Philadelphia Eagles

Eagles-Bills preseason game: 10 players to watch

Eagles-Bills preseason game: 10 players to watch

The 2017 Eagles will be at home for the first time this preseason.

And the home crowd will get a chance to see some new additions to the team.

Here are 10 players to watch in Eagles-Bills on Thursday night at the Linc (7 p.m./NBC):

Alshon Jeffery 
Doug Pederson said he was leaning toward playing Jeffery in this game after taking it really easy on him throughout training camp. So if Jeffery plays, it'll be his first game with the Eagles. During training camp, he's looked good when he practices. But he missed some time with a shoulder injury and then Pederson put him in bubble wrap for another week or so. Carson Wentz is looking forward to getting on the field with his new weapon. Expect the starters to play just a series or two. 

Ronald Darby 
Darby didn't become an Eagle until Friday, the day after the first preseason game. His counterpart in the trade, Jordan Matthews, won't play for the Bills on Thursday. Matthews suffered a cracked sternum in his first practice in Buffalo. Meanwhile, Darby was thrown in with the first team in his first practice with the Eagles. Based on that, expect him to take the left cornerback spot when the defense first takes the field. 

Marcus Johnson
A hamstring injury kept the young receiver out of the first preseason game and Bryce Treggs performed extremely well in his absence. Johnson has done a lot to earn a roster spot during training camp, but nothing is written in stone, even with the departure of Matthews. Johnson needs to have a good preseason to seal a roster spot. 

Derek Barnett
Barnett's debut was very impressive. He had two sacks and caused problems for the Packers' offensive line. The most impressive thing was the inside move he used to get his first sack against Green Bay. He's been working on that all camp. Let's see if Barnett can keep it going. He's not fighting for a roster spot, but he is fighting for playing time and eventually a starting gig. 

Patrick Robinson
With the addition of Darby and with Ron Brooks out with a hamstring injury, the veteran cornerback has been working in the slot. Expect to see Jalen Mills and Darby start outside and Robinson as the Eagles' nickel cornerback. There's a chance Robinson won't make the 53-man roster; his best chance to stick is to prove he can be good for the team in his new role

Shelton Gibson
Gibson has really turned it around after his terrible start to training camp. He was just awful early on, dropping more passes than he caught. Since then, he's looked like a viable option. But in the first preseason game, he had an egregious drop and that can't happen again. He's a fifth-round pick but is fighting for a spot on the team. 

Donnel Pumphrey 
The fourth-round running back out of San Diego State didn't have a great debut. He looked shaky as a punt returner and couldn't find an inch on offense. The Eagles are hoping those first-game jitters are out of his way. They eventually want to make him Darren Sproles' replacement as a punt returner, but there's a lot of work still to do. 

LeGarrette Blount 
The entire run game never got going against the Packers' blitzing front, so this game is a chance to show the Eagles can be a good run team in 2017. Let's see if Blount really can be more than a short-yardage specialist this season. It's unclear if Wendell Smallwood (hamstring) will play. 

Chance Warmack
Brandon Brooks (ankle) will be a game-time decision, so Warmack might need to start for the second straight game at right guard. His first attempt didn't go well. Remember all that interior O-line depth? Well, Allen Barbre is gone and Warmack doesn't look promising. 

Alex McCalister 
A seventh-round pick last season, McCalister picked up a sack late in the first preseason game but still has a lot of work to do. He's the sixth defensive end on the depth chart and might be fighting Steven Means for a roster spot. He needs to string together a few good games to give himself a good chance.

Eagles tight end Zach Ertz grateful Jake Elliott 'saved my butt'

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USA Today Images

Eagles tight end Zach Ertz grateful Jake Elliott 'saved my butt'

Zach Ertz was sitting in the locker next to Brent Celek after the game and at one point he leaned over to his teammate and said simply, "Thank God we won that game."

Because if the Eagles lost Sunday, Ertz would have been the goat.

