Points by Ben Simmons during Game 3 victory over Nets

Watch roster battles during preseason opener

Posted by Eric Fisher On August 8

The game means nothing. Still, particularly as we bask in the glow of a Super Bowl victory, it’s exciting to see the Eagles take the field again Thursday (7 p.m.) against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Yes, it’s a preseason game. But it’s still awesome to see the Eagles run out of the tunnel at Lincoln Financial Field. It’s a sign that meaningful games are just around the corner.

On the downside, as was the case with Sunday’s open practice, fans won’t see quarterbacks Carson Wentz and Nick Foles, the Super Bowl MVP, taking any snaps. The quarterbacks are likely to be Nate Sufeld and Joe Callahan. Who knows? Maybe former college quarterback Greg Ward Jr. will take some snaps.

But the absence of the top two quarterbacks and many starters at other positions doesn’t mean the game is meaningless. Check out Gordon Glantz’s “Eagles flying under the radar” for players to watch during the preseason.

Meanwhile, as is our tradition, here are questions to consider while watching Thursday’s game.

Who won’t play?

Other than Carson Wentz, we may have to guess at this question. Nick Foles, who has missed practices this week with “upper body soreness” or muscle spasms, depending on the report, is unlikely to play. Tight end Zach Ertz, who returned to practice Tuesday after missing three in a row, is also unlikely to play. Defensive end Brandon Graham, defensive tackle Tim Jernigan, wide receiver Alshon Jeffery and safety Chris Maragos are on the physically unable to perform list, so you can rule them out. It would be surprising if veteran players coming off major injuries, such as left tackle Jason Peters and running back Darren Sproles, see any action. If we catch a glimpse of Jason Kelce or Fletcher Cox, it likely will be brief.

What should we expect from Nate Sudfeld?

Probably inconsistency, which is what observers have seen throughout training camp. What the Eagles and their fans would like to see is that Sudfeld is a viable and reliable option at backup quarterback if Carson Wentz hasn’t recovered enough from knee surgery to start the first week of the regular season.

Who will win the battle to replace Mychal Kendricks?

Keep an eye on linebackers Nathan Gerry and Kamu Grugier-Hill, both of whom have reportedly been impressive during training camp. Corey Nelson, signed as a free agent, is another linebacker making a bid for a starting role. While watching the linebacker position, it will be interesting to see if middle linebacker Jordan Hicks, coming off yet another season-ending injury, will see any action.

How good is Dallas Goedert?

Regardless of whether or not Zach Ertz plays, we see a lot of Goedert, a rookie tight end. The Eagles trade up in the second round (No. 49 overall) to select Goedert, perhaps stealing him away from the Cowboys, who had the 50th pick.

Who will shine in the running back competition?

With Jay Ajayi, Corey Clement and Darren Sproles virtual locks for roster spots, former Eagles draft picks Wendell Smallwood and Donnel Pumphrey are battling with newcomers Matt Jones and Josh Adams for what might be one roster spot. Thursday’s game certainly isn’t meaningless to the reserve running backs.

Which reserve safety will play the best?

Malcolm Jenkins and Rodney McLeod are the starters, but there could be opportunities to make the roster as a backup safety. The Eagles recently brought back veteran Corey Graham, but Chris Maragos, who is also an excellent special teams player, is on the physically unable to perform list. Hard-hitting Tre Sullivan, Jeremy Reaves and Stephen Roberts are vying for attention during the preseason.

Who will excel at cornerback?

Ronald Darby and Jalen Mills appear to be the starters. There is, however, a lot of competition behind them. Sidney Jones, who slipped into the second round last season because of an Achilles tendon injury suffered before the draft, is a candidate to be the nickel cornerback, but he has competition from De’Vante Bausby and Avonte Maddox.

How good is Matt Pryor?

The massive Pryor (6-foot-7, 338 pounds) has been receiving rave reviews during training camp. It’s possible he starts at guard on Thursday. At the very least, he should see a lot of playing time. It’s particularly difficult for fans to evaluate offensive line play during preseason games, but try to keep an eye on Pryor.

What will kickoffs look like?

With new rules, such as preventing members of the kickoff team from getting a running start, there should be more kickoff returns than last season, where a touchback was the dominant outcome. The change in rules reportedly has the Eagles considering using Darren Sproles as a kickoff returner this season, but don’t expect to see Sproles in that role Thursday. Some of the backup running backs and receivers fighting for a roster spot can give themselves a boost with a strong preseason performance as a kick returner.

Is Cameron Johnston the answer at punter?

The retirement of Donnie Jones – before he unretired – has left the Eagles with a new punter for the first time in six year. Cameron Johnston is the unchallenged successor to Jones. We know Johnston can punt. It might be more revealing to watch how well he functions as the holder for Jake Elliott on field goals and extra points.


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