With the Eagles’ 2009 preseason opener in the books, the Birds (and hot shot wideout DeSean Jackson) are set to play Peyton Manning and the Colts Thursday night. Here are five things to look for when watching the game:
1. Middle Linebacker Joe Mays
The Eagles’ defense took a big hit when Stewart Bradley went down with a torn ACL. Mays is in his second year and looking to prove that he can be a legit starting linebacker in the NFL despite his size disadvantage (5-foot-11). We should be able to better gauge after the Colts game whether he can call the right formations and cover backs and tight ends on passing downs.
Defensive coordinator Sean McDermott won't have Omar Gaither -- who was left in Philly with an injury -- as a safety crutch on passing downs so it will be up to Mays against a powerful Colts first-team offense.
2. The Offensive Line
With four of our top five O-line starters injured and not even with the team, the Eagles are hurting at perhaps the most important positions. Thursday we will get to see how young offensive linemen like Max Jean-Gilles, Nick Cole, King Dunlap and Winston Justice fair against the Colts’ D-line.
It will be interesting to see whether Dunlap can handle the likes of Colts d-end Dwight Freeney, one of the best and fastest pass rushers in the league. Dunlap has a chance to turn some heads around football if he keeps Freeney in check.
3. Safeties Sean Jones and Quintin Demps
The two free safeties continue battling for the starting job -- tough shoes to fill after the departure of Brian Dawkins. Colts superstar quarterback Peyton Manning leads a Colts’ offense that should be a more than formidable test. We can’t wait to watch who steps up.
4. The Not-So Special Teams
The Birds’ Special Teams was embarrassing to watch in the first preseason game against the Patriots. Aside from having a 44-yard field goal attempt blocked, the Eagles’ special teams unit also let up a 75-yard punt return for a touchdown.
Oh yeah, and Jeremy Maclin showed his inexperience when he played matador to a punt -- completely missing the catch. On the plus side, they can only get better.
5. Tight ends
If Andy Reid wasn’t worried when rookie tight-end Cornelius Ingram went down with a torn ACL, he sure started to sweat when Brent Celek separated his shoulder. The Eagles looked to be set in terms of tight-ends before the start of preseason, but as everyone knows, things can change in the blink of an eye in the NFL.
The good news is Celek practiced this week and should be ready to go against the Colts.