The long-awaited first snap of the Philadelphia Eagles season will take place around 7:30 p.m. tonight at Lincoln Financial Field. Are you ready? It’s been seven months since those green-colored heroes trotted off the field in New Orleans. A lot has changed, too.
The Eagles locked their franchise quarterback up to a huge contract extension. They drafted their future left tackle in the first round of the draft. They even hosted a feel-good family reunion with the fastest receiver in football. This team is expected to be good, really good. Perhaps great.
Yes, there have been a few injuries to start training camp. None bigger than the loss of starting outside linebacker Kamu Grugier-Hill. But, there is so much to be excited for as the Eagles take the field tonight against the Tennessee Titans. Let’s call out a few names ahead of the big preseason tilt.
Top 5 Players to Watch on Offense
1. Nate Sudfeld, QB
It starts and ends with No. 7 — and we’re not talking about Michael Vick. Nate Sudfeld inherits the backup quarterback role that Nick Foles held down so amazingly well over parts of two stints in Philadelphia. The third-year pro knows he can’t turn into a legend overnight and Sudfeld just wants to be himself anyway. His first real test comes tonight, one he’s been cramming for the entire offseason.
Sudfeld has bounced back from a shaky camp with consecutive strong showings in red-zone drills at practice. He’s finally looking like he could be the guy. At 6-foot-5, the 25-year-old certainly looks the part. Sudfeld needs to prove he can chuck the ball deep, way down the field and utilize the tracking speed of his receivers. Most of the quarterback’s early success in the NFL has come on dink-and-dunk throws. That’s not going to cut it anymore. Let’s see that rocket arm.
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2. Miles Sanders, RB
Has there ever been this much pressure on a second-round pick? The rookie running back out of Penn State has been compared to Saquon Barkley and LeSean McCoy — in the same breath. That’s a lot to live up to. However, Miles Sanders’ ability to jump cut and switch direction seemingly on a whim is an unteachable talent not many in the league possess. After what he did in the Eagles open practice, the fans are drooling and clamoring for more.
The Titans game will be Sanders’ first action in a competitive setting, something he hasn’t seen a lot of going back to his college days. Remember, he sat behind Barkley at Penn State and didn’t see the field until his junior year. He rushed for 1,274 yards in his only season as the starter. That means the 215-pounder should have the freshest legs on the roster. People are going to be expecting magic every time he touches the ball. But it’s more important to see what Sanders can do in pass protection. If the kid can’t block, then he’s going to sit behind Jordan Howard until he learns.
3. Andre Dillard, LT
When the Eagles drafted Andre Dillard with the 22nd overall pick back in April’s draft, the assumption was the rookie would take over for Jason Peters. Dillard has done nothing to dispel those rumors through the first few weeks of camp. He’s been terrific, even drawing rave reviews from Peters himself. An informal poll among the Eagles offensive linemen confirmed that Dillard could be a plug-and-play starter at left tackle in Week 1.
Dillard, 6-foot-5, 315 pounds, is expected to start in place of Peters in tonight’s preseason opener, with the eyes of Eagles Nation on his every move. He has shown a propensity for finishing off blocks and protecting the quarterback in practice, but can he pave the way on running plays? That was the knock on Dillard coming out of Washington State. He’s going to have to prove his worth as a legitimate run-blocker to fully fill Peters’ oversized cleats.
4. Carlton Agudosi, WR
Absurdly tall receivers have come and gone in training camps before. It’s nothing new. Remember Ifeanyi Momah? Carlton Agudosi is not Momah, aside from the lanky 6-foot-7 frame. Agudosi has consistently made plays at camp, particularly down in the red zone where he has just beasted a heralded Eagles cornerbacks unit. The former basketball player — Agudosi played with NBA star Kyrie Irving in high school — has an incredible wingspan. No one is outleaping him.
Of course, it’s one thing to torch the same defenders every day at practice. Quite another to do it against a real team in pads. Agudosi has an uphill climb, trapped in a crowded receivers group that includes fellow leapers J.J. Arcega-Whiteside and Alshon Jeffery, but he can boldly state his case for a roster spot with a big Thursday night. Obviously, he can jump. But can he create separation and find the seams underneath? He’s definitely been working on that aspect.
5. Jordan Mailata, RT
It’s make-or-break time for the former Australian rugby player turned NFL offensive lineman. Jordan Mailata’s freakish size made him the most compelling project in Eagles’ history, or at least since King Dunlap. The Eagles took a flier on Mailata in the seventh round last year, but the 350-pounder was inactive the entire season despite making the 53-man roster. He’ll need to do better to keep a spot.
Halapoulivaati Vaitai has slowly earned the trust of head coach Doug Pederson, as evidenced by his rise up the depth chart. Big V is now listed as the backup at both right guard and right tackle, and he’ll draw the start tonight in place of an injured Brandon Brooks. That gives Mailata very little wiggle room for error. He was supposed to be the one taking those extra reps. If he struggles against Tennessee, consider the hefty Australian worse off than a Vegemite sandwich.