Keeping it Real: Preseason Week 1
In the debate of which week of NFL games is the least interesting the odds on favorite would almost always be preseason week 1. However, as with any game in the NFL there is plenty to keep an eye on. Preseason week 1 might not be the most exciting week on the NFL calendar but it means that football is back and that is pretty exciting on its own. Here are 5 things to keep an eye on or hope for in Thursday night’s preseason matchup.
1. How long will Jalen Hurts stay in the game?
It came as no surprise that the Eagles announced Hurts would be the starter for the first preseason game. The biggest question now is, how long will be play? I want Jalen Hurts to play the entire first quarter. I know what you are likely thinking, “But Tim, the starting quarterback always plays a drive or 2 in the first preseason game”. I totally understand it is unusual to play qb1 for a full quarter in preseason week 1. However, I believe it would be smart this season. Hurts only played about 3 and 1/2 games last season. This season is basically an extension of his rookie season. Additionally, the Eagles, as always, have been the focus of several rumors regarding veteran quarterbacks. I think that playing Hurts for an entire quarter will give him some needed experience coming out of the gate and also help give him some confidence that he is the guy moving forward. Additionally, extra time at game speed with Jalen Raegor could be huge to build that chemistry between the two player. Raegor is looking to have a big sophomore season and getting as many game speed reps as possible with Hurts could be crucial. Coaches and the front office have yet to announce a starter but it will come to no surprise that Hurts is the odds on favorite to win the job. An extended look at Hurts could help him shake off any rust from the offseason, instill some confidence in him, and show the viewers that the Eagles are behind Jalen Hurts as their qb1.
2. Keep an eye on Steven Nelson
I, like all Eagles fans, was thrilled with the signing of Steven Nelson. It has been a long time since the Birds have had a legit number 2 cornerback. Nelson has all the capabilities to fill that role. However, Nelson has looked a bit rusty as he was signed late in the offseason. I have no reason to believe that this will carry over into the regular season but it will definitely be something to keep an eye on during Thursday’s game. The Steelers top 3 wideouts in Johnson, Schuster-Smith, and Claypool will each provide a different challenge for Nelson to plan for. His matchups will certainly be worth focusing in on early in the game
3. The left tackle position
Jordan Mailata has stolen the hearts of the Eagles faithful since the day he was drafted int he 7th round in 2018. This is not surprising as Mailata’s backstory of being a rugby player who had never played football before being drafted is a fascinating underdog story and if any city loves underdogs, well you know how that story goes. Mailata hasn’t just been a fan favorite because of his background and personality, he has also improved dramatically on the field. This preseason he was set to go to battle for the starting left tackle spot with first round 2019 draft pick Andre Dillard. Dillard recently suffered a knee injury at practice and is week to week. He will not be playing in Thursday’s game. Mailata has a great opportunity to go out there and show the fans, and the league, what everyone has been talking about at training camp. If Mailata goes out and has a great first preseason game that could just about spell the end for Dillard here in Philly. I look forward to watching Mailata show what he’s got.
4. Running back battle at the bubble
The running back room is deep this season. The room is spearheaded by Miles Sanders. After him the room has Boston Scott, Kerryon Johnson, Kenneth Gainwell, and Jordan Howard. Word out of camp is that the team really likes rookie Kenneth Gainwell. Additionally, it is my understanding that Boston Scott is not at any significant risk to be cut at the end of preseason. Traditionally, teams will carry 3 or 4 running backs on the final roster. For argument’s sake let’s say the Eagles keep 4. Sanders and Scott are likely locks to make the team and Gainwell has been a pass catching machine from various spots on the field. This means that battle at the bubble is likely between two veteran backs: Kerryon Johnson and Jordan Howard. I personally do not know what direction this battle is going to go as it could really go in either player’s direction. I believe each preseason game will being more clarity in this roster spot battle. Thursday will be the first chance both players have to show what they can contribute this season. It will be worth it to keep an eye on how the running backs perform on Thursday as it is going to be a close call on which backs will make the final 53 man roster.
5. Linebackers, Linebackers, Linebackers
It has become a tradition amongst Eagles fans to discuss the linebacker position all offseason. Howie Roseman has a history of not using high draft picks for the position, the Eagles tend not to make big splashy linebacker signings, etc. This season follows in line. Who the starters will likely be at linebacker in week 1 seems fairly decided. However, the linebacker depth is going to be something to watch in this first preseason game. Shaun Bradley will be going into his second year and the Eagles have rookie JaCoby Stevens. These two young linebackers will look to have a lot of playing time in the first preseason game when the starters go to the bench. It will be huge to get a look at how Bradley has developed his game and to get a first look at Stevens in an Eagles uniform. The team did not use high draft picks on either player but it will be big to see what their starting point is for the 2021 season.
Featured Image: Sports Illustrated