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.

No surprise, Schwartz-Belichick, and more in Roob's observations

No surprise, Schwartz-Belichick, and more in Roob's observations

Some Zach Ertz, some Vinny Curry, some Jim Schwartz and lots of Nick Foles in Tuesday's edition of Roob’s 10 random Eagles Super Bowl observations!

1. Foles didn’t play the last five weeks of 2015. He started one game last year for the Chiefs. He hurt his elbow on the first day of training camp. He didn’t play a single snap in the preseason. He threw four passes the first 12 weeks of this season. So when Foles replaced Carson Wentz on Dec. 10 in Los Angeles, he had barely played any football for two years, and he had never practiced or played with Alshon Jeffery, Torrey Smith and Nelson Agholor. Of course it was going to take some time for Foles to develop a comfort level with his receivers and just a comfort level feel for playing quarterback in the NFL again. But what he’s done the last two weeks shouldn’t be that shocking. We all saw 2013. Different offense but same skill set. It was not a fluke. You don’t put up those kind of numbers if you don’t have tremendous ability, and Foles historically has been very accurate and thrown very few interceptions. What he’s proven these last two weeks is that he can be accurate and secure with the ball under the pressure of the postseason against very good opponents. It just took a while to get there, which is understandable. 

2. Curry officially has three tackles and no sacks in the Eagles’ two playoff wins, and I think he’s playing absolutely the best football of his life. Forget the numbers. Curry has been so disruptive in these wins over the Falcons and Vikings, generating tremendous pressure on the quarterback and holding his own against the run. Curry is listed with four hurries in the postseason, but even that doesn’t convey just how relentless he’s been. He doesn’t get the notoriety of Brandon Graham, Fletcher Cox or Tim Jernigan, and I’m sure he’s disappointed he had only three sacks during the regular season. But he’s playing fantastic football right now.

3. Remember when “Zach Ertz doesn’t get yards after the catch” was a thing? Man, he’s shut a lot of people up this year, hasn’t he? He was massive Sunday. Guy’s a beast.

4. Schwartz spent 1992 coaching linebackers at Colgate and that offseason he landed an internship doing research for the Cleveland Browns’ coaching staff. The Browns’ head coach? Bill Belichick. Schwartz talked about Belichick Tuesday but made it clear his years alongside the Patriots’ head coach are irrelevant now: “I owe a lot to Bill Belichick,” Schwartz said. “He got my career started. The first three years of my NFL career were with him in Cleveland. But that's the last thing that any of these players [care about]. You think any of our players care that in 1993 I got hired as an unpaid intern? Do you really think that they think that's going to [make a difference?] They are just going out and playing.”

5. It blows my mind that Foles has now won more playoff games in an Eagles uniform than Randall Cunningham.

6. We all tend to think of Tom Brady as being unbeatable in the postseason, and that 27-9 career playoff record is imposing. But keep in mind the Patriots usually have the No. 1 seed and Brady rarely has to play away from the friendly confines of Gillette Stadium. In Foxboro, Brady is 19-3 in the postseason with an eight-game winning streak. Outside Foxboro? Brady has actually played only one postseason road game the last 11 years — he lost in Denver in 2013. And in his career, he’s 3-4 in the postseason on the road and 5-2 at neutral sites (also known as Super Bowls). So that means Brady is 19-3 in the playoffs in his career at home but 8-6 outside of Foxboro, which is still very good but definitely not quite as imposing.

7. I was just thinking Mike Trout is from Millville, New Jersey. Wonder if he’s an Eagles fan (see story).

8. The more I re-watch Sunday’s game, the more I feel like Doug Pederson’s play-calling might have been the best I’ve ever seen. That was one of the most dominating defenses of the past decade that came to South Philly Sunday night, and Pederson had an answer for everything (see story). He kept the Vikings off balance, he was aggressive from the start, he used all the Eagles’ weapons and he didn’t let up on the gas as the lead kept growing. I really felt like the Vikings weren’t all that interested in playing football by the middle of the third quarter. The Eagles took their heart away, and a ton of the credit for that goes to Pederson.

