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.

Ellis: Pictures do all the talking in South Philly and across NFL on Sunday

Ellis: Pictures do all the talking in South Philly and across NFL on Sunday

"A picture is worth a thousand words."

The saying is attributed to Frederick R. Barnard, but there is some debate who coined the phrase. We’ll let historians debate the origin. Fast-forward some 90-odd years later to a hot Sunday afternoon in South Philadelphia and the visual of Jake Elliott triumphantly being carried off the field on the shoulders of Mychal Kendricks and Kamu Grugier-Hill.

It was a fitting close to a crazy game. Elliott had just buried the longest field goal in franchise history. The sixth longest ever in the NFL. Sixty-one yards of pure bliss for Eagles fans. All courtesy of a player who was not even on the team two weeks ago. A guy most had never heard of prior to that, including his now teammates, being given the ultimate escort. A kicker nonetheless. The still photo now serves a screen saver or backdrop for countless Eagles fans. A reminder of yet another wild finish between these two old rivals. But the image also represents something much deeper.

Sunday was dominated by with images of the sidelines during the National Anthem, as players responded to the President Trump's comments. The Eagles, along with their owner, Jeffrey Lurie, stood arms locked along with Philadelphia police during the National Anthem. Others around the league sat or kneeled. Some teams never came out of the locker room. Some went the traditional route of standing with their hand over their heart to honor our flag. But unlike Colin Kaepernick’s protests last year or Malcolm Jenkins' clinched fist, this was a much broader protest being made by NFL players.

That this a complex, polarizing issue, no one will argue. The overriding message or theme from the players who took part in the demonstrations was it was done in response to the president’s cry Friday that NFL owners who see players “disrespecting the flag” should say “get that son of a bitch off the field right now, he’s fired.” The protests were also done to raise awareness of the racial inequalities in our country. There are those who find any action other than standing at attention for the anthem to be disrespectful to our country regardless of the reasoning behind it.

Sports has long been the cocoon that allows fans to escape "real world" problems. Attend or turn on a game and you could get a two-three hour respite from work or politics or family issues. Those days are gone. The two worlds have collided, and, like it or not, there is no untangling the two forces.

But there was something about the shot of Elliott, a white man being carried off the field by two African-American men. There was no division, race or class or otherwise. It was unbridled joy by three human beings from differing backgrounds. They put color and beliefs – and politics – to the side and celebrated a unique accomplishment. And that is what is still beautiful about sports. Pollyanna perhaps. But individuals of all races and ethnicities and backgrounds working together for a greater good.

Kind of the way it’s supposed to be in that "real world." Picture that.

Doug Pederson still undecided on Eagles' starter at left guard

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USA Today Images/AP Images

Doug Pederson still undecided on Eagles' starter at left guard

As expected, Chance Warmack got the start at left guard for the Eagles on Sunday. The surprising part was Stefen Wisniewski wound up playing the majority of the snaps.

Warmack wound up being on the field for 32 plays against the Giants, compared to 44 for Wisniewski. It’s not as if Warmack exited the game with an injury or was benched for poor play, either. The two of them alternated throughout the contest.

After the game, Eagles coach Doug Pederson acknowledged the plan was to rotate Warmack and Wisnewski all along.

“We wanted to give both of those guys an opportunity [Sunday], and it just so happened that Wis ended up taking the bulk of the reps,” Pederson said. “But we had them both ready.”

Pederson added the rotation was based on in-game performance. The next day, however, he wasn’t ready to settle on a permanent starter at left guard.

“There was some positives with both players,” Pederson said Monday. “Chance had a couple of missed opportunities early in the game, but bounced back and in the run game was effective. At the same time, Wis getting an opportunity — Wis is that veteran player you know when you put him in that he's going to execute and do some nice things for you.

“It's something we'll evaluate this week again going forward, and by Sunday, we'll have the best five out there.”

That means Warmack and Wisniewski could continue auditioning for the job in Week 4 when the Eagles travel to Los Angeles to face the Chargers.

“If someone at that position just steps up, we definitely could go into a game with seven guys,” Pederson said.

Despite shuffling different players in and out, the offensive line turned in its best performance of the season so far. Eagles running backs rushed 33 times for 171 yards — a 5.2 average — and two touchdowns, while quarterback Carson Wentz was hit on only 4 of 37 dropbacks.

While continuity is essential to quality offensive line play, Pederson has repeatedly downplayed that notion, likening changes up front to substitutions at other positions.

“These guys are all prepared the same, so we shouldn't miss a beat one way or the other just by rotating at that position,” Pederson said.

“The way our guys practice, and the way (Eagles offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland) prepares these guys, it's seamless. It's flawless, and that's the way it should be. As backup role players, you're expected to know what a starter does. Same as a backup quarterback, you should be expected to do the same thing.”

Several of the Eagles’ veteran linemen didn’t disagree.

“Both of those guys — I played beside before, so it’s not a big deal,” said left tackle Jason Peters, adding he did not know beforehand who would be lining up to his right.

“The thing is, they’ve had numerous reps,” said right tackle Lane Johnson. “That’s what are OTAs are for. You get numerous reps, so when your number is called, you’re not caught off guard.”

Of course, that’s easy for everybody else to say. Warmack and Wisniewski are almost certainly trying to make the best of a difficult situation.

Warmack was unavailable for comment postgame, but Wisnewski admitted there are some challenges involved with subbing in and out.

“It’s definitely easier for anybody to be in there and feel the flow of the game, whether you’re a running back, an offensive lineman, whoever,” Wisniewski said. “But we made it work today.

“We’re all pros. Mentally, all you can do is be ready when they call your number and try to stay warm on the sideline.”

The situation at left guard came about because second-year pro Isaac Seumalo struggled in his first two starts. Pederson stresses the club hasn’t lost faith in Seumalo, and “he’s still in the mix.” But for the time being, at least, the Eagles appear determined to go in a different direction at that spot.

Thus, the ongoing competition — while unorthodox — probably is not as unique or atypical as it sounds.

“I actually talked to (former Eagles offensive lineman) Allen Barbre last night,” Johnson said. “They’re doing the same thing with him in Denver. It’s not out of the ordinary. They have two guys, want to see what they can do and see who the better man is.”

In this case, the Eagles have two players with vastly different skill sets, so it makes sense to see which meshes better with their teammates.

“Wis is more of a technician,” Peters said. “He’s almost like a center at guard, which he really is. He knows the offense, he’s giving calls, more of a communicator. And Chance is more of an aggressor. He wants to get into the linebackers.”

Wisniewski could not personally remember an occasion where he was rotating in and out of the lineup during a game. Regardless, the Eagles picked up a victory over the NFC East rival Giants, so for one week anyway, it was all good.

“The guys around us, (Eagles center Jason Kelce) and JP did well rolling with it,” Wisniewski said. “It worked out well. Got a win, ran the ball well and protected well as a whole.”

Long-term, it would behoove the Eagles to settle on a permanent starter sooner rather than later.