Five Eagles We're Watching on Defense vs. Pittsburgh

Five Eagles We're Watching on Defense vs. Pittsburgh

We are only hours away from an Eagles kickoff, and while we have to keep telling ourselves it's only preseason, we are genuinely excited for some football around here. Yesterday we talked about our five Eagles we'll be watching on offense in tonight's game, so naturally today we're delving into the other side of the ball.

The defense will be without several big-name players tonight, so the star power is a bit lacking, but the starters generally play a quarter max in the first preseason game anyway. That put the emphasis on a collection of young players, and we're struck by how many could play important roles for Juan Castillo in the season ahead. Up first though, he's a new face, but a name that's been around the league for awhile.

DeMeco Ryans

It's amazing to think that the Birds have not had a stable situation at middle linebacker since heading into the '09 campaign. Undoubtedly the Eagles' biggest offseason acquisition, Thursday marks the first time we'll get a glimpse of two-time Pro Bowler DeMeco Ryans in midnight green. Heralded not only as the answer in the middle of the defense, but also as the group's leader, all eyes will be on Ryans tonight to see if he is 100% after suffering a ruptured Achilles two seasons ago.

The concern in Philly is the team acquired damaged goods in their trade with the Texans. Houston was willing to part with Ryans for a fourth-round pick and a swap of thirds, in part because he didn't fit their switch to a 3-4 defense, in part because they were no longer getting their money's worth at $6 million-plus per year. Ryans saw his role reduced in the new system, appearing in less than 60% of the club's snaps in 2011.

His reduction in playing time could be explained one of two ways. Some worry the coaches simply lost confidence in Ryans after his injury, but in reality the Texans spent a lot of the time in dime personnel, which replaces one of the interior linebackers with a defensive back to better defend against the pass. That's the big difference as Ryans moves back to the 4-3 where he's most comfortable. The Eagles are counting on him as a three-down linebacker, so his athleticism coming off of that injury will be tested in coverage tonight.

Along with rookie Mychal Kendricks and second-year backer Brian Rolle, the Birds debut an all-new look at linebacker tonight. It should be a lot of fun.

Brandon Graham

Both Jason Babin and Trent Cole were ruled out tonight, so Brandon Graham should not only start, but see plenty of action throughout. It will be the first significant playing time for the former first-round pick since December 2010, as his recovery from microfracture surgery limited him to three games and 56 snaps last season. As we wrote about previously, it's critical that Graham make an impression in these exhibitions if he has a chance to crack the rotation at defensive end and shake the bust label. Very excited to see what he can do in year three.

Fletcher Cox

This one is a no-brainer, and arguably could have topped the list. The Eagles moved up three spots in April's draft to select Fletcher Cox with the 12th overall pick, so naturally we want to see what the new kid brings to the table. Standing 6-4, 298 lbs., the 21 year old has been billed as a penetrating defensive tackle who will disrupt plays in the backfield and could eventually draw double teams -- a perfect fit for D-line coach Jim Washburn's scheme.

While we just want to see if Cox is as good as advertised, it will also be interesting to see if the coaches move him around at all. Chances are they will save this look for a real situation, but there has been talk of Cox also lining up on the end.

Curtis Marsh

Curtis Marsh is another young player we already discussed a couple weeks back, as he has stepped into the role as the primary backup to Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie at corner this offseason. He'll get plenty of action with the twos, but we'll be looking for the package with all three on the field at the same time -- Marsh and DRC on the outside, Asomugha on the inside. A third-round pick who seldom played in his rookie season, Marsh has good size (6-1, 197) and is physical with receivers. It will be our first real shot of him since last summer.

Jaiquawn Jarrett

Yet another kid, at one point second-year safety Jaiquawn Jarrett was having one of the more tumultuous offseasons of anybody on the roster. Coaches were mum on Jarrett during mini-camps, and afterward the team signed veteran O.J. Atogwe, all of which caused many in the media to openly wonder whether the Temple product would even wind up making the team.

When Jarrett was taken in the second round of 2011's draft, there was an expectation he would make an immediate impact in the secondary. Instead he was lost, and despite poor safety play especially early on in the season, JJ couldn't get on the field. Of course, he had a fairly reasonable excuse not being ready to hit the ground running in that the lockout wiped away off-season programs that are especially valuable to incoming rookies. After all, the safety position isn't all about running around making big hits.

