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What to watch for as the NFC East begins the preseason

Washington Redskins v Philadelphia Eagles
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Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

Preseason games finally kick off this week, unless they’re cancelled, giving us a short glimpse at actual NFL players and long looks at many players who will not have any kind of impact on the race for the NFC East division title. Training camps offer a lot of questions, and preseason games can give some answers. Here’s what we’re keeping an eye on around the division as fights for roster spots intensify.

Washington Redskins

Next game: at Falcons, Thursday 7pm

What to watch for:

Will Jay Gruden bench his starter again?

Jay Gruden looks like a man with many passions, such as truck racing, CSI: Miami marathons and Darius Rucker’s solo career. But those are just guesses. We know he loves to bench QBs. In 2014 he benched Kirt Cousins, who took over for the injured RGIII, in favor of Colt McCoy. Then he benched McCoy for Griffin. Then he benched Griffin for McCoy. Then he benched McCoy for Griffin again. RGIII entered 2015 camp as the starter, but then Gruden benched him after one preseason game in favor of Cousins, the one guy he never went back to in 2014. Gruden somehow went the entire 2015 season without benching Cousins, so he’s got to be itching for a QB benching.

Or will Gruden be too busy in the backfield?

The Redskins need safety help but man that’s desparate.

Philadelphia Eagles

Next game: vs Buccaneers, Thursday 7pm

What to watch for:

Will Doug Pederson even let Carson Wentz see the field?

The Eagles have been overprotective of Carson Wentz, burying him on the depth chart behind both Sam Bradford and Chase Daniel, which is usually a job reserved for Aaron Murray and Sean Mannion. In fairness, Wentz is seen as a guy who needs some grooming, and the Eagles third string WRs are basically the same quality as the first string, so Wentz isn’t being brought down by his surrounding cast the way other players might be. But there’s a time to take the kid gloves off and this is it. Eagles fans are accustomed to seeing third string stars in the preseason, whether it be the Jets squandering the marginal utility of Danny Woodhead or Tim Tebow failing to run the ball for a TD after failing to notice a wide open WR in the end zone.

Will Jalen Mills be airlifted to Canton after the game?

No, because they probably use the football field as a landing pad. He’ll have to bus there.

New York Giants

Next game: vs Dolphins, Friday 7pm

What to watch for:

Will a running back get 30 yards?

The first preseason game usually sees a lot of guys rotate through every position, which makes statistical use meaningless. Still, considering the cast of “running backs” the Giants have, it leads to an interesting question: can anyone get 30 yards on the ground? Consider this: during the 2015 regular season, a Giants running back got at least 30 yards just 17 times. For comparison, DeMarco Murray had 10. It seems this question could apply to any Giants game.

Will Eli Apple’s mom go on a Twitter rant during the game?

Eli Apple has yet to make a name for himself in the NFL, but his mom, Annie, has become a minor Twitter star after basically telling people to never talk to her or her son ever again. It got her a job on ESPN, which must make all the low level staff ESPN has that bust their ass to get an on-screen gig really proud of their hard work. Apple’s mom seems ripe for a Twitter meltdown that will later be blamed on being hacked, and a meaningless preseason game seems as good a bet as any to do it.

Dallas Cowboys

Next game: at Los Angeles, Saturday 8pm on ESPN

What to watch for:

Will literally anyone get a sack?

Ask anyone, even Cowboys fans, what the biggest problem for the Cowboys is this year and the pass rush is sure to be at or near the top of the list. With everyone healthy and not suspended, Dallas’ best pass rusher is DeMarcus Lawrence, who had 8 sacks, a fine total for a team’s second best pass rusher. But Lawrence, along with 2015 “1st round pick” Randy Gregory, is suspended for the first four games, leaving umm… uhh… Jack Crawford? Tyrone Crawford? Somebody named Crawford as the team’s best available pass rusher. The projected Week 1 roster for the Cowboys had 13 sacks last year combined. 24 if you count the Arena League, which is only 7 fewer than the 2015 Cowboys had. The Rams OL is going to look good.

Will the OL get another QB killed?

Speaking of OL, the Cowboys vaunted OL better look good. It’s a great run blocking unit but when it comes to pass blocking, they’re a death trap. They allowed Thicc Romo to be injured twice last year, and broke Kellen Moore last week, ending his preseason. The Cowboys will trot out Dak Prescott, Jameill Showers and newly signed Jason Garrett against a defensive coordinator once suspended for a whole year for injuring opposing QBs. Good luck. You’ll need it.