PHILADELPHIA – The first preseason game of any NFL season can be a tedious exercise, a necessary eight-to-10 play evil for the veterans — at least the ones not named Sam Bradford — and an opportunity for young unknowns to catch the eye of a coaching staff that regards them only as a useful body to abuse in the 90-degree heat of an August practice.
Tim Tebow and his national fan club overblowing every single thing the
former Heisman Trophy winner does, the third-team quarterback
competition was the obvious storyline during Sunday’s 36-10 Eagles rout
of the Indianapolis Colts. But, here’s the other areas you should have
been paying attention to:
HOLDING DOWN THE FORT: With Zach
Ertz gone until at least Week 1 of the regular season, an optimistic
timetable if his core-muscle injury was indeed sports-hernia surgery as
most surmise because Dr. William Myers was involved, the young tight
ends behind Brent Celek become far more important.
man Trey Burton steps into the backup role for now and serves as more of
a versatile h-back because he can line up in the backfield or in the
slot. At just 6-foot-3 and 235 pounds, however, Burton isn’t moving many
off the ball as an in-line blocker. He can play a gloried fullback
role, however, and had a few nice lead blocks against the Colts, while
he also got behind the Indy defense on Philadelphia’s first offensive
play but Mark Sanchez badly hung the football, resulting in an
The Birds, meanwhile, brought in three rookie free
agents at the position to ostensibly fight for a practice squad spot, a
reality that could turn into a regular roster spot for at least a few
weeks as Ertz convalesces. Michigan State product Andrew Gleichert,
Central Florida alum Justin Tukes and ex-UTEP starter Eric Tomlinson are
all two-way tight ends in the Celek-mode rather than difference makers
in the passing game. Tomlinson was the clear winner on Sunday, hauling
in 5 catches for 61 yards.
THE YOUNG RECEIVERS: For all
the talk about the ceiling of players like Nelson Agholor and Josh Huff,
the only proven commodity among the Eagles’ young receiving corps is
Jordan Matthews and the second-year wideout needs to step up as the true
No. 1 on this team, a notion that is undermined by the coaching staff
which has pigeonholed the ex-Vanderbilt star as a slot option.
caught two passes for 44 yards on five targets in limited action
against the Colts and was lost in the shuffle due to the highlight-reel
athleticism of Agholor, the team’s 2015 first-round pick. The former
Southern California standout basically lived up to his scouting report.
Like advertised, he’s a sudden athlete who can really stick his foot in
the ground and go as evidenced by his brilliant 34-yard catch-and-run TD
reception on a shaky Sanchez throw.
"It felt like a pass that I was targeted on in practice," the rookie said. "Good habits on the practice field carried over to the game. Sanchez and I connected on multiple hitches in practice and it wasn't any different today."
Agholor's also inconsistent, though, and needs to eliminate the drops (he had two Sunday) and mental mistakes.
"I need to just work on just finding the ball and not looking who is throwing the ball," he admitted. "I think my eyes just went to the quarterback. At the end of the day , I like the fact that (the drops) happened today. It's a good thing to learn from."
Chip Kelly said all four entrants in the ongoing right-guard
competition still have a chance but as expected Andrew Gardner got the
nod in Game 1 and it’s his job to lose now if he can hold off the
comeback attempt of John Moffitt.
Matt Tobin and Julian
Vandervelde have taken a step back in the four-way competition and have
an uphill battle to get back in the mix. Gardner was solid if
unspectacular against the Colts and if the leader in the clubhouse
continues that narrative, it’s his gig.
Travis Long’s ACL injury created a vacuum behind starters Brandon Graham
and Connor Barwin at outside linebacker. The Birds believed Long was
ready to take the next step and step into Graham’s former role as the
third edge player from last season when Trent Cole was still around.
Long injury seemed like good news for former 2014 first-round bust
Marcus Smith but Bill Davis and Co. are still wary of counting on the
former Louisville pass rusher and are moving Vinny Curry outside in
order to get his pass-rushing skills on the field more. As a 280-pound
defensive end, though, it’s hard to imagine Curry being able to play in
space consistently.Conversely, Smith may have changed the thought
process on him at least a little bit against Indianapolis with his best
effort as a professional, including one series where he assisted on a
run stop, was solid in coverage and got after Matt Hasselbeck with a
solid pass rush. If you didn’t know the back story of No. 90, you might
have thought he was a true, three-down linebacker.
To the surprise of no one Earl Wolff wasn’t dressed Sunday, meaning
special teams stalwarts Chris Maragos and Chris Prosinski were the top
two options behind starters Malcolm Jenkins and Walter Thurmond at
safety. That’s a level of depth that’s just not acceptable in this
league, making the position the one spot to focus on at the final
cutdown for a potential waiver wire pickup …. unless Ed Reynolds
continues to show up.
The former fifth-round pick out of Stanford
hasn’t exactly been Philadelphia’s best practice player but he showed
up big on Gameday with a pair of interceptions and three PBUs.
"It felt amazing," Reynolds said. "It made me feel like I was back in college again. That was my thing in college -- to go out there and be a ball-hawk and give our offense more opportunities. It felt good."
Granted, Reynolds' heroics weren't against ex-Cardinal teammate Andrew Luck, TY Hilton and Frank Gore but his nose for the football shouldn't be dismissed because the Eagles are desperate for any help at the position.
"I just need to be conistent," Reynolds surmised. "It can't just be his one week. I need to show up this week, then show up the week after that, and hopefully carry it over into the regulaqr season and then into the playoffs."
PARKEY PANIC:Under any circumstances, it was going to be hard for Cody Parkey to live up to his impressive rookie season.
was plenty of good against the team that originally signed him as a
rookie free agent out of Auburn last season, including a 48-yard field
goal in the third quarter but there was also plenty of bad, as he
misfired on one of the now extended PAT tries as well as a 34-yard FG
Philadelphia fans were a little spoiled with Parkey’s
performance last season and you can expect a bit of market correction
this time around.
TEBOW TIME: Kelly’s assertion that Tim
Tebow is not a gimmick and rather a true signal caller in this league
foreshadows his ultimate intent when it comes to the third spot. The
Eagles would love to trade Matt Barkley in order to hand the job to
Tebow and as injuries continue to pile up around the league that remains
the most likely scenario.
If nothing materializes, however,
Kelly would be forced to cut Barkley in order to move toward Tebow, a
reality that would be much easier if the popular former Hesiman Trophy
winner is at least competent in the preseason.
If the battle were
a true competition, Barkley wins going away in Week 1 and was by far
the Eagles’ most impressive signal caller against Indianapolis,
finishing 12-of-20 for 192 yards with an interception. He’s gotten some
of the arm strength back that has been missing since his shoulder injury
at Southern California and while he’ll never be Brett Favre, Barkley
belongs in this league.
You probably can’t say the same for
Tebow, who still has the terribly elongated throwing motion and
mechanics that remain subpar. Meanwhile, despite the talk of Tebow being
a great runner he’s not exactly Michael Vick when tucking the football,
although he set off his acolytes with a 7-yard TD run late. Overall
Tebow finished 6-of-12 for 69 yards and added another 15 on the ground
with the TD.
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for
973ESPN.com. You can reach him at email@example.com or on