The Eagles have their first preseason game on Thursday night. Yes, it is that soon. Despite free agency still ongoing for a number of players and a grand total of a week and a half in camp for most (free agent signees less), the Eagles will take on the Baltimore Ravens tomorrow night at 7:30 pm.
For many teams and players, these preseason games are meaningless. For example, I don't expect to see much from LeSean McCoy, who should really aim only to stay injury-free. And Andy Reid has already intimated that none of the starters will play deep into the game. However, there are some things I'll be looking for:
How is the defensive line embracing Jim Washburn's attack-first scheme? I'll be interested to see what kind of pressure the front four can get in the early going tomorrow. The defense probably wont be blitzing much, so the game will be an interesting first test of Washburn's system (along with free agent pickups Cullen Jenkins, Anthony Hargrove and Jason Babin). Even with a number of defensive linemen banged up, hopefully they'll be able to cause some chaos in the backfield.
Who plays center and right tackle? Rookie sixth round pick Jason Kelce has shared repetitions with injured incumbent Jamaal Jackson in practice, and seems like a leading candidate to usurp the job Jackson once took from Hank Fraley. Keep an eye on that position. Also, check out Ryan Harris, Austin Howard, King Dunlap, and anyone else who gets a shot at right tackle. With Winston Justice on the Physically Unable to Perform list, it would be nice to see that the Eagles have an adequate insurance policy to protect Mike Vick's backside.
How reliable will the new kicking specialists be? While special teams coverage units will be hard to judge, given the ephemeral nature of the roster's bottom half during free agency, the kicking game itself is basically the same from preseason through the playoffs. I'll be watching rookie punter Chas Henry and rookie kicker Alex Henery closely. David Akers, we'll miss you.
Will Casey Matthews and the rest of the unheralded young linebacker corps avoid mistakes? The best I'm realistically hoping for the linebackers is for them to be average. But even that low expectation requires that they play smarter and more experienced than they actually are. The base defenses and relatively simple offenses deployed in the game on Thursday will be a good first test.
What else are you watching for? It's exciting at the least that football is officially back...