Eagles not concerned with preseason opener, have eyes set to Sept. 14

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Eagles head coach Chip Kelly.

Eagles coach Chip Kelly is more concerned about Sept. 14 than Aug. 16, which is evident in Kelly's approach this summer. Don't expect Sunday's preseason opener against the Indianapolis Colts to be the public debut of the new-look Eagles, because some of the high-profile players who give them that new look will be out of uniform on the sideline.

The goal is to make sure they're in uniform when the regular season begins against the Atlanta Falcons.

That's why quarterback Sam Bradford will not play, even though he hasn't missed a practice. Running back DeMarco Murray's participation has been on and off this summer, and with his status unannounced for Sunday, Kelly said he's just managing his high-priced running back.

Linebacker Kiko Alonso, whom the Eagles acquired for LeSean McCoy, has not practiced in nearly two weeks because of a concussion. Kelly said the Eagles would not rush Alonso back because they don't have a game that counts until Sept. 14.

"My job is to make sure our team is ready to play against the Atlanta Falcons," said Kelly, who is expected to play his starters for eight to 10 snaps on Sunday.

If the Eagles' offseason was marked by taking chances on players with injuries, then the preseason has been marked by being patient with players with injuries.

Poll

Is Chip Kelly being too cautious with his Eagles in the preseason?

Bradford has not missed a single practice this summer, and he said he has not missed an assigned snap. He wants to play Sunday, but Kelly wants to hold him out until the second preseason game, against Baltimore on Saturday. The decision frustrated Bradford, who felt there was not much of a difference between six days.

Murray's case is a little more curious. He'll tell you he's not injured. Kelly will tell you he's not injured. Running backs coach Duce Staley will tell you he's not injured. But his practice schedule sure mimics one who is.

Murray has missed practices because of dehydration and illness, but there have been other days he sat out of team drills. Kelly said the job of the coaching, training, and sports science staff is "to get those guys ready to play in Week 1."

"He'll be ready on [Sept.] 14th," Staley said. "He's been around a long time, understands how to lead up to that point."

Alarms should not sound in the city for a player missing the preseason opener. In 2013, Jason Peters, LeSean McCoy, and Cary Williams each missed the preseason opener. Each one started every game that season. In 2014, Bennie Logan and Riley Cooper missed the preseason opener before starting all 16 games.

But in each of those cases, it was understood why the player missed time. Kelly was being cautious then, too. In 2013, McCoy had a knee injury that limited him until the day before the preseason game, but Kelly kept him out. In 2014, Logan had a hamstring injury that was fine by the time the Eagles played their second preseason game.

For some on the Eagles' roster, the diagnosis is clear. JaCorey Shepherd is out for the season with a knee injury. Zach Ertz is out for the preseason with a core muscle injury.

But linebackers Mychal Kendricks and DeMeco Ryans, who missed time at practice last week and are not expected to play on Sunday, do not have stated reasons for absences. Ryans said earlier last week that he was taking a rest day, and Kendricks would not give a reason.

The key will be how the players recover if they are injured and how Kelly manages them if they're not injured. Adrian Peterson didn't play in the Vikings' first preseason game. Tony Romo didn't play in the Cowboys' opener. Peyton Manning remained on the sideline for Denver, too. Come October, fans might forget who played and who didn't on Sunday.

That will especially be the case for Murray. Kelly said he's holding Murray back, cognizant of the workload Murray endured last season with Dallas and the season that's ahead of him. Staley said he's not worried about how Murray will rebound from the 392 carries last season, that Murray is a professional who cares about practice, and that the Eagles have a plan.

"Once again, you've got to understand this is Week 1 for us," Staley said. "We've got many weeks to come before we're talking about the 14th of September."

And there it was again. The Sept. 14 date was raised without prompting. Because as much as Sunday marks the return of football to Philadelphia, it's the day the regular season opens that really matters to the Eagles.

"I think every team looks at it like that," Staley said. "And if they don't, they're doing something wrong. So it's all about the buildup, it's all about getting ready."


Three Things to Watch

Right guard competition

The Eagles have four of their five offensive line starters settled. Right guard remains an open competition. Andrew Gardner, Matthew Tobin, John Moffitt, and Julian Vandervelde are all in the running for the spot.

Gardner took the first-team snaps during practice on Saturday and has taken the most of any player this summer. He started eight games for the Eagles last season, including six at right guard. The 29-year-old is a steady veteran who knows the offense.

Tobin is entering his third season with the team and took the first-team snaps on the first day of training camp practice. He started seven games last season, but spent most of his time on the left side.

Moffitt is the wild card. He was out of football last season while dealing with personal and legal problems, but the Eagles signed him to a low-risk deal. Moffitt, a former third-round pick, has starting experience in Seattle. He has rotated in with the first team this summer.

Vandervelde's value could be as a reserve interior lineman, but he still has earned snaps with the starters during training camp.

Walter Thurmond at safety

When the starters are on the field, watch No. 26. That is Walter Thurmond, the Eagles' new starting safety - and Sunday will be his first game ever at the position.

The Eagles moved Thurmond from cornerback. He has impressed during training camp with his range and ball skills, but he will need to show he can tackle in the open field. The Eagles haven't done it in training camp, so Sunday will offer the first glimpse of how Thurmond can handle those duties.

Nelson Agholor's debut

There's always excitement about a first-round pick, and Agholor could validate that excitement in his first game in an Eagles uniform. The Southern California product has spent most of his summer with the second-team offense and could see extended work on Sunday. At 6-foot-1 and 198 pounds, Agholor will look like Jeremy Maclin when he takes the field. He's also polished, with a skill set that could allow him to make an early impact for the team. - Zach Berman


zberman@phillynews.com

@ZBerm