Philadelphia Eagles vs Pittsburgh Steelers play tonight at 7:30. Finally, Eagles football officially kicks off! Below are seven things to watch. Why seven? Besides being lucky, the Philadelphia Eagles fearless leader wears that number. Here we go!
The Return Game
I am absolutely stoked to watch Brandon Boykin return kicks (as well as corner but this section is dedicated to the return game). I was a UGA student when he was there, and he is downright electrifying taking two kickoffs to the house. Thankfully for the Eagles, a minor injury dropped him to the Eagles in the 4th round. He will be a steal and I hope to see him in Eagle green for a long time.
Then there is Damrius Johnson, the all-time leader in yardage. He seems to get noticed for everything he does, and not in a Paris Hilton or Lindsey Lohann kind of way, but more of a Michael Phelps domination way. I want to see a pair of touchdowns from these rookies!
The interior OL rook… I mean Sophomores
Everything at this time last year was Watkins this and Watkins that in reference to the 2011 first round draft pick. However, not one single peep about him this season. It’s almost eerily quiet, like he is about to explode. Remember he walked into training camp late, a truncated camp at that, and didn’t start until week 4 because he simply wasn’t ready. Making the adjustment from small college to primetime in the NFL with a position switch – LT to RG – was simply too much to handle. However by week 17 he was winning almost every battle in the trenches and was borderline dominate.
The other 2nd year man, Jason Kelce, was the most pleasant surprise of the entire 2011 draft class starting every game for the Eagles as a rookie. When drafted the outside perspective was his ceiling was interior line depth. Offensive line guru, Howard Mudd, had other plans and inserted him into the starting lineup from day one. He played outstanding football all season. Look for him to follow in the footsteps of undrafted free agent and 5-time pro-bowler, Jeff Saturday.
With Jason Peters out for the season, the Eagles will call more running plays up the gut instead of off-tackle. With a real offseason under their belts these two guys should take giant strides forward.
An Accurate, Intelligent Vick
Vick is an unparalleled talent. He has a cannon for an arm and is unquestionably the most athletic player at the quarterback position in the history of the NFL. He can fill an entire SportsCenter Top 10 on his own with a single game.
However, he has never been a consistently accurate quarterback. This is the most important attribute of a quarterback. His inaccuracy stems from lack of pre-snap reads. Vick has always played the quarterback position as a player who reacts. The elites know what’s going to happen before they snap the ball.
All reports indicate that Vick has studied film like he never has before the entire offseason. It’s hard to believe, but this was Vick’s first season with a full training camp as the undisputed starter since 2006 with the Falcons. With that said, it’s plausible to believe Vick can actually play the way the elites play. If he can do that, he will be the most unstoppable force in the entire league. That’s the Vick I want to see.
The New Man Press-Coverage Scheme
Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominque Rodgers-Cromartie (I really hate typing those names out) have both been to the pro bowl. Last season, they both had the worst season of their respective careers. Not because they didn’t work hard or lost their talent, but they were playing coverages (zone) and positions (slot) that was out of their comfort zone. They traded the expensive Asante Samuel away so that both players can start where they made their respective pro bowls.
Juan Castillo has made adjustments to the defensive scheme to allow both of them to use their strengths – long-arms, closing speed and physical play – to play press (man) coverage. Both players, especially DRC, have had outstanding camps. During this game I don’t care if they receive penalties for playing too aggressively either. I want to see opposing receivers timid to get off the line and go across the middle. Eventually these guys will play at the pro-bowl level the entire NFL knows they can.
The Eagles have plenty of other corners that have the ability to play aggressive man coverage: Joselio Hanson, Brandon Boykin, Curtis Marsh, Brandon Hughes, Cliff Harris (out), and recently acquired Kevin Thomas. This is an incredibly deep position where the Eagles typically keep five and on rare occasions six players. All eight of these players will play in the NFL this season, but the questions is: for what team? Who do the Eagles keep and how many? It will all start to unfold tonight against the Iron Curtain.
The Pass Rush Depth (both line positions)
All-Pro’s Jason Babin and Trent Cole will not be playing in this pre-season game. As I wrote before, this is a blessing in disguise. It will test what is supposed to be a terrifying, relentless and most importantly, deep pass rush. Brandon Graham has been the star of the entire Philadelphia Eagles camp. This will be Vinny Curry’s first game, and Phillip Hunt may be the most improved player from this time last year on the defensive side of the ball.
On the inside at defensive tackle, Eagles first round draftee, Fletcher Cox, was brought in to eventually be an all-around star in this league. However, this season he has one job – sack the quarterback. Cedric Thornton, a long-shot to make the final roster has been very impressive in camp, but let’s see it in a game. Season veterans Landri and Dixon need to make their mark to secure a roster spot as well.
Let’s bring back the fear opposing quarterbacks felt during the Gang Green Era! I want to see Tony Romo and Eli Manning with grass in the helmet, dirty jersey’s and tears rolling down their cheeks.
The 3 back-up running backs
LeSean McCoy may be the second most important player on the team behind Vick. However, there is a stable of talented young backs behind McCoy. Lewis, McCoy’s back-up at University of Pittsburgh, has a strong hold on the same position he held at Pitt. However rookie running backs Bryce Brown and Chris Polk, have been very pleasant surprises in camp considering they were 7th round and undrafted free agent pickups, respectively. They are likely vying for one spot. Brown is the more athletic and gifted runner while Polk has more game experience and a better blocker. The better player in all four preseason games likely lands a roster spot. The other will have to settle for the practice squad.
And last, and unmistakably most important, support for Andy Reid
As I am sure you know by now, Andy Reid’s son, Garret Reid, passed away this past Sunday. Andy Reid, being a devout husband and father, was understandably away from the team for a few days while grieving his late son. Eagles’ nation has shown him a tremendous amount of love and support leading Reid to feel very “humbled”. More than anything else, I want to see a moment of silence for Garret, and the fans to continue to shower Andy with love and support – preferably through something along the lines of a standing ovation or an organized “we love you Andy” cheer. Since I won’t be at the game, let me say it now, we really do love you Andy.
As always, Fly Eagles Fly…