With the pre-season less than a week away, starting on Thursday, August 8th, here are some things to look out for. While it is important to keep a level head and understand that the pre-season does not always translate to the regular season (everybody remembers the Sam Bradford game?), there are still important takeaways from it. 

How Does Carson Look?

This one is low-hanging fruit, but obviously, Wentz is the key to the Eagles season. The reviews have all been positive so far in training camp, but things are always different in a game setting. Doug Pederson has not yet confirmed how much Wentz will play in the pre-season, but the assumption is that he will get on the field at least a little bit. Wentz has stated that he is healthy enough to play in the first game, but that it is up to Doug to determine if he plays, and if so how much.

After back to back season-ending injuries, does Wentz look healthy and comfortable in the pocket? He has been sharp all off-season, but, as opposed to being off-limits during practice, he can actually be hit in these games. It will be important to see if Wentz is able to stand in the pocket and deliver without getting antsy. Aside from the health aspect, it will be interesting to see the chemistry he shows with DeSean Jackson. The two have hooked up often during practice, so the hope is that it will translate to the games as well. 

12 Personnel Offense

There was a lot of talk in the off-season about what Pederson will do with the offense to get Goedert on the field. The second-year tight end showed tremendous potential in his rookie year and has only improved heading into his second season. With him and all-pro Zach Ertz at the tight end position, the Eagles have two TEs that deserve to be on the field. Pederson’s solution to this problem was to have the offense run 12 personnel. The Eagles have been using this a lot during training camp, which shows their commitment to Goedert.

The question is how often will they run it in the actual games. While the Eagles will not use their full playbook in the pre-season, if they are committed to using 12 personnel in the regular season they will make sure to use it on occasion in the pre-season to get valuable reps in. Per Sharp Football Stats in 2018 they used 12 personnel 35% of the time, which was 2nd in the league but expect that number to rise in 2019

Starting Cornerbacks

One of the most interesting developments from the pre-season will be who lines up wherein the secondary. With Ronald Darby and Jalen Mills still on the shelf, the starting spots (including slot) have gone to Sidney Jones, Rasul Douglas, and Avonte Maddox. Douglas has lined up solely on the outside while Jones and Maddox have switched off between the slot and outside, but most often it has been Jones outside and Maddox in the slot.

The prediction here is that is how it will shape up in the pre-season as well- with Jones and Douglas outside and Maddox manning the slot. All 3 of these players have had encouraging starts to train camp and it will be important to see if they can keep it up during the pre-season.

With that said, Darby is expected to return by week 1 and will take one of the outside spots once he does. Maddox will most likely stay in the slot, so it will be between Douglas and Jones to take the other outside spot. Both have made their case for why they should be the starter, but the guess here is that it will go to Jones. He has higher potential and, given the draft capital the Eagles spent on him, they will give him every chance to be the starter. 

Which Young Defensive End Steps Up?

The Eagles have a stacked defensive line, but what they don’t have is a lot of young talent at the DE position. They have Derek Barnett, who is only 23 and entering his 3rd year, but that is it. Everybody else that is 25 or younger is essentially a lottery ticket that the Eagles did not invest a lot in and who has not contributed much. These players include Josh Sweat, Joe Ostman, Shareef Miller, and Daeshon Hall. Of all the names listed, Sweat has the highest chance of becoming a contributor. Sweat was drafted in the 4th round last year but had somewhat of a lost rookie year. He played in 9 games and only had 1 tackle.

With that said, he is the most athletic of the crew and offers the most potential. He needed the year to learn the technicalities of the position and to gain weight, so heading into year 2 the Eagles have high expectations. He has played well so far in training camp, but the real test will come in the games. Other than Sweat, Ostman has also been turning heads during camp, but unfortunately, he just hurt his knee in practice and had to be carted off.

As of this writing, the Eagles have not yet announced what the injury is, but it did not look good on the field. Regardless of the injury, he profiles more as a practice squad player than a regular contributor for the defense. He spent the 2018 season on the practice squad and does not have the prerequisite athletic traits needed to succeed as a DE. 

Who Steps up at Linebacker?

The Eagles are flush with talent and depth at almost every position except for linebacker. Nigel Bradham is their best player, but he has been sidelined recovering from an off-season toe injury. He should be back by week 1, but with him out Kamu Grugier-Hill had consistently been their best LB in practice. Unfortunately, Kamu hurt his knee and is expected to be out for 6-8 weeks.

With their two best LBs currently on the shelf, it will be curious to see who (if anybody) steps up in their absence. The candidates are Nate Gerry, Zach Brown, and L.J. Fort. Gerry has the skill-set that the Eagles covet in an LB in that he is good in coverage. He was a former safety in college but he added weight once he got to the NFL since the Eagles converted him to linebacker. The issue with Gerry is that he is still underweight for the position and struggles to shed blocks on running plays. Brown is essentially the inverse of Gerry in that his strengths are in stopping the run but he is a liability in coverage.

If somehow Gerry and Brown could morph into one player, then the Eagles would have the perfect LB, but TBD on that. Fort profiles more as a special teams player than someone who deserves snaps on defense. He spent the past 4 seasons with the Steelers and iffy to even make the 53 man roster since the Eagles would receive a 4th round comp pick if he gets released. 

Potential Trades

This isn’t necessarily something to watch out for during the actual games, but with Howie Roseman as the GM there is always the chance of a trade going down. Not all have been big in nature, but every year as GM the Eagles have made a trade in the time period between the start of training camp and the regular season. In 2017 he traded Jordan Matthews and a 3rd round pick to the Bills for Darby, and who could forget the Sam Bradford trade to the Vikings in 2016 for a 1st and 4th round pick.

With Kamu going down the Eagles have a need at LB, and with an excess of offensive linemen, the possibility remains of a player swap at those positions. Linemen that the Eagles could make available via trade are Halapoulivaati Vaitai and Stefen Wisniewski.

Featured Photo: Matt Rourke / AP
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