9. The Eagles are 17-3 since their five-game losing streak last year.

10. Let’s put Foles’ two playoff games completing 77 percent of his passes into perspective: Every Hall of Fame quarterback combined has had four total postseason performances since 1950 completing 77 percent of his passes with no interceptions (minimum of 20 attempts). Foles just did it twice in nine days. Astonishing.

Mike Trout predicts Super Bowl pain for Tom Brady

USA Today Images

Mike Trout predicts Super Bowl pain for Tom Brady

Mike Trout hasn't decided if he will travel to Minneapolis to watch his beloved Eagles play the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LII. Trout said he enjoys staying at home and watching the game on television with his family. (There's something cool about that.) He also digs the commercials.

Wherever baseball's best — and highest paid — player decides to watch the game, he will have one important accessory with him: his dog mask. The same one he wore at Lincoln Financial Field during the Eagles' trouncing of the Minnesota Vikings in Sunday's NFC Championship Game.

"I will definitely be wearing that dog mask," Trout said during a conference call with reporters Tuesday. "Gotta ride with it."

Eagles tackle Lane Johnson gave Trout the dog mask that has come to symbolize the Eagles' place as an underdog in the playoffs and again in the Super Bowl. The Eagles have come to relish that status.

"A lot of people doubted them," Trout said. "They lost the majority of their captains and starters (to injury), but they're still fighting. Next-man-up mentality."

Even some of Trout's teammates with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim doubted the Eagles. But no more.

"They give me grief all the time," Trout said. "Now they're all rooting for them. Throughout the season, there were a lot of ups and downs. But now we're going to the Super Bowl."

Trout, of course, was raised and still lives in Millville, New Jersey, less than an hour's drive from Philadelphia. He grew up a fan of all the Philly teams and, in fact, was in the parking lot outside of Citizens Bank Park celebrating with friends the night the Phillies won the World Series in 2008.

Trout, 26, is a season-ticket holder with the Eagles and a close friend and hunting buddy of Carson Wentz. Trout, who saw his first Eagles game back in the Veterans Stadium days, was able to visit with several Eagles players after Sunday's big win over the Vikings.

"I told them to go get it," he said. "Obviously, there hasn't been a Super Bowl champion in Philadelphia. I told them to go get it."

Trout recalled watching Super Bowl XXXIX more than a decade ago. The Patriots beat the Eagles, 24-21, in that one.

Trout sees a different Eagles team in the rematch.

"This team is just a little bit different," he said. "They want to win and it's not just one guy carrying them. Every guy has a part in it."

Trout's buddy, Wentz, won't be playing in the Super Bowl. He may have been on his way to the NFL's MVP award hadn't he been knocked out by a season-ending knee injury in December. Nick Foles has taken over and been at the helm for two playoff wins.

In six spectacular seasons in the majors, Trout has won two American League MVP awards and finished second three times. (That's why he will make $34 million in 2018.) He finished fourth in the voting in 2017 and would have finished higher if he hadn't missed significant time with a thumb injury that required surgery. He feels for Wentz, who has to watch from the sidelines.

"It's definitely difficult," Trout said. "I went through it last year. It's tough for him. I thought he was the MVP. It was hard to watch when he went down. But he's working hard. He's walking. I'm sure he'll be ready for next season.

"What he did on the field this season was amazing, and now Nick has stepped up."

Tuesday's conference call was set up by the Angels' media relations department because of the large demand to speak with Trout, who has emerged as the Eagles' most visible fan, woofing and pumping his fist in triumph with the rest of the fans at the Linc. Trout said he'd never heard the place louder than it was as Patrick Robinson ran back that game-turning pick-six in the first quarter Sunday night.

Philadelphia fans dream of a day when they will be cheering for Trout rounding the bases in a Phillies uniform. He is signed through 2020. His free agency is not that far away.

As always, Trout deflected a question about whether he could see himself playing in Philadelphia someday.

"I'm an Eagles fan," he said. "Obviously, I grew up a Philly sports fan. I love playing in Anaheim. I have a couple more years on my contract. I love Anaheim and the West Coast."

That wasn't exactly a no.

Trout was more direct when asked about what he expected in the Super Bowl.

"It's going to be tough," he said. "Anybody that goes against Tom Brady is going against the best and maybe greatest of all time.

"I still think the Eagles will pull it out and they're going to win, 31-24."

And the decisive play will be?

"An interception of Brady," Trout said.