What to watch for in Eagles-Jaguars preseason game
As much as Chip Kelly likes to think outside the box, the new Eagles coach has approached preseason games like most NFL coaches.
The first game was a test run for the starters, who played only a quarter. The second game, he added a little more to their plates, and they played into the half. Saturday at the Jaguars, in the third game, Kelly will have his first team in the closest thing to a regular-season dress rehearsal as it likely plays into the third quarter.
The Eagles' main evaluations following the game will be of players fighting for starting jobs or reserves positioning for game-day roles. The quarterback position, of course, is set after Kelly named Michael Vick his starter for the Sept. 9 opener at Washington.
But there are still questions to be answered in Jacksonville. Here are some of them:
Who will win Saturday’s preseason game, the Eagles or Jaguars?
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What else will Kelly reveal on offense?
Because Kelly and his offense are new to the NFL, much of what he has shown through two preseason games has seemed radical. In truth, Kelly has revealed very little. He has drawn up plays with a new take on the triple option and called for personnel involving four tight ends, so he has shown some innovation. But there is greater depth to his playbook. For instance, several players spoke about the supersonic tempo the offense ran at during Tuesday's closed-to-the-media practice.
"Wait until you see it," running back LeSean McCoy said. There are also a host of unorthodox formations on "trick plays" that the Eagles have been working on since April that they have yet to spring on an opponent. Will Kelly choose Saturday's game to reveal a few? Probably not, but he may give more of a taste with Vick getting extended work with the first team.
How will Jason Peters look?
There's still a bit of mystery to how the Eagles left tackle will return from his March 2012 ruptured Achilles tendon. Generally, there would be little concern about the 10th-year veteran missing preseason time, but Peters, who sat out the first two games with a hamstring injury, hasn't played since 2011. He said on Wednesday that he plans to play three quarters, but Kelly sounded as if he would be happy with just two.
"There's a certain amount of work Jason needs to get in," Kelly said. Peters hasn't started all 16 games in a season since 2006. He's had various bumps and bruises but nothing near the magnitude of his Achilles injury.
The Eagles seem a little more confident about their backup tackle situation after Allen Barbre's solid work in place of Peters this August. But they'll need their five-time Pro Bowl tackle if they want the offense to reach its full potential.
Will Trent Cole and Brandon Graham progress as outside linebackers?
Both Cole and Graham seemed a little more comfortable in their new roles against the Panthers last week. Graham said last month that if he couldn't pick up the new position by Week 3 of camp then it would be sayonara. He's still here, but that doesn't mean he's mastered the spot. Cole has looked a little more comfortable dropping, but Graham has been more effective pass rushing from a two-point stance. The transition will take time - if they ever completely get there - and it could have its ugly moments.
Can Nate Allen hold onto the starting safety job?
He seems to be the leader by default. Defensive coordinator Bill Davis said that Allen performed better against the Panthers than he did in the opener against the Patriots. He may not have had any major mistakes, but it wasn't as if he was around the ball like counterpart Patrick Chung. It's difficult to see Allen being pushed by any other safety. Kenny Phillips was brought in to be that guy, but he can't seem to get on the field. He's questionable for Saturday with a quadriceps injury. Rookie Earl Wolff may be ready sometime during the season, but he isn't quite there yet. Kurt Coleman can be reliable, but he's limited. David Sims has hardly made a dent.
The Eagles would like to see Allen come out against the Jaguars and put his stamp on the job, but he may end up being just the last man standing.
How will Nick Foles respond?
Foles will drift into the background now that Vick has been named the starter. The worst thing he could do on Saturday would be to come out and lay an egg. Foles will work mostly with the second unit, but Kelly would love to see his backup quarterback maintain the level he played at through camp and the first two games. There may not be a soul around the NFL that believes Vick will survive all 16 games without injury. Foles has had to come off the bench before. He needs to maintain a starter's mentality. Kelly said he'd like to get rookie quarterback Matt Barkley some snaps, but "Nick needs a ton of work," he added.
Will Cedric Thornton hang onto the starting spot on the defensive line?
After a quiet first game, Thornton got into the Panthers backfield a few times and anchored well against the run. He may have been feeling heat from rookie Bennie Logan, who continues to impress. There will be a rotation up front, so who starts won't matter as much as it would at most other positions. But the base defensive ends will get the most snaps. Fletcher Cox has the one spot sewn up. Thornton has a slight edge on the other side. Like Logan, he can also play nose tackle.
Also Keep an Eye on . . .
Here's what else we'll be watching when the Eagles travel to Jacksonville on Saturday:
Brandon Boykin. The second-year nickel cornerback is running out of time if he wants to start outside ahead of either Cary Williams or Bradley Fletcher.
Alex Henery. The kicker missed a 44-yard field-goal try against the Panthers and hasn't had a consistent camp.
Danny Watkins. The third-year guard missed last week because of a concussion but needs to put consistency on film if he wants to make the 53-man roster.
Backup inside linebackers. Jamar Chaney and Casey Matthews could be in jeopardy of losing their spots to Jake Knott and Emmanuel Acho.
Jeff Maehl. Acquired in a trade with the Texans last week, the wide receiver gets his first opportunity to play for Kelly since his days at Oregon. - Jeff McLane
Contact Jeff McLane at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @Jeff_McLane.