Football is finally here... Kinda. I mean, it's preseason football but after what feels like an incredibly long offseason, I'll certainly take it. While the preseason is not the end all, be all of indication of player success, it is definitely where jobs are won for younger players trying to make the roster. The Eagles experienced a lot of roster upheaval this offseason and drafted a handful of players who will be depended on to make plays early in their careers. In their first taste of live NFL football, here is what to look for from the first year players."
- It is slightly odd how little fanfare Derek Barnett has received this season. The Eagles first round pick and one of the most productive defenders in NCAA history is going to be depended on to add a spark to the Eagles pass rush. Of course, the defensive line is a deep group with the presence of Brandon Graham, Vinny Curry and Chris Long, so it will be interesting to see how the team uses Barnett in his first preseason game. If he is under wraps for most of the game, that could be an indicator that the team is already comfortable with a big role for him. However, if he does see action, it will likely be with the second stringers. If this is the case, keep an eye on how he has adjusted to the speed and physicality of NFL offensive linemen. Going up against one of the best tackle tandems in the league in camp should be bringing out the best in him and now is his first chance to show what he's got.
- The Eagles cornerback situation is something even the casual fan would describe as dire. While Jalen Mills is expected to take a step forward after showing some promise his rookie season, the cupboard is somewhat bare after that. Patrick Robinson was a low risk veteran addition that some people thought would pay off, but word from camp is not exactly good on the Robinson front. This uncertainty means that this is a huge preseason for Rasul Douglas. While Douglas was the second cornerback the Eagles took in the 2017 draft, Sidney Jones' injury means Douglas will see a bigger role much, much sooner. There was some speculation that Douglas would be eased into seeing heavier and heavier snaps, but this is his first opportunity to really show out and take the number two cornerback job. Honestly, it would not be surprising to see him named starter by the end of preseason.
- One of the biggest places of turnover on the Eagles roster this offseason was at the wide receiver position. Not only did the Eagles bring in Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith, but they drafted two playmakers in Mack Hollins and Shelton Gibson. The reports out of camp have been all over the place for Gibson, who has been dealing with drops but every so often shows off the deep threat ability that enticed the Eagles to draft him. As for Hollins, reviews have mostly been positive on the 6'4" playmaker. The Eagles are certainly in need of proven weapons on offense and it will be interesting to see if Hollins and Gibson can put on a show against second string defensive backs. The Eagles receivers have gone from a barren wasteland to a sneakily deep group with Nelson Agholor reportedly looking great and Jordan Matthews still holding it down as the Eagles slot option to complement the presence of Jeffrey and Smith. with such a deep group, it is possible that one of the rookie draft picks might not even make the roster and these games will be pivotal in deciding that.
- One of the bigger question marks on offense for the Eagles is the running back position. Darren Sproles and LeGarrette Blount are established player but are north of 30. The rest of the group features a handful of unproven young guys like Byron Marshall, Wendell Smallwood and the rookies; Donnell Pumphrey and Corey Clemenet. Pumphrey is certainly a talented player, as it would be hard to lead the NCAA in career rushing yards if he were bad. However, his diminutive size may lend itself to a different kind of role on an NFL team. Reports have suggested the Eagles like him in the slot and as a returner in addition to giving him a few carries. His translation to the NFL is going to be interesting to watch given his stature and tonight will give a sneak peak at that against NFL defenders. If he has a hard time running in preseason, that should be a pretty substantial red flag. As for Corey Clement, he came in as an UDFA with some fanfare given his size (5-10, 220) and Wisconsin pedigree. Clement is certainly a talented back but has been slowed by injuries in his career. The Eagles need nothing more than a young, bruising running back who can close out games but Clement has not exactly been dropping jaws in practice. These games are definitely more important for evaluation than camp, however, and it will be good to see him get some live NFL action. The Eagles have a weird, crowded group of running backs and Clement will need to run hard and make plays to lock up a roster spot.