Very simply, the preseason is a chance at evaluation and to make projections on what to expect for the upcoming season. The first game of that preseason is to essentially speculate what you have on the roster and how it could fit as part of the puzzle.
It is a learning experience for all involved.
There was a lot to process from the Eagles first preseason game. Here are a few things that we learned from the first game.
Growing pains aside, Nelson Agholor can be very good this season. Yes, he dropped two passes, including a third-down pass he has to have, but his speed on his first catch, a 34-yard touchdown, was very impressive.
"This was a great opportunity for a lot of us," Agholor said. "We are in preseason right now. You learn from the good and bad plays that you make. That is what it is still about. We are still in progression mode. Come game time, you have to capitalize on all the opportunities. Right now, it’s all about getting better."
"I mean the one thing with Nelson is when he gets the ball in his hands, he's real explosive," head coach Chip Kelly said. "So you're anticipating run after the catch with him. You can see when he has the ball in his hands, he's a dynamic player and I think what you saw today is one of the reasons we drafted him so high."
All of the rookies seemed to have a moment. Eric Rowe was beat badly by Phillip Dorsett, but recovered to force a fumble. Jordan Hicks had a key block on Kenjon Barner's punt return touchdown. Randall Evans had a tackle for loss and fumble recovery. Brian Mihalek had one of the team's two sacks.
"The one thing you don't know about any of those guys is what are they going to be like until you get them into a game and that's the encouraging thing," Kelly said. "I thought, really stepped up and made some plays. We are excited about those guys. It's just one step for us, but we feel like we've got a lot of really good film to teach off of with officials, legitimate down and distance, all those things; a lot of good situations that we can get in the meeting room with those guys when they come back on Tuesday and really start to grow this team."
Speaking of Barner, it appears he has emerged as the guy to beat for the fourth running back spot. Barner was particularly featured with DeMarco Murray not playing and limited action for Ryan Mathews and Darren Sproles. Barner showed he was capable on the ground and certainly showed he can be a part of the special teams game.
"If he continues to perform like that, we have to fit him in," Kelly said. "We are going to find a way to keep the best 53 players here but when you get an opportunity to do something, you step up and do it. If he continues to play like that then he's going to put himself in the mix."
It seemed that on almost every defensive play of the first half, Marcus Smith and Emmanuel Acho were around the ball. Smith finished the game with one tackle and Acho had three, but on all plays, they were active and setting things up for success for other members of the run defense. Overall, the front seven depth for the Eagles looks strong, especially since Mychal Kendricks, Kiko Alonso and DeMeco Ryans were all out.
"He's carrying himself in a different manner," Kelly said of Smith. "He was excited about going out and playing in a football game today. We are excited to see where this goes."
"That’s what I’m shooting for," Smith said. "Hopefully, after that, I can become a starter one day. I understand what my role is on this team and I know I’m going to have to play special teams and play on defense as well. That’s what these preseason games are for. I played on special teams and I think I did an okay job on defense, but I definitely want to get better."
Bennie Logan came out of the gate as well. He had three tackles early in the first – his final total for the game as well – but like Smith and Acho, seemed to be involved in every play.
It took the Eagles one half to have another special teams moment. The team that tallied 11 touchdowns on defense and special teams a season ago picked right up where they left off as Barner returned a punt 92 yards for a touchdown. Many of the players who got regular time defensively on Sunday will become special teams fixtures and performed well in increased playing time.
Without seeing Sam Bradford, it's hard to evaluate where the quarterbacks are. Maybe the most we know about the position from the first preseason game is that Bradford better be good and stay healthy. Mark Sanchez looked very rusty and missed several open receivers in his first action. He had the only passing touchdown of the game due in part to Agholor's good catch and run.
Matt Barkley looked improved from last season, but still in a clear fight for a roster spot. His interception may have been the only blemish on a good numbers day, but he too needs to improve on some things.
Tim Tebow looked as you probably would have expected. He made a few solid throws and did run in a touchdown, but on several snaps, he looked skittish and frantic and was sacked three times as a result. That won't work against top defenses. After one week of preseason play, it's safe to say the depth chart order held firm.
Ed Reynolds showed up in a big way in the fourth quarter. The second-year safety grabbed two interceptions, one that set up Tebow's touchdown, to help keep the Colts off the board in the final quarter.
"I was on the practice squad last year, which was a great experience for me in terms of going out and playing wideout, playing corner, playing nickel, and playing safety," Reynolds said. "Coming into this year I just wanted to make sure that I came out and made an impression. In the end it’s just going out there and playing ball, doing your job, and making plays."
"I thought he showed up today," Kelly said. "I think he's a guy that's pushing to make the 53‑man roster and I'm happy for him right now. It's not just our training sessions. It's how do you play when it's live full go and let's go. And I thought Ed did a nice job and put himself in a pretty good situation coming out of game one. We'll see how he grows from here."
Cody Parkey was particularly active, and while he missed one of the new extra points – now from approximately 33 yards – and a 34-yard field goal, he did connect on two 40-yard field goals and a 48-yard field goal. The two misses were alarming, but it's also the first preseason game. Nothing that can't be fixed in a few weeks.
"Obviously it’s all on me. I missed the kicks," Parkey said. "That just shows why we do the preseason – to get some kicks under your belt, to get some plays under your belt and feel natural and feel good going into the first game.
"I think everybody is human, everyone misses a kick here or there. It’s obviously pretty embarrassing to go out there and miss two in the first game."
"He was an All‑Pro Bowl kicker last year. In his first exhibition game, he missed an extra point and a field goal," Kelly said. "He's hit three from 40, too. I wouldn't push the panic button right now."
The Eagles will likely roll out a whole host of new acquisitions next Saturday when they host the Ravens. Bradford and Murray are expected to debut and it is likely that many of the players who sat out Sunday, like Kendricks and Ryans, will return to the field.
Kevin Durso is managing editor for Eagledelphia. Follow him on Twitter @Kevin_Durso.