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Assessing Eagles Heading Into First Preseason Game

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This feature is a weekly piece on titled From The Eagles, featuring Eagles Insider Dave Spadaro. The intention is to provide a perspective directly from the Philadelphia Eagles in this forum for the great fans who visit BGN.

Some of what happens in training camp means pretty much of nothing when the bright lights go on and the comfort of playing against familiar faces and same games are gone.

In other words, what happens in the preseason games mean a heckuva lot more than what happens in training camp. That said, we've reached that point where the cream has started to separate for the Eagles in their camp training sessions. With that, here are some evaluations based on what I've seen and heard in training camp as the Eagles prepare for Sunday's preseason opener against Indianapolis (1 p.m. kickoff, NBC10) ...

BEST TRAINING CAMP: There are several who could claim this to date, but wide receiver Jordan Matthews and tight end Zach Ertz are the leaders. They have both been outstanding. Interestingly, Matthews remains in the slot, rather than moving outside, and he's been a dominating presence there with his big body and sure hands. Matthews is playing far, far faster than he did a year ago. Ertz is going to be a huge factor in the passing game, obviously. He maybe didn't catch enough footballs last year as defenses double teamed him. Now, he's ready to be a force.

MOST ENCOURAGING CAMP: Every day that quarterback Sam Bradford walks off the playing field healthy is a win. He's looked good and has drawn strong reviews. You've read them all. What do they mean? They mean he's great when his jersey is red. Now he's going against a live defense. It may only be for a series, but it's an important mental hurdle.

MOST PUZZLING CAMP: All of the candidates at right guard. Who is going to step up and claim the starting job? Is it going to be Matt Tobin? Andrew Gardner? John Moffitt? Julian Vandervelde? It's not too late, and it's not time to panic, but the preseason games are time to establish the starters on the depth chart. And right guard is the position that is most unsure on the offense.

PLAYER WITH MOST ON THE LINE: A good candidate is outside linebacker Marcus Smith. He's made some progress in this camp. The coaches say so publicly and privately. He's more physical. He understands the defense and the NFL a whole lot better than a year ago. Sunday is the first true test, though. Smith has to be at the football. He has to make plays.

BEST PLAYER YOU DON'T KNOW: Could be cornerback Denzel Rice, who is 6-feet and 196 pounds from Coastal Carolina. The coaching staff has been all over him since the spring. Big test for him against the Colts on Sunday. Can he play his way into the rotation as a rookie? The other candidate is offensive guard Malcolm Bunche, the Delaware native who played at UCLA and who is 6-feet-6 and 320 pounds and a good athlete. He may be more of a developmental player, but Bunche has a chance to be pretty good.

BREAKOUT CANDIDATE: After not playing a snap last season, defensive lineman Taylor Hart is ready to roll. He's up about 20 pounds. He is hungry. He is quick off the football. Hart knows what line coach Jerry Azzinaro wants, and it's very possible that Hart will be a big part of the defensive line rotation this year. Which brings us to ...

MOST UNDERRATED GROUP: The defensive line has Fletcher Cox and not much else in terms of name recognition. But it's a strong group. Could be a great group. Even if you don't hear much about them.

BIGGEST QUESTION MARK: Who plays the nickel cornerback spot? I mean, look, there are questions about injuries and such, and that's understandable, but the nickel cornerback spot has been a question since the Eagles traded Brandon Boykin and lost JaCorey Shepherd to an ACL injury. The candidates are many. Eric Rowe, I'm telling you, is going to play his way onto the field this season. He has made nice strides the last couple of weeks.

MOST IMPROVED EAGLE: Defense - Nolan Carroll. Who would have ever thought he would play so well since the spring to have a real chance to start outside at cornerback? Offense - Josh Huff. He's been making big play after big play in the training sessions and his consistency has improved. Let's see him do it in games now.

BEST REASON TO WATCH ON SUNDAY: There are a bunch of reasons, but the overriding one is this: Eagles football is back. Other than the bye weekend (weekend of Sunday, November 1) there is Eagles football from here through January 3, and hopefully for many weeks after. It's a great time of the year with a new roster and so many great storylines. It's been a good training camp, save the injuries to Shepherd and linebacker Travis Long, but now the preseason games give everyone - you, me, coaches, scouts - a chance to see for real how this roster is shaping up, and who is in good position to make the 53-man team when September arrives.