It’s just about here. After weeks trying to glean insights from controlled practices, we get a chance Friday to measure the new-look Eagles against real opposition.
No, it won’t have the same feel of the regular season, and if you care about the final score for more than a few minutes you might need to relax a bit on the whole football thing. But the pre-season opener against Jacksonville will provide another way to test the young Eagles, with new, unfamiliar opponents, real game situations and an atmosphere closer to the one they will experience on Sundays.
Here are five things we’ll be watching for Friday night (along with links to recent related stories and columns):
1. Kevin Kolb: Duh. He’s going to be the person to watch every pre-season game, and pretty much throughout the season. He had interception problems through one stretch of camp – how does he fare against another defense? Does he read new blitzes? Does his accuracy actually lead to more runs after the catch? How does he handle his successes and mistakes? This season, and probably the next few as well, ride on his arm and mind.
2. The offensive line. With the cornerback situation seeming more solid than many first anticipated, the offensive line is the number one concern on the team. They looked bad in pass protection early in camp, dragging down the entire offense, though seem to have leveled off recently. It’s possible that the rough early going is because of a defense that is better than expected. Though if the opposite is true – that a weak offensive line is making the defense look great – watch out. Friday we’ll get a better idea which is assessment is more accurate.
3. New and improved faces on defense. Ernie Sims has looked like a killer through camp, flying to the ball and making big hits whenever he can get them. Can he make a similar impact in a game? And can he do it with enough discipline to avoid penalties? Trevor Laws seems rejuvenated this year and coaches are raving about his off-season work. But is he benefiting from going up against reserve centers and guards on an already weakened line? Or has he really turned the page?
4. The rookies. This will be their first look at competition other than fellow Eagles. How do they react to formations, play calls and individual tendencies they have not seen before? Nate Allen carries the most responsibility – he is being counted on to start from day one. Brandon Graham has received the most attention. He has been impressive. Does his strong camp play translate against new competition? Others who might make an early impact: Clay Harbor, pushing for the second tight end role, has shown quickness and nice hands in camp and Riley Cooper, a fan favorite who has also surprised with his speed and shined early.
5. Who surprises? Does someone who had previously gone unnoticed make a mark? Could it be Daniel Te’o-Nesheim, who coaches love but who has made little noise at camp? The speedy seventh-round linebacker Jamar Chaney? Some in the organization see big possibilities for running back Martell Mallett, who has so far garnered little attention. Of course, by the very definition of surprise, it’s impossible to predict, and could easily be someone we never saw coming.