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Eagles Preseason Preview: 3 personnel and scheme notes to watch against the Browns

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Let’s fill some roster spots!

NFL: Philadelphia Eagles-Minicamp Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

I have not watched Hard Knocks at all and am very concerned that I will be left out of many a niche reference tonight. I did, however, see the offensive line coach tummy thing — that tickled me.

1) What matters for RBs, because I don’t freakin’ know

The Eagles RB room is just beat up and battered at this point.

Every name besides Darren Sproles (the old guy coming off of major surgery!) has seen some time lost to injury this camp — some with greater stints than others. Tonight, we should expect to see Wendell Smallwood and Matt Jones, hope to see Josh Adams, and reluctantly resign ourselves to the fact we probably won’t see Donnel Pumphrey.

For the Patriots’ scheme preview last week, I wrote about my desire to see Smallwood/Jones/Adams put into pass protection scenarios, as I felt that was a skill they could offer to the RB room that perhaps wasn’t represented well between Clement/Ajayi/Sproles. The reality is, the Big 3 bring at least average NFL pass protection to the table, so there isn’t exactly a gap to fill.

This exercise proves a point I’d rather ignore: we all probably care way too much about RB4. But I’ve already poured so much energy into caping for a dude to win this spot that I have to see it through. C’est la vie.

None of the RB candidates impressed me in pass protection against the patriots; they weren’t even asked to do it that frequently. So what, then, matters in the search for the future RB4 of the Philadelphia Eagles? Is it as simple as special teams contributions? Is it do-it-all versatility to fill shoes in the event of a regular-season injury? Is it a niche role, like goal line or special teams?

I really don’t know: so I’m going to watch for it. What schemes and play calls are used with certain RBs in the game? As fun as watching Josh Adams run wide zone in the fourth quarter against the Steelers’ scrubs is, he’ll never be asked to do that in the regular season — so, in this ‘dress rehearsal’ of a preseason game, how are these RBs deployed? It may give us an answer as to who provides more value relative to the Big 3 already locked in their roster spots.

2) Slot corner receiver

A lot of eyes will be on the Maddox/Jones battle for starting nickel corner, but I’ll tell you something right now: I think Sidney already has that bagged. Both players will be rostered, will dress on game days, will see reps covering the slot. But when I consider the developmental track of Sidney Jones, I really think he needs to start. He hasn’t played football in quite a while, and his ability to adjust to NFL speed/physicality was stunted badly by his untimely injury. To limit his playing time is to further delay a developmental track that, in my opinion, cannot avoid the bumps and bruises of going out there and getting beat.

Regardless, for as much as NCB gets discussed, SWR gets pushed to the wayside. Obviously, Nelson Agholor has the starting position locked up: but Shelton Gibson profiles to play behind Mike Wallace; and Mack Hollins has taken the Alshon Jeffery reps available due to No. 17’s injury. I’m wondering who becomes the Agholor understudy?

The reality is that every WR/TE not named Alshon Jeffery will probably line up in both the slot and the boundary this season — which is super dope. But an underneath threat with YAC/returner upside makes sense for Philadelphia’s WR corps, so I’ve got Greg Ward Jr., Rashard Davis, and the dark horse DeAndre Carter circled for tonight.

I’m watching for a player who can create with the ball in his hands. Rashard Davis has been the player who has impressed me the most in this regard, though he fell victim of trying too hard on this front, on the doomed punt return against the Pats. His touchdown snag that night was good, though.

I’d love to see these three get rotated into the lineup with the ones — and they will, with the resting players above them on the depth chart — and get used in gadget-y ways. Some bullet screens, bubble screens, jet sweeps (Greg Ward likes these), or drag/slants across the middle. Anything to give them a chance to make their own play. Keep a particular eye on DeAndre Carter sneaking his way into the backfield — they experimented with him there in camp.

Unrelated but also very important: assuming the Eagles keep Gibson on top of all their other receivers, the jersey numbers will be 17, 14, 13, 10, and 18. As such, Rashard Davis (19) should be viewed as having an edge; DeAndre Carter would have to change his number (2) anyway, so it’s a push; Greg Ward Jr. (89) is on the outside looking in.

3) William F. Brown*

*I don’t actually know Billy Brown’s middle name

If Billy Brown (my summer pick for sleeper to make the roster) gets on by absolute default I will go bananas.

That’s not to say Brown hasn’t played well — he’s taken a decent step forward in his second year. Nothing ground-breaking or depth-chart challenging, but I’d say he justified Philadelphia’s investment of a practice squad spot. Before the Richard Rodgers signing, he could have even had the inside track to that TE3 spot — but afterwards, it became clear that Brown wasn’t yet ready to be a full-time contributor in Philadelphia.

And through camp, all of the young TEs for Philadelphia started flashing. Adam Zaruba had some good moments; Josh Perkins has impressed the coaching staff. Brown could have been anywhere from TE4 to TE6 — I couldn’t have told you either way.

Now with Zaruba gone and Josh Perkins potentially sidelined and Richard Rodgers definitely sidelined, Brown will likely be TE3 tonight because nobody else can be. Opportunity knocks on the biggest preseason stage there is.

Brown is still most effective when split out on the backside of 3 x 1 sets, in my eyes — he gets straight man coverage from smaller corners, and he has nice movement skills to go with his size. That’s a tough coverage ask. He does not have the blocking upside of Rodgers or even Zaruba pre-injury, but if he can at least show that he can hit Goedert-level blocking responsibilities — whams/traps, and then stalk blocks in space — then he won’t prove a liability. And if Rodgers’ injury lingers into the season, leaving TE3 open for Perkins/Brown to grab, Brown’s leg up tonight could very well split the hair.