By Brandon Pemberton
Follow me on Twitter @BrandonOnSports and @SportsTrapRadio
It’s been an unusual week to say the least here in Philadelphia. Andy Reid’s eldest son passed away in the dorms at Lehigh University, from what is not yet surely known, but Reid said he lost his long battle with addiction. His funeral was held on Tuesday and Andy Reid was back at practice Wednesday morning and addressed the media afterwards. I have been one of the biggest Andy Reid detractors over the years, I wanted him fired after the Eagles lost the NFC Championship in the 2008 playoffs. I will still give you my honest evaluation of this team and his coaching though, it’s the only way I know.
This game is only one of four preseason games to be played, but my evaluation period of all teams begins with the 1st preseason game. Coach Reid said each of the four quarterbacks will play a quarter and the starting defense will play majority of the 1st half. Here is what I will be looking for during the preseason from the Eagles:
1. Vick’s ability to protect himself and the ball
Micheal Vick has said he would be more careful and he understands he needs to be on the field for all 16 games, but at the end of the day does his instincts take over and he runs and doesn’t slide? Has all the studying Vick done during the offseason made him better at reading the blitz, calling the right protections and audibles, and getting the ball to the hot receiver? The Eagles turned the ball over too often last season, and put a weak defense in bad spots. It’s commonly known that you will not win games if you lose the turnover battle.
2. Red Zone Offense
The Eagles had one of the worst Red Zone offenses in the NFL last year. Desean Jackson caught ONE, yes ONE pass inside of the 20 yard line last season. Some will say it’s because of the contract, but Jackson has never been a red zone threat. Of Jackson’s 21 career regular season TD’s, do you know how many were red zone touchdowns? ONE. Last year Plaxico Burress caught 7 TD’s in the red zone, but the Eagles have no interest as of now, and some local radio hosts have expressed that they wouldn’t be interested. This is simple mathematics folks, you have to score touchdowns in the red zone and the Eagles must get better at doing so. Jeremy Maclin in his career has 19 TD’s and more then half(11) have been from inside the 20 yard line. I am expecting a big season from Maclin, more like the 2010 campaign in which he had 10 touchdown receptions, to go along with 70 receptions and almost 1000 yards. Late round draft pick Marvin McNutt could be the wildcard for the Eagles. He has great size, good strong hands and was a playmaker for four years at Iowa in the Big Ten conference.
3. Juan Castillo and the defense
Last year was a complete disaster for the Eagles defensively. It all started when Reid decided to make the damn offensive line coach the defensive coordinator. It made no sense at all and it partly cost the Eagles their season. Bad scheme, bad tackling, and they played with no heart when it counted. Am I supposed to be happy and joyful about the last 4 games of the season? Some fans are, but I’m not here as a fan, I’m here to do my job and give you my honest opinion of this team.
I like the offseason pickups they made via trade, free agency, and draft. Middle Linebacker Demeco Ryans is a pedigreed leader, a year removed from an Achilles injury and back in the 4-3 defense that he was an All-Pro in. He has never played with a “Wide 9″ defensive alignment in front of him, so I’m eager to see how he plays. Fletcher Cox was the Eagles 1st round draft pick and I was elated that they were able to get him. I watched him dominate the line of scrimmage in the SEC, the best conference in all of college football and I expect big things from him before the season is out.
I also look forward to seeing how Outside Linebacker Mychal Kendricks from Cal plays. I watched him play plenty in college, he was excellent making plays in space and in coverage. But he was often swallowed and overwhelmed at the point of attack against the run. At the time he was drafted Vonte David from Nebraska was still on the board and in my opinion he was the better player.
The Safety position is still a big question, probably the biggest question on the team. How will free safety Nate Allen play this year after playing tentative and quite frankly soft last season, coming off an knee injury. I love the heart and the effort that Kurt Coleman displays, but he isn’t a starting safety in this league. Will 2nd year Safety Jaiqwan Jarrett step it up and take over the strong safety spot? From what I’ve seen personally and what I’ve heard, he”s looked really good. He’s been flying around, being physical and making plays. He seems to be doing less thinking and just reacting to what he sees developing in front of him. The Eagles also brought in veteran and former All Pro O.J. Atogwe in for a look as well. If Jarrett plays well enough, Atogwe might be the odd man out.
4. Demetress Bell
Jason Peters tore his Achilles during the offseason, not once but twice during the offseason. Peters was arguably the best offensive lineman the NFL last season and he will be sorely missed. A majority of the Eagles big plays in the sprint draw game and screen game was due to Peters supreme athletic ability. Peters was not only great in the run game, but he was great in pass protection as well. The Eagles signed tackle Demetress Bell to a four year contract to replace Peters and while he is a nice player, he is no Peters. Don’t be surprised if there is a drop off, but hopefully Bell can play well enough not to get noticed. The Eagles as we know are a passing team and Bells must be good in protection this year.
The Eagles have four preseason games to get all of the kinks out, figure out who can really play, who is going to make this team and most importantly, STAY HEALTHY. While I was writing this article, Mike Vick hit his left hand on the helmet of Jason Kelce after throwing a pass. Hopefully it’s not serious, he spent the rest of the first half on the sideline with the thumb in ice. Also be sure to listen to Sports Trap Radio on Saturdays from 10am-12pm on http://ueradiolive.com as myself, Chris Marshall, and Daniel Trawick will talk Eagles football and all things sports.