the second quarter, and it will be interesting to see what he has left. With Brown coming into camp late, he has not been in many of the 11 on 11 live hitting sessions, making it hard to judge his play. Big things to look for in Brown’s play will be his ability to pick up the blitz, and see what kind of burst he has. The real battle at running back is between Eldra Buckley, Dion Lewis, Graig Cooper and Derrick Locke, who are all battling for one spot. Buckely and Lewis both have the advantage over Cooper and Locke, as Buckley is an experienced player and a great special teams player. Lewis was drafted high by the Birds, and they are hoping he can be a change of pace back for them. But Cooper and Locke have both shined in camp. Cooper especially has taken advantage of his time at Lehigh, as he has looked very confident running the ball. Both need to have good games tonight, but if Locke does not, he could be gone. For all of the running backs that take the field, the key will be to see how they do picking up the blitz. Excelling in that can keep a running back, especially under Andy Reid, on the team.
Tight Ends: Brent Celek has struggled through camp so far. Where the Eagles line him up, and how often then send him out on a route, will tell you a lot about how they see him being used this year. Celek has the number one tight end position locked up, but if the Eagles send out Clay Harbor out on passing plays more then Celek, it could tip their hand that they view Celek more as blocker at this point. Back up tight ends Donald Lee and Cornelius Ingraham are fighting for the 3rd tight end spot. Lee is a seasoned vet, but Ingraham has stayed healthy so far and has more upside then Lee.
Offensive Line: This offensive line has a good opportunity tonight to face a good Baltimore Ravens defense- especially one that runs a 3-4, a defensive scheme that the Eagles have struggles against in the pass. Andy Reid said yesterday that Jamaal Jackson will be the starting center, but don’t be surprised to see Jason Kelce in their on a fair amount of the first offense plays. The Eagles want to see what they have in Kelce, and they won’t do that with him sitting on the bench. First round pick Danny Watkins will play tonight, despite some speculation he might not due to his holdout that caused him to miss time. It will be important for Watkins to show he has an understanding of the offensive line scheme, in terms of picking up his man and adjusting to any audibles. Finally, new RT Ryan Harris has been very impressive in camp, and may already have the starting right tackle position locked down. A good performance tonight would go a long way in doing that.
Defensive Line: Defensive Line coach Jim Washburn has been riding his players hard in practice, and tonight they will finally get a chance to show if they have been listening. Veteran DE’s Trent Cole and Juqua Parker more then likely won’t see much playing time, but this is the first chance for Jason Babin to show he is worth the big contract he signed. Babin has had big preseason games in the past, but has not had a great camp so far. Although Parker is listed as the starting left defensive end, look for Babin to get most of the snaps there tonight. Two players that are fighting for jobs tonight are Daniel Teo’Neisham and Anthony Hargrove. Hargrove has sky rocketed up the depth chart due to injuries and solid play, but still is not a lock to make this team. Teo’Neisham on the other hand, needs to show at some point he can be what the Eagles thought he could when they made him their 3rd round draft choice. A bad performance from Teo’Neisham could all but seal his fate as a roster causality.
Linebackers: Linebacker will perhaps be the most watched position tonight, and for good reason. The Eagles decision to start rookie Casey Matthews at middle linebacker has fans worried. Matthews is the kind of player that will look better in a game then practice, as he uses his instincts to get around the ball and make plays. When watching Matthews, look to see if he is caught out of position or unable to shed blocks. If he is getting around the ball, it is a good sign that he will soon be able to start making plays once he gets more comfortable out their. Also keep an eye on Jamaar Chaney, who was moved to the SAM linebacker position after playing the middle last year.
Safeties: Tonights game is a good chance for Eagles safety Jaiquawn Jarrett to show he was worthy of the 2nd round pick the Eagles used on him. Like Matthews, he is a player that will shine more in a game then practice, as a big part of his game is laying big hits- something he really couldn’t do it camp. Jarrett likely won’t see the field much in the first quarter, but should play a lot in the second and third. Kurt Coleman is talked about like a vet on this unit due to how young it is, but really is still just a 7th round pick that started a handful of games last year. He had trouble in pass protection towards the end of last season, so it is important for him to show he has made strides in that area tonight.
Cornerbacks: In many ways, the starting cornerbacks tonight will be viewed more for how they line up then how they play. Will Asomugha really line up on the inside when they go into nickel? Or will Joselio Hanson, who has surprisingly seen a fair share of plays at the nickel in camp, line up in his usual spot- putting Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie on the bench. It will also be interesting to see what kind of coverage Juan Castillo has his corners play- will Nnamdi press up on the line? After the starters are gone, Trevard Lindley and Curtis Marsh are going to be battling for the 4th cornerback spot. Marsh, viewed as a project coming into camp, has shown why he was a third round pick. He is more of a playmaker then Lindley, and a better athlete. Lindley, on the other hand, is a cover corner who has done a good job this camp of knocking the ball down when it comes his way.
Special teams: More then on offense or defense, special teams is where jobs will be won or lost tonight. Players like Eldra Buckley, or may not be as talented a runner as Graig Cooper, will earn a spot on this roster by continuing to be arguably the Eagles best special teams player. A player making a big play on special teams tonight could go a long way in keeping him on this roster. Wide Receiver Johnny Lee Higgins is slated to return kick offs, and Sinorce Moss/Chad Hall should handle punt return duties. All of those players are bubble players on the roster, so a fumble or bad call letting a punt go by could cost them a job.