Steelers vs. Eagles: 5 Things to Watch
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) - It's not exactly February in Minneapolis with Bill Belichick and Tom Brady standing on the opposite sideline and the game's biggest prize on the line but the pads will be on Thursday night at Lincoln Financial Field when the Eagles kick off the preseason against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Instead of the Lombardi Trophy, it's Keystone State bragging rights on the line, at least for the few fans left who actually believe preseason results matter.
The real goal for Doug Pederson and his staff is far different and it revolves around evaluation.
Here are the five things you should be looking at from a Philadelphia perspective:
CAN PUNTER CAMERON JOHNSTON BE CONSISTENT?
Some have harped on Cameron Johnston's occasional flubs in practice not understanding that Dave Fipp is trying to school the young punter on directional kicking. When the Australian native kicks it down Broadway he's fine but when he needs to angle the ball and help out his gunners, it's been hit and miss, something that defines just about every young punter. As far as holding for Jake Elliott everything has been copasetic this far but a live environment is a different animal.
"Extremely high," Pederson said when asked about his confidence in Johnston, who is expected to replace savvy veteran Donnie Jones. "You watch him, he’ll have four or five really good kicks. There will be an occasional one that will go awry just a little bit. But that’s all part of his plan, too. Part of his progression with what we’re asking him to do directionally, right, left, try to get him outside the numbers. It’s all new. So, he’s learning that and done a good job."
ISAAC SEUMALO'S SNAPS
One of the adventures of camp has been the shotgun snaps of Isaac Seumalo from day-to-day. Usually, the third-year pro has at least one airmail special per session, something that typically happens on running plays when Seumalo is trying to get to his assignment as quickly as possible. Jeff Stoutland continues to rave over Seumalo's versatility but it's clear that the Eagles believe that center is his best position and with Jason Kelce and Stefen Wisniewski here that's not exactly a major need. The calendar has already turned to August and Howie Roseman is known for making a trade or two at this point. With a lot of teams needing O-Line help around the league Seumalo could be auditioning for other clubs.
SUDFELD THE STARTER
The Eagles think a lot of Nate Sudfeld and August will largely be his to show what kind of progress the lanky 6-foot-6 signal caller has made as a developmental prospect. When you last saw Sudfeld against the Dallas Cowboys in the meaningless regular-season finale, it was a dink-and-dunk fest with the checkdown quickly becoming his go-to option. In the preseason environment, it's time to take the shrink wrap off and see if Sudfeld can push the ball down the field a little bit with an eye on being the backup in 2019.
A NICKEL FOR YOUR THOUGHTS
Throughout camp, Jim Schwartz has essentially rotated Sidney Jones and De'Vante Bausby as the starting slot cornerback each day and this will be their first opportunity to show off what they've learned at a very complicated position. Obviously, Jones has the pedigree so Bausby would likely need a preseason knockout to win this position battle.
The new kickoff rule, the new helmet rule ... here's hoping your favorite color is yellow. When veteran line judge Mark Perlman met with the Philadelphia-area media to discuss this year's drastic rule changes he said: "don't blame the messenger on three occasions." Unfortunately for the officials that message always gets lost in translation.
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at email@example.com or on Twitter @JFMcMullen