The Eagles play their third preseason game of the 2014 summer on Thursday night and we know all the storylines: The starters will play at least a half and the coaches will continue to evaluate the roster and find the best 53 players for the season ahead. The defense needs to improve its performance, particularly on third downs. The offense hopes to have its full complement of weapons available to get a feel for just how potent it can be. Alex Henery will look to bounce back from his missed 47-yard field goal in New England.
Those are the stories you're going to follow.
The game also marks another chance for me to have the privilege of providing commentary as the sideline reporter for the television broadcast (6abc, 7:30 p.m.), something that is truly an extraordinary experience for so many reasons.
Standing on the sidelines for an NFL game is to witness a confluence of remarkable energy and activity, a series of chaotic experiences that someone feed off of each other to make for three hours of orchestrated buzz. For, as much as the view of the actual game is compromised in so many ways, being on the sidelines is a chance to feel everything that's going on in an NFL game.
What's it like? Fast. That's the first word that comes to mind. You don't stand still on the sidelines and you don't take out a telephone and lock in or you have a chance to get run over by A) players moving at incredibly high rates of speed being pushed out of bounds; B) a roving TV truck that captures the camera angle from behind the bench and along the sidelines; C) A stampede of photographers moving from one end of the field to the other; or D) Cheerleaders who move in packs and who are trained to never step out of alignment.
Of the four options, of course, the latter is the most preferable, if you plan to have footprints on your back and pom-pom tinsel in your clothes at the end of the night. But that's another story ...
There are three main areas I watch during the game: 1) What's happening on the field; 2) the video boards to see replays and 3) the bench area, inside which the players and coaches and athletic training staff and doctors are alternately providing a visual smorgasbord of football preparation.
The view of the field is limited, in that the ground-level perspective robs my eyes of depth and the scope of the field. But I see the interior of the action exceptionally well and have the chance to fully appreciate the raw power and speed at which the game is played. I have never and will never say, for example, that an NFL player "sucks." To stand there and watch these great athletes play at a speed completely foreign to me is inspiring. Every player who steps onto an NFL field, no matter if it is a preseason game, is an tremendous physical marvel.
The instant a play is over I look up at the boards to see the replay and gain a perspective from the overhead camera angle, which provides more information for what happened on the play. I've always said this: One of the great injustices of the profession is that reporters must provide an instant analysis of who played well and who didn't immediately after a game ends, and it's a completely unfair and, much of the time, inaccurate account of what truly happened. There are 22 players on the field. So many things happen on every snap of the ball. Coaches watch each play four or five times before making a judgment on their players. You think sportswriters can instantly assess the success of a left guard on a play that gains 4 yards on third-and-5? No way.
Visual No. 3 is the bench area, which is enormously entertaining. Most head coaches, Chip Kelly for sure, are supremely focused on every situation and constantly communicating to the coaches in the box up in the coaching booth via their head sets and by shouting out to players on the field. There are coaches next to Kelly holding up signs and using hand signals to communicate to players on the field. When the offense is on the field, the offensive players not in the game are at the ready should they be called into action. The defensive players meet with their position coaches and look at the print outs - now, using tablets to instantly call up video replays - of alignments and assignments from previous action.
In the preseason, the players who finish their work for the night take off their shoulder pads and relax. Many counsel and coach up the players still in the game. Most watch the game and offer suggestions and sometimes peek at the crowd to see what's going on in the stands.
Oh, the crowd. It's a part of the sideline experience, for sure. The players hear the fans, no doubt about it. Most of the players block it out and concentrate on the field and the fan voices go away. Some turn around and react and have fun with the fans.
For those fans in the first 10 rows on the sidelines, the pleas are for autographs or for a player to turn around for a photograph or, on the road, words of derision.
When it's over three hours later, the energy mutes to zero. The players walk into the middle of the field and shake hands and then head into the locker room. The fans file out into the night.
For me, though, the roar of the crowd and the cauldron of visual and physical activity continue to resonate. I don't let it go. It's a thrill every single game day, of course, and the preseason sideline experience is something special to appreciate forever.