What to Watch in the Eagles’ Preseason Opener
The Eagles will begin this preseason taking on the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field.
While this preseason game is nowhere near as meaningful as the teams week 16 meeting last season, that doesn't mean it's entirely meaningless, either.
Here are three things to watch on Friday in the first of Philadelphia's four preseason games:
1. The men on the outside of Philadelphia's defense:
That would be Trent Cole, Connor Barwin and Marcus Smith. Cole and Barwin are the starters with Smith playing a backup role. However, Smith is making progress quickly. He was a promising three-star quarterback recruit to Louisville, before switching his focus to linebacker. He broke out as a senior with 18.5 tackles for loss, 14.5 sacks, and four forced fumbles. Even if Smith plays reasonably well this preseason, it will be tough to see him passing Cole or Barwin on the depth chart, but one thing is for sure, everyone's eyes will be on the team's first round pick.
While the Eagles linebacking core might not have an all-pro or pro-bowl level player, Barwin should be more involved as a pass rusher this season and Cole remains locked in as a starting outside linebacker after a solid second half of the season that saw him rack up eight sacks in the second half of last season.
2. QB or not QB?
No player on Philadelphia's roster has more at stake than Matt Barkley, currently the team's No. 3 quarterback. The former fourth-round pick has everything a team could want in a quarterback in terms of size, but lacks arm strength and foot speed. At the NFL level, his consistency is a question, particularly when it comes to passing accuracy, something he didn't have a problem with at the college level. Barkley's inability to drive throws outside the numbers has been a problem, he ended the season with four INT's and averaged just 6.1 yards per pass. While Philadelphia has tended to start the season with three quarterbacks on the roster under Chip Kelly, keeping Barkley around as the No. 3 quarterback would be a sign the team still has some plans for him in the future. But for that to happen, Barkley needs to show not just his promise but his progress during these exhibition games.
3. New additions to the Defense:
Philadelphia added two key members to the defense this season, adding veterans Malcolm Jenkins and Nolan Carroll in free agency. That means competition at the cornerback and safety positions on this team. Jenkins, will be the starter at one of the safety spots and is being counted on to provided leadership on the defensive side of the ball. Carroll was brought in to provide competition to incumbents Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher, who signed in free agency last offseason. Carroll has been impressive during camp but doesn't look likely to play in tonight's game according to Kelly.
"Nolan has got a muscle deal in his ‑‑ I don't know if it's a hamstring or a groin, but just a couple‑day thing and he should be back soon, I don't expect him to play Friday, no."
Other newcomers to watch on defense are rookies Beau Allen, Jaylen Watkins, Taylor Hart and Marcus Smith.
Expect Allen to compete for snaps right out of the gate in the Eagles' base defense, Watkins (5-foot-11, 194) has the size to play on the outside, Hart will be groomed as a run-stopping specialist who can push the pocket in, while Smith could be an impact player at some point later in the season.
Programming note: Pregame coverage of the Eagles' preseason opener will begin at 7 p.m. on 97.3 ESPN. Kickoff is at 8.