The Eagles’ second preseason game takes them down to Jacksonville for a date with Nick Foles and the Jaguars. Sounds sexy on paper — until you consider Foles isn’t playing. Neither are any of the starters on either side, according to the law of common sense.
That means get ready for a heated battle between two juggernaut offenses led by Cody Kessler and Gardner Minshew II. It should be a high-scoring affair indeed. Let’s get serious for a minute: this is a big game for the guys on the roster bubble. While it may not provide the theatrics fans want to see, it’s a necessary evil for rounding out the final 53.
The Eagles and Jaguars kick off at 7 p.m. in Jacksonville with local TV coverage on NBC10. With that in mind, let’s take a look at some intriguing players to watch on both sides of the ball.
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1. Daeshon Hall, Defensive End
The third-year pass-rusher out of Texas A&M had his best showing of the summer — arguably of his NFL career — last week against the Titans. Hall recorded a sack, two quarterback hits, three tackles for loss and a forced fumble in the first preseason game. The 24-year-old was a longshot to make the team, but now finds himself in a heated battle for the fourth edge-rusher spot with Josh Sweat, Shareef Miller and newcomer Eli Harold. Is it too little too late? Maybe not. He also played through a nagging shoulder injury knowing this could be his last chance in the league.
Remember, this is a guy that added 20 pounds of muscle to his frame in the offseason. Hall was a third-round pick by Carolina in 2017, so it’s not that he didn’t have some hype coming out of college. His main advantage is overpowering weaker offensive linemen by beating them at the point of attack. He’s not very fast or technically sound. However, Hall proved last week there might be a spot for him as a situational pass-rusher.
2. Jordan Mailata, Right Tackle
He’s an obvious choice for this list, especially with trade rumors swirling around Halapoulivaati Vaitai. Mailata is the one player on the Eagles with the easiest chance to literally play his way into a roster spot. All the 350-pound hulking tackle has to do is look competent for three more games. Mailata more than held his own on pass-blocking against Tennessee, including winning his one-on-one matchups. The Eagles didn’t run the ball often or effectively, so that’s the part of his game everyone should be honing in on this week.
The coaching staff wasn’t ready to hand the job over to Mailata after one good preseason game, but the trust has been building for some time. Head coach Doug Pederson admitted he was “pleased with his performance” but quickly added: “There were one or two things, just little mental errors.” Clearly, the former Australian rugby player has a few things to fine-tune before looking for a permanent home in the Philadelphia area.
3. Eli Harold, Defensive End
Harold joked earlier this week that “it’s nice to feel wanted” after coming over to Philadelphia in a trade from Buffalo. Now it’s time to back up those words with his play on the field. The former third-round pick out of Virginia wasn’t getting enough reps to show he belonged in the NFL, but he will get them with the Eagles. The team is desperate for another edge rusher — barring a trade for Jadeveon Clowney, of course — and he’s a perfect fit for defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz’s attacking defense.
The 25-year-old hasn’t been a complete bust in the NFL. After all, Harold did sack Tom Brady twice in one game last season. But he has been on four different teams in four-plus years, so something is amiss. He spent his first four seasons as a stand-up outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense, one that didn’t suit his strengths. Harold, who had 17.5 sacks in college, will move over to defensive end in Schwartz’s 4-3 scheme. Watch out.
“This scheme, it’s just getting off the ball. Not a lot of reading. It’s just attack, attack, attack. What else can you ask for being a defensive lineman? It’s a perfect situation,” Harold told The Inquirer.
4. Cody Kessler, Quarterback
Why is he so low on this list? That’s what you are asking, right? This is why: there is enough tape out there on Kessler to know what he is. The fourth-year quarterback has been a model of consistency: Kessler will attack the short passing game — the easy throws, within 10 yards — and not look for much more. He’s been called the “Checkdown King.” That’s not necessarily a bad thing, just don’t expect him all of a sudden to start chucking it deep.
The Eagles need to find out if he can control the game and dictate tempo, especially in the two-minute drill. Watch for the way he commands the huddle Thursday night and how his wide receivers look at him. Do they trust him? Is he leading them into traffic to get pummeled? These are the little things a backup quarterback needs to be adept at. Don’t be a hero because “game manager” doesn’t have to be a dirty word.
5. Nathan Gerry, Linebacker
Gerry is making the team whether he has a bad game or a monster game. The Eagles don’t have much wiggle room at the linebacker position. But it would be nice for the 24-year-old to bounce back after a pretty lackluster — some would say atrociously disappointing — first preseason game. The former fifth-round pick out of Nebraska isn’t expected to make the Pro Bowl, although he may be expected to start in Week 1.
The Eagles can’t have Gerry playing out of position and getting beat on easy pitch-and-catch drills in the red zone. There really aren’t excuses for a guy who has started at middle linebacker as recently as last year in the league. He averaged 24 snaps per game down the stretch in 2018 against some pretty stiff competition, including the Giants, Redskins, Cowboys and Rams. He needs to get back to that form for the Eagles to contend until starter Kamu Grugier-Hill returns from his sprained MCL.