Doug Pederson gets his first game action at the helm Thursday (7 p.m., CSN) when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers come to Philadelphia.While every preseason game should be taken in stride, a number of factors are coming together to create almost as much anticipation for this preseason opener as the regular season one against Cleveland.
Here are three things to keep an eye on.
Most notably, Matt Tobin will be starting at left tackle while Jason Peters sits this game out.Peters’ injury is not serious, and Pederson has said he expects him to play in the second preseason game against the Steelers.Peters’ health has been an issue for a year now, but the bigger immediate concern is that NFL.com is reporting right tackle Lane Johnson, with a freshly minted $66 million deal is facing a 10 game suspension for PED use.
Johnson is appealing, but already underwent a four game suspension for the same offense in 2014.If Johnson is forced to miss over half the season, it could spell disaster for the Eagles.Tobin may well be called on to replace Johnson at right tackle going forward.If not, then Dennis Kelly or rookie Halapoulivaati Vaitai could be drafted to fill the spot.
Pederson has had praise for Tobin’s performance this spring, going so far as to say he’s a primary reason Johnson is staying on the right side of the line in Peters’ absence.
“Tobin has done a nice job filling in over there,” Pederson said. “I think Tobin’s having a great camp [and] really has stepped in. So we haven’t felt the need, offensively, to move Lane over there at this time.”
No position group has seen more flux this off-season than the linebackers.The change to a 4-3 defense from a 3-4 has left the Eagles thin at the position.Behind starters Mychal Kendricks, Jordan Hicks, and Nigel Bradham lies a group of rookies and Najee Goode.
Hicks got off to a tremendous rookie campaign in 2015 before tearing his pec and missing the second half of the season.The defense fell apart in his absence.Thursday will be his first game action since the injury.
Kendricks is missing Thursday’s game but is expected back for the second week of the preseason, like Peters.Pederson said Kendrick’s injury history doesn’t concern him and he expects Kendricks to practice Saturday.
Goode will start for Kendricks.
“Najee Goode is a young veteran, but I think he does a great job in that role,” said defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz. “I think we’ve got a good mix of younger players and older players.”
Schwartz added, “I think Joe Walker has done a very good job of handling all the stuff that goes along with being a Mike linebacker.”
Walker is the Eagles seventh round draft pick.
Earlier this week there was chatter the Eagles may sign Stephen Tulloch, a 31-year-old who played under Schwartz in Detroit.Those rumors have chilled, but if the Eagles’ backups struggle Thursday they could quickly become enlivened again.
How will Sam Bradford be received by the home crowd?The vitriol directed his way during his ill-advised attempt at a trade demand seems a distant memory now, but it was omnipresent a few months ago.
Bradford has had his good and bad moments in camp, but looks like the best quarterback on the roster, as is to be expected.He shouldn’t see more than a series or two on the field Thursday, but it will be enough time for the fans to make their feelings known.
More exciting will be the debut of Carson Wentz, who Pederson said will see the majority of playing time in the second half.
Pederson’s expectations for the rookie weren’t on a short list.
“He’s been exposed to all the situations in practice,” Pederson said. “It’s just now execution. I want to see the timing, the accuracy, and the decision making with him. I want to see him being able to move our offense. I just want to see that execution. I want to see him lead the football team; especially in this first game.”
Nevertheless, the coach has faith in the player he took second overall in the draft.
“He’s very comfortable with where he is at,” Pederson said. “He is getting better every day.I’ve seen a lot of young quarterbacks that come in and struggle mentally with the terminology and the overall volume of offense that we have in at this time, but I haven’t seen that from him at all. We haven’t had any communication breakdowns in the huddle with him.”