With Nate Allen our of the lineup tonight, all of a sudden Jarrett is likely in the starting lineup alongside Kurt Coleman, which would put to rest any ideas the coaches were just going to give up on him after last season. He still has a long way to go before shaking the stigma that he was a reach, and we suspect he'll stay on the field for awhile when the rest of the starters come out, as every rep is crucial right now. Clearly though the playing field is finally level for Jarrett this year.

Best of NHL: Penguins beat Panthers in Sidney Crosby's debut

Best of NHL: Penguins beat Panthers in Sidney Crosby's debut

PITTSBURGH -- Sidney Crosby scored in his season debut as the Pittsburgh Penguins rallied to beat the Florida Panthers 3-2 on Tuesday night.

Crosby, who scored on a power play, missed the team's first six games with a concussion. Carl Hagelin and Eric Fehr also scored for the Penguins, who extended a seven-game unbeaten streak against the Panthers.

Marc-Andre Fleury, who has started the first seven games of the season for Pittsburgh, stopped 20 shots. Matt Murray, who backstopped the Penguins to a Stanley Cup in June, served as the backup to Fleury after missing the first six games with a broken hand.

Reilly Smith scored a power-play goal and Mark Pysyk also scored for the Panthers, who have lost 11 of 12 against the Penguins in Pittsburgh.

James Reimer made 19 saves in his second start of the season (see full recap).

Kings top Blue Jackets in overtime
LOS ANGELES -- Alec Martinez scored 1:14 into overtime, and the Los Angeles Kings rallied to beat the Columbus Blue Jackets 3-2 Tuesday night for their third straight victory.

Drew Doughty scored the tying goal with 5:57 left in regulation for the Kings, who won their third straight overtime game after an 0-3-0 start to the season. Captain Anze Kopitar also scored, and third-string goalie Peter Budaj stopped 19 shots in his third consecutive win.

Cam Atkinson scored a tiebreaking power-play goal late in the second period, and Sergei Bobrovsky made 27 saves for Columbus. Brandon Saad also scored for the Jackets, who had won two straight after an 0-2-0 start.

Martinez ended it by putting a rebound into an open net for the defenseman's second goal of the season (see full recap).

Lightning strike for seven goals in win
TORONTO -- Steven Stamkos matched a career-high with four points -- two goals and two assists -- and the Tampa Bay Lightning beat the Toronto Maple Leafs 7-3 on Tuesday night.

Frederik Andersen gave up seven goals on only 24 shots, the third time in five starts he has allowed at least five goals and fourth time he's allowed four or more. The 27-year-old has an .851 save percentage so far this season.

Alex Killorn, Victor Hedman, Nikita Kucherov, Vladislav Namestnikov and Jonathan Drouin added goals for Tampa Bay, while Ben Bishop made 40 saves.

William Nylander, James van Riemsdyk and Auston Matthews scored for the Maple Leafs, who outshot the Lightning 43-24 (see full recap).

Report: Eagles make inquiry about Bears WR Alshon Jeffery

Report: Eagles make inquiry about Bears WR Alshon Jeffery

The Eagles could be looking for a bigger name outside.

In need of a deep threat — and reportedly in talks about a trade for 49ers wideout Torrey Smith — the Eagles are interested in Bears wide receiver Alshon Jeffery and attempting to make a move for the 2013 Pro Bowler, according to a report Tuesday night by Benjamin Allbright of Mile High Sports Radio.

We followed up with Allbright, who clarified the Eagles simply made an inquiry.

Jeffery, much more of a do-it-all, dynamic wide receiver than the one-dimensional Smith, is 26 years old and can become a free agent at season's end. He'll warrant good money, but would make the Eagles better in more ways than one compared to Smith.

The 6-foot-3, 218-pounder put up 89 catches for 1,421 yards and seven touchdowns in 2013, followed by 85 catches, 1,133 yards receiving and 10 scores in 2014.

This season, he has 520 yards receiving and has yet to find the end zone playing for the quarterback-challenged Bears, who are 1-6 and more than likely thinking about next season.