Ertz had one of the tougher games of his career Sunday, with a costly fourth-quarter fumble that led to a game-tying Giants touchdown and also a dropped touchdown when he was wide open, although he did make up for that by catching a TD one play later.

"It sucks," Ertz said. "If we lost that game, I would have been in the dumpster."

Ertz, covered all day by Landon Collins, one of the NFL's best safeties, did catch eight passes for 55 yards and his first touchdown of the year in the Eagles' wild 27-24 win over the Giants at the Linc (see observations).

The fumble was only the third of his five-year career. That's three fumbles out of 268 receptions.

"The guy made a great play," Ertz said. "I was trying to gain some more yards after the catch, and he kind of just reached around and pulled my arm down and I fumbled. 

"I've got to work on ball security, something I'm going to emphasize this week. I've had (three) fumbles in my career, so I'm not going to over-think it, but at the end of the day, I've got to do better."

Ertz's last fumble came in a loss to the Redskins in December of 2015, forced by Bashaud Breeland and recovered by Dashon Goldson. That was Chip Kelly's final game as Eagles head coach.

His only other fumble came in a loss to the 49ers in San Francisco in 2014.

"I've never seen Darren Sproles fumble, and he fumbled last week, so it's going to happen if you play long enough in the NFL," Ertz said. "All you can do is work on it. Luckily, Jake (Elliott) saved my butt."

The end zone drop came with the Eagles up 7-0 in the third quarter. Wentz could have taken a little steam off the football, but it was still a ball Ertz should catch.

"I couldn't get my hands up fast enough," he said. "The linebacker flashed before me and the ball just kind of snuck up on me, kind of like what happened against the Redskins last year. 

"Luckily, came back the next play and I was able to make a much tougher catch."

Even on a bad day, Ertz still caught eight passes, and he's now second in the NFL with 21 receptions, five behind Antonio Brown. He's also 10th with 245 yards. Both numbers lead all NFL tight ends.

“With a guy like Zach, we know who he is," Wentz said. "Those mistakes don’t happen often. 

"That first ball I definitely threw it harder than it needed to be, and it kind of surprised him a little bit. We came right back to him, and that was huge. 

"I know with a guy like that, confidence is never going to go anywhere, and my confidence in him never is either. The fumble is one of those things you brush off and come right back to him. The guy made some great plays for us today.”

Ertz's 21 receptions are fourth-most in Eagles history after three games and seventh-most ever by any NFL tight end after three games.

Ertz has now played the equivalent of four full seasons in his career, and his 268 catches are seventh-most ever by a tight end after 64 games.

Most importantly, his five catches, 55 yards and touchdown against the Giants Sunday helped the Eagles knock off a division opponent and find their way to 2-1. 

“Last year we didn’t have a lot of wins (in) adverse situations like we faced today," Ertz said. "We weren’t perfect today, anybody in our division is not going to be perfect. But I think it showed a lot about our resilience today and overcoming adverse situations."

Report: Darren Sproles tore ACL and broke arm on same play

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Associated Press

Report: Darren Sproles tore ACL and broke arm on same play

Still riding high after a crazy win on Sunday, the Eagles got some bad news the next morning. 

Darren Sproles is done for the season. Maybe for his career. 

According to a report from ESPN, Sproles tore his ACL and broke his arm on the same play on Sunday afternoon at the Linc. The play came early in the second quarter. It first looked like Sproles hurt his knee and was then kicked on his right wrist on the way down. 

Sproles will have surgery on his arm on Monday and surgery on his knee later, per the ESPN report. 

The 34-year-old running back once said this would be his final NFL season but then backed off those comments when asked this summer. 

"We're gonna see," he said in June. "Right after we make the playoffs, then come back and ask me." 

It's possible Sproles' career is over, but it's also possible he'll try to make a comeback so his career doesn't end like this. 

After picking up 11 rushing yards on Sunday before leaving the game, Sproles now has 19,155 all-purpose yards in his career. That's the eighth most in NFL history. 

In his absence on Sunday, Torrey Smith took over as the Eagles' punt returner. Smith tweeted after the game that he hasn't returned punts since high school.