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August 19, 2021

Five things to watch in the Eagles' second preseason game vs. the Patriots

Philadelphia Eagles training camp got off to a rocky start, at least offensively, but after a solid performance against the Steelers in the first preseason game, and a good showing in two joint practices against the New England Patriots, the Birds will try to keep their momentum going in their second preseason game Thursday night. Here are five things I'll be watching.

1) Jalen Hurts, duh

Hurts made our "stock up" list on Wednesday, as he has been notably improved over the last week or two. The offense looked ugly at times early in camp, but Hurts' accuracy has improved along the way, he has command of the offense, and it appears that some teammates are beginning to believe in him.

Hurts has always been a likeable player with positive intangibles such as leadership, poise, and physical/mental toughness, so it's not a huge surprise that players are gravitating toward him. But what will ultimately matter is what he shows on the field, and his confidence appears to be growing as he has strung together some encouraging performances.

2) Jalen Reagor has made some highlight reel catches in 1-on-1's, but...

Can we see a big play in a real game?

During the 2020 season, Reagor caught a 55-yard bomb Week 1 against Washington. The rest of the season, he had three catches of 20+ yards, and no more catches of 40+ yards. In training camp practices this year, Reagor has looked great in 1-on-1's, but he has not been as productive as a number of other Eagles receivers in 11-on-11's. 

Reagor has been occasionally great. Can he also be consistently good? 

3) Will the Eagles try to showcase Zach Ertz?

If the Eagles are going to trade Ertz, ideally that would happen before 53-man cutdowns. In the first preseason game, the Eagles seemingly tried to get the ball in Ertz's hands as he was targeted three times in limited action. He had two catches for 20 yards and a drop. 

Ertz has had a good training camp, and if the Eagles were to put together a tape of his play during practice for potential suitors, they could pretty easily demonstrate that he can still run routes and catch the football. Still, it'd be more convincing if he made some nice plays in a game setting.

4) Can someone show that they can be the backup LT?

If the Eagles were to trade Andre Dillard, they would need a competent backup at LT behind Jordan Mailata. Personally, I would have more trust in Brett Toth, Jack Driscoll, or Le'Raven Clark fill in at LT than Dillard. He's been that bad.

I'm curious to see how the backup LT reps are split in this second preseason game. Toth played 35 snaps in the first preseason game, the most of anyone on the offensive side of the ball, an indication that he is getting a long look from the team.

5) The young bucks on defense

I'll have my eye on the following five young defenders:

  1. DE Milton Williams: Williams had a very encouraging showing in the first preseason game. Can he can repeat it?
  2. LB Patrick Johnson: The transition that Johnson has made from (nearly) full-time edge rusher at Tulane to (primarily) off-ball linebacker in the pros has gone well so far. Johnson still has to make the team, but he's gotten some first-team looks, and the coaching staff seems to like him. 
  3. LB Shaun Bradley: In looking at Bradley's 2020 season, I saw some nice things. In the first preseason game, he played 60 snaps, the most of any player on defense. He also had a share of the team lead with seven tackles. Let's see some more. 
  4. CB Zech McPhearson: McPhearson has been physical in training camp practice, but there's a fine line between being physical and over-aggressive. If given the choice, I'd rather have to try to get a rookie to back off a bit, than have to try to get a passive corner to be more aggressive. Still, McPhearson will have to find the right balance of being physical while also not being handsy and drawing flags.
  5. S K'Von Wallace: Wallace has missed some time with an injury. He was vocal during practice this week, barking at Cam Newton, which is fun, but I'd be curious to see him get a chance in the game to back up his talk.
And I guess I'm also interested in seeing the Patriots, a dominant team for two decades that really just didn't look very good in joint practices this week. How their 2021 season will go with a roster that just isn't very impressive? Were they just bad in practice (and maybe also in this preseason game Thursday night), but they'll be better when it matters? Because I gotta admit — I'm smelling a sustained period of mediocrity for those scumbag, unaccountable cheaters, which would be fun.

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