Preseason game gives Reid lots to watch with cuts looming

Mike Kafka will play one quarter in the preseason game against Pittsburgh. Kafka, who has only 16 career passes in the NFL, is the Eagles' No. 2 quarterback. YONG KIM / Staff Photographer
Mike Kafka will play one quarter in the preseason game against Pittsburgh. Kafka, who has only 16 career passes in the NFL, is the Eagles' No. 2 quarterback. YONG KIM / Staff Photographer
Posted: August 10, 2012

BETHLEHEM, Pa. - It's time for football, as defensive end Trent Cole said.

While the Eagles will play with heavy hearts Thursday night, the show must go on. The Eagles open the preseason against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Lincoln Financial Field just four days after Andy Reid's son, Garrett, was found dead.

After fans warmly greet him and the Eagles honor his son, Reid will get his first opportunity to see the team he has assembled for 2012 in game action.

The starters will play only a quarter, but there will be more to watch as the coach begins the process of whittling his roster from 90 to 53 before the start of the regular season.

Here are five areas to watch during Thursday night's game:

1. Quarterback play. Although this season will hinge in many ways on Michael Vick's health and advancement as a quarterback, this game won't offer much in terms of gauging his development. He will play one quarter and do his best to avoid contact. But a clean drive or two against the defense that gave him fits last preseason would be nice. Mike Kafka has a little more at stake. It will be his first preseason game as the bona fide No. 2. He also will play only one quarter. It would be beneficial to see a little more from a quarterback that has only 16 career NFL throws and is an injury away from starting. To no surprise, rookie Nick Foles is ahead of Trent Edwards on the depth chart and will play ahead of the veteran who could be just days from a release.

2. Additions. The Eagles didn't turn over their roster much this offseason, but they did add two veterans at positions of great importance. Left tackle Demetress Bell was acquired out of necessity after Jason Peters' season-ending Achilles tendon tear. DeMeco Ryans was acquired, well, also out of necessity after years of neglect at middle linebacker. Bell has gotten rave reviews early in camp. His issue has never been ability, though. It's those chronically injured knees he has to ice after nearly every practice. Ryans already has brought a steady presence to the defense.

3. Contributing rookies. The Eagles have a few developmental-type rookies they drafted in the later rounds, but four of the first five picks are slated to get playing time right away. Mychal Kendricks is still starting at strong-side. He's already lost his first-team spot in the nickel, but it's early. He has flashed rare athletic skill at camp but has much to learn. Fletcher Cox, the Eagles' top pick, will be part of the first-team four-man rotation at defensive tackle. Brandon Boykin will compete for the nickel cornerback spot with Joselio Hanson. He may not be ready to overtake the veteran by the season opener, but that will be his spot eventually. Of more interest will be how Boykin returns kicks Thursday. Defensive end Vinny Curry is further down on the depth chart than the others and a little rawer, but the Eagles already like his energy.

4. Backup competition. There aren't many battles for starting spots. Brian Rolle's hold at weakside linebacker may be weak with Jamar Chaney on his heels. Kendricks isn't assured of his position. But the rest remain mostly set. There are some other intriguing competitions down on the depth chart. Clay Harbor is still the backup tight end, but Brett Brackett doesn't appear to be far behind. Dion Lewis' strong showing in camp has solidified his grasp at backup tailback. But rookies Bryce Brown and Chris Polk have been waging a fine war for the third spot. Brown has more speed, but Polk has more expertise in pass blocking and catching the ball out of the backfield. With Nate Allen sidelined by a hamstring injury, second-year safety Jaiquawn Jarrett will start alongside Kurt Coleman. The Eagles added O.J. Atogwe during the offseason to push Jarrett, and he appears to have gotten the message.

5. Roster battles. Aside from quarterback, the Eagles go only three deep at most of the other positions on offense and defense. The third team is likely to play most of the second half, and that's where some of the final roster spots could be won or lost. Who will be the last defensive tackle to make the team: Antonio Dixon or Cedric Thornton? Could the Eagles keep both? What about wide receiver? Riley Cooper is out for the preseason with a broken collarbone, but Marvin McNutt, Chad Hall, and Damaris Johnson could be on the cut line depending on how many receivers Reid keeps. Johnson could help his cause with his punt returns. Darryl Tapp is ahead of Phillip Hunt at defensive end right now, but Hunt has been strong the last several days of practice. The last linebacker spot could come down to Akeem Jordan or Keenan Clayton and who performs better on special teams. Cornerback Cliff Harris has made some waves in camp, but he's out with an ankle injury. Brandon Hughes and newly acquired Kevin Thomas could push him out. Right now the fullback spot, if the Eagles keep one, is between Stanley Havili and Emil Igwenagu. Julian Vandervelde, Dallas Reynolds, Mike Gibson, and Steve Vallas are vying for the backup center/reserve guard position.

Extra points

Allen (hamstring), tight end Brent Celek (knee), Cole (shoulder), Chaney (hamstring), Harris (ankle), and guard Brandon Washington (concussion) will not play Thursday, Reid said. . . . The Eagles signed defensive tackle John Gill, who last played in the NFL for the Indianapolis Colts in 2009, and released fullback Jeremy Stewart.


Contact Jeff McLane at 215-854-4745 or jmclane@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @Jeff_McLane.

 

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