The countdown is underway.
The Eagles face their final preseason test against the Indianapolis Colts on Aug. 24 in South Philly. After that the team has a bit over two weeks to prepare to defend its NFC championship with a road game at New England on Sept. 10.
The preseason has helped clear up some questions the team faces heading into the coming season. Still, there are plenty of questions to be answered before the team faces off against Bill Belichick and the Pats.
Most of the Eagles’ top players have been completely absent through the preseason, and for good reason. Special teams contributors Shaun Bradley and Zech McPhearson suffered season-ending Achilles tendon injuries in the first two games of the preseason.
Several other players have suffered injuries during this summer’s exhibition games. Fans hoping to see Jalen Hurts or Fletcher Cox or any of their other favorite players before September will just have to wait.
That’s not to say there isn’t plenty to keep an eye on when the Colts get to town.
The Eagles still have to solidify the middle of their defense. Linebacker Nakobi Dean and safety Reed Blankenship appear to have locked down starting spots in the Eagles defense. The question remains which players will shore up the No. 2 safety and linebacker roles.
Dean wears the green dot of a player who calls the defensive plays so his spot is practically set in stone. Blankenship has the savvy and the experience of starting late in the season last year in his favor.
The running back position appears to be in excellent shape as the team looks ready to rotate Kenneth Gainwell, D’Andre Swift, Rashaad Penny and Boston Scott. Each rusher has strengths that complement the others. It may just come down to week-to-week matchups to determine which RB will be the featured back of the week.
Amazingly, quarterback has become an interesting battle to watch through the preseason. Former No. 2 overall pick Marcus Mariota has struggled to feel or look comfortable in his two starts as the preseason Eagles quarterback.
At one time, the Eagles coveted the former Oregon Heisman Trophy winner as their franchise quarterback. The stars didn’t quite align for a blockbuster trade that could have transformed the team in 2015. Nine seasons and more than 17,000 regular season and playoff passing yards later, Mariota is on his fourth team as the Eagles backup quarterback.
Through two preseason games, Mariota has looked tentative, skittish and uncomfortable playing with the rest of the team’s backups. Mariota remains a solid option in the event Hurts were to miss a game or two. Surely, Mariota will look much better surrounded by the Eagles offensive weapons and behind one of the league’s best offensive lines but his performance in preseason hasn’t inspired confidence as a long-term solution, if necessary.
Meanwhile, rookie sixth-round pick Tanner McKee has been the camp darling and fan favorite of the preseason. The 188th pick from Stanford has looked confident playing for the first time with NFL-caliber talent.
McKee has all but locked up the No. 3 quarterback slot on the team and marked himself as a player to watch for the Eagles future, with or without Hurts.
McKee has even made a case for taking Mariota’s No. 2 job. It’s probably a bit too early to give up on Mariota, who has played more than 5,000 NFL snaps, for a late-round rookie draft pick. Still, in a long-term backup situation, where Hurts would not be available, McKee appears to be a viable option should Mariota continue to struggle.
There is still some work for the Eagles to do but things are coming into focus. The countdown has started. ••