Five things to watch in Monday's Eagles-Patriots game

Posted: August 20, 2012

Because the NFL insisted on scheduling its preseason games on virtually every night of the week, the Eagles have the misfortune of playing their second and third preseason games only four days apart.

Monday's game at New England may be No. 2 on the schedule, but Andy Reid and the Birds will treat it as if it was their third. That means the first team will play the majority of the game - possibly as much as three quarters - giving us our best read on the starters before the regular season.

So this list of the five things to watch against the Patriots focuses almost exclusively on some obvious names and position battles.

1. Safety first

When Nate Allen returns to action against the Patriots, there's a good chance he'll feel like a performer taking the stage after his predecessor bombed. The safety sat out the preseason opener against the Steelers with a hamstring strain, and in his place Jaiquawn Jarrett made Allen look like Ronnie Lott. Jarrett was that bad, and he could be in jeopardy of being released. A solid outing from Allen, meanwhile, would ease concerns about the Eagles' safeties. Allen and Kurt Coleman were steadier down the stretch last season, but it was a rocky road getting there. Allen's low point probably came against New England, when he whiffed horribly on one tackle and bit on a Tom Brady play fake that netted a touchdown.

2. Finally seeing Celek

There's never been any reason to question Brent Celek's toughness. The tight end played the final two months of last season - two of the best months of his career - with a hip injury and a sports hernia. He had surgery to correct both injuries during the offseason and arrived at training camp ready to go. But Celek sprained his knee during the first practice and spent most of Lehigh out of pads. The Eagles probably didn't see any reason to rush a veteran who has nothing to prove and has been dinged up over the years. But it would be nice to see if Celek can still move as he did before the surgeries.

3. It's good to be King

If King Dunlap delivers the sort of outing has in the past whenever he's had to fill in, then it's safe to say he'll open the season as the starting left tackle. Dunlap was promoted over a week ago after Demetress Bell lost the spot the Eagles handed him after he was signed in April. The Eagles have maintained that Dunlap and Bell are competing for the left tackle vacancy. But giving Bell the quick hook suggests that it won't take much for Dunlap to remain king . . . if just for a while.

4. Nnamdi

A week after he collided with Allen and suffered a sore neck and a lacerated lip, Nnamdi Asomugha will start against the Patriots. At least that's what Reid said Saturday. Asomugha practiced on Friday and Saturday, but he missed Wednesday - the only day of practice in full pads. With the Eagles' game planning against New England, it will be interesting to see how much they show on defense, particularly in how they use Asomugha. If there was ever any argument for continuing to line the cornerback up against tight ends - and there was a strong one after last season - the Patriots' Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez are certainly the strongest that can be made.

5. Quarterbacks

Last, but certainly not least, is Michael Vick. The six snaps against the Steelers were not enough to judge the progress - or lack thereof - that the quarterback made this offseason. Vick was also without Celek and wide receiver Jeremy Maclin. He will have his full arsenal against the Patriots. There aren't many excuses if he hands in a dud. Although - say it all together now - it is only the preseason. Vick did not look especially sharp during camp. He did finish strong, though. He doesn't have to lead the offense to a touchdown on every drive, but it would be nice to see him string a few long possessions together - and not get hurt. Above all, Vick should do whatever it takes to not get hurt, and that includes turning in another poor performance.


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

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