By Matt Szczypiorski, Sports Talk Philly Contributing Writer
Eagles football is finally back! For the first time since an agonizing playoff loss in New Orleans, the Eagles will be taking the field against a team not wearing their colors. The Eagles will be hosting the Tennessee Titans at Lincoln Financial Field at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday night.
Now, obviously this game doesn't count, given that it is a preseason game. However, it would be foolish to think that because this game doesn't mean anything toward the standings, that the game doesn't matter. I'll be highlighting some things to keep an eye on in Thursday night's contest.
Who's Playing Quarterback Thursday Night?
According to NBC Sports Philadelphia's Reuben Frank, "Everything points to Wentz sitting Thursday night against the Titans." After Tuesday's practice, Eagles head coach Doug Pederson wouldn't commit to saying whether Carson Wentz would suit up or not on Thursday night.
If Pederson's past is any indication, though, it wouldn't be at all surprising if Wentz doesn't take the field. Last season, when Wentz was still rehabbing his torn ACL, Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles didn't put on his pads for the Eagles preseason opener either.
Furthermore, the Eagles have some uncertainty at the back-up quarterback position. With the aforementioned Foles in Jacksonville, the Eagles have a pretty sizable hole to fill. Currently, the Eagles have three quarterbacks competing for the job, with Nate Sudfeld, veteran Cody Kessler, and 2019 fifth-round pick Clayton Thorson.
Sudfeld seems to be the odds-on favorite to secure the position, but Pederson isn't going to just hand the job to him. According to Frank, Pederson wants to get a long look at Sudfeld, "The goal would be to get him as much time under center in these four games," said Pederson.
This would make sense, given that Sudfled has attempted just 25 regular-season passes in three years. It would be great for Sudfeld to get some work against some of Tennessee's defensive starters if Wentz does indeed stay on the sidelines for the entirety of Thursday night's game.
The Debut of Some Interesting Eagles Rookies
It's always interesting to see how the rookies fare against their first professional competition. This year, the Eagles have two guys in particular who fans should be excited to see play for the first time.
Obviously, there is first-round pick Andre Dillard, the offensive lineman from Washington State. Don't be surprised if the Eagles stick Dillard at either tackle position. I am most interested to see how he performs at left tackle, given that is the position he played in college.
Also, the Eagles drafted him with the intention of having him be Jason Peters' heir apparent at left tackle. But, anyone who has watched the Eagles play the past two seasons knows that Peters is going to get hurt at some point. He exited a multitude of games last season even though he started all 16 games. Therefore, it'd be encouraging to see if Dillard shows some flashes of his potential given that his number will most likely be called upon at some point this season.
Then, there is the player I am most excited to see this week, 2019 second-round pick Miles Sanders. According to multiple sources who have been in attendance at Eagles practices, Sanders looks like the real deal at the running back position. If what everyone has been reporting is evident on Thursday night and throughout the preseason, the Eagles will be entering the regular season with a dangerous backfield.
Sanders comes out of Penn State having every tool a team would love from a running back. He can run downhill, through and around defenders, catch the ball out of the backfield, as well as protect the quarterback well on blitz pickup. He has tantalizing intangibles, now he needs to put them on full display.
No player has changed my mind more than Miles Sanders has during training camp. Thought he was good before camp. After seeing him for a week, he looks on a completely different level than all of the other running backs. #Eagles— Eliot Shorr-Parks (@EliotShorrParks) August 5, 2019
Will Someone Step up at Linebacker?
After expected starter Kamu Grugier-Hill went down this week in camp with a grade three MCL sprain, the Eagles have a decent sized hole to fill at outside linebacker. Grugier-Hill's injury is unfortunate for many reasons, one of which being that he was reportedly off to a very strong start in camp.
Another reason the injury is unfortunate is that the Eagles are now suddenly thin at an important position, with Grugier-Hill's return unknown. With Nigel Bradham nursing a sore foot and Paul Worrilow still recovering from a knee injury he suffered last season, the Eagles are desperate for someone to step up.
The Birds have just six healthy linebackers at the moment: Zach Brown, Nathan Gerry, L.J. Fort, Alex Singleton, T.J. Edwards, and the newly signed Asantay Brown. None of these names really jump off the screen nor are they evenly remotely household names, yet these guys can be productive. Nathan Gerry is entering his third season with Philadelphia, and started two games last season at outside linebacker. He has reportedly been playing well during the early days of training camp.
Someone who has reportedly not been performing well so far in training camp has been Zach Brown. The Eagles signed him to a one-year deal in the offseason hoping he would provide the Eagles with solid depth at linebacker. Many fans, including myself, thought this was a good signing.
Brown started camp getting third team reps, which was surprising to me given his veteran pedigree. For a guy who is entering his eight season in the NFL and started 12 games last season in Washington, I would have expected him to at the very least to be getting second team reps. Supposedly, Brown has not looked good at all during camp and has not picked up the team's defense as fast as expected. Now, Brown is being forced into first-team reps with all the injuries at the position.
Zach Brown with third team reps, gets up the middle but misses Boston Scott on a tackle, then the RB shakes off two more defenders for a big gain. #Eagles— Mike Kaye (@mike_e_kaye) August 3, 2019
According to Eagles beat writer Daniel Gallen, Gerry and Brown opened 11-on-11 drills as the linebackers in nickel defense, with L.J. Fort joining them when they go to their base 4-3 look during Tuesday's practice. Expect to see those three guys as the starters Thursday night, and expect them to play a significant amount.
Time: 7:30 p.m.
Radio: 94.1 FM WIP
Online: NFL Gamepass