The Eagles officially kick off the 2018 NFL preseason against their in-state rival, Pittsburgh Steelers at Lincoln Financial Field on Thursday night. Unlike this time last year, the Eagles are coming into this season as the defending Super Bowl champions.
How will they handle the pressure? We will find out in the next month when the regular season begins.
However, in this first preseason game, Eagles fans will get a chance to see third-string quarterback Nate Sudfeld extensively with both Carson Wentz and Nick Foles sitting out.
Among Sudfeld starting, there are numerous storylines to keep an eye out for on the field.
Here are three things to watch out for in Eagles’ preseason opener:
1. Nate Sudfeld – Aforementioned, Sudfeld will see a lot of snaps against the Steelers, with the fourth-string quarterback Joe Callahan as his backup. The Eagles coaching staff seems very excited to get Sudfeld on the field with the first team offense.
The last time we saw Sudfeld play was last season against the Dallas Cowboys in Week 17. In that game against Dallas, the former Indiana University quarterback completed 19-of-23 passes for 134 yards.
At this past year’s NFL combine, Eagles executive vice president of football operations Howie Roseman spoke highly of Sudfeld and what he brings to the field.
“Nate Sudfeld has a tremendous skill set, not only to be a No. 2 in this league, but we think he can develop into a starter,” Roseman said (h/t Allentown Morning Call). “He’s incredibly smart, athletic, he has a good frame and can make all of the throws.”
If Eagles truly believe that Sudfeld can develop into a starter, then it starts with this first preseason game against Pittsburgh.
2. Running back battle – Heading into this season, it is all but certain that the Eagles’ top three running backs will be Jay Ajayi, Corey Clement, and Darren Sproles. But there is a question about who will win the fourth spot on the roster?
The potential candidates for the job are Josh Adams, Wendell Smallwood, Donnel Pumphrey, and Matt Jones. Each of these running backs does something specifically well and will need to show in these four preseason contests that they can be multi-dimensional.
For guys such as Smallwood and Pumphrey, they are on the roster bubble because they have not lived up to expectations. Pumphrey had a disappointing preseason last year, while Smallwood fell out of the running back rotation last season, due to the play of Clement.
Out of the four running backs, it should be interesting to watch and see who will make the most of their opportunities.
3. Under the radar guys – Outside of the well-known players on the team, there are a few under the radar players, who are also worth keeping an eye out for against Pittsburgh.
On the offensive side of the ball, wide receiver Rashard Davis is a player who has stood out at training camp to this point. The former JMU playmaker joined the team as a UDFA last year and was on the practice squad.
Davis is the type of player that can affect the game with his speed. He is a weapon on special teams and that is definitely one way to make the 53-man roster.
Another under the radar player to watch is wide receiver Tim Wilson. Wilson just like Davis is a fast wide receiver that can make plays when given a small ounce of space.
The 24-year-old Wilson dominated the competition at East Stroudsburg University. In his senior season, Wilson racked up 53 receptions for 821 yards and four touchdowns.
Finally, Tre Sullivan is a safety that many folks are high on in training camp. The former Shepherd University product joined the Eagles last year as an undrafted free agent.
Last preseason, Sullivan made his presence felt immediately in the first game as he laid a jarring hit on a Green Bay Packers wide receiver.
Before the Eagles recently re-signed veteran Corey Graham, Sullivan was the third safety in the Eagles’ first-team defense. If Sullivan can carry over what he has done well in training camp to the preseason, he will be playing a considerable amount of meaningful snaps this season.