10 players to watch in Eagles' 1st preseason game

10 players to watch in Eagles' 1st preseason game

After a short offseason, the Eagles will play a game Thursday night for the first time since Feb. 4, when they beat the Patriots 41-33 in Super Bowl LII. 

Remember that? 

Anyway, it’s a new season with the “new norm” and all that. The real season doesn’t begin for another four weeks, but the preseason starts tonight with the first of four games. The Eagles host the Steelers, but it doesn’t really matter who they’re playing or even if they win. 

The preseason is all about evaluating players, staying healthy and finding some rhythm. We’re going to focus on the evaluating players bit. We already asked some veterans who they want to watch (see story)

Here is my list of 10 Eagles: 

Nate Sudfeld
You don’t really have much of a choice on this one. Sudfeld is going to play and he’s going to play a lot. Not just in this game, but in the preseason. But that’s not a bad thing either. This is our first glimpse of a guy the Eagles really think has the stuff to be a more long-term backup for Carson Wentz once Nick Foles eventually moves on. The Eagles got Suds from Washington and haven’t let him leave. They even promoted him to the active roster last year to protect him from poachers. Sudfeld is lanky with a huge arm but has been inconsistent in camp. Here’s his first chance to show us what he’s got. 

Josh Adams
The rookie running back from Notre Dame missed all of the spring with a stress fracture in his foot but has done some nice things in training camp. Guys like Donnel Pumphrey, Wendell Smallwood and Matt Jones are probably still ahead of Adams, but with a big preseason, he could land on the roster. If nothing else, he can show off enough to make a practice squad or a different NFL roster. 

Donnel Pumphrey
Pump was bad in training camp last year, but he was awful in the preseason, averaging fewer than two yards per carry. The Eagles like the idea of him being more of a Darren Sproles-type running back, who can run and catch, but that’s been an adjustment. Pump was a between-the-tackles guy in college. He has looked much, much better this training camp, so we’ll see if he can carry it over to game action. 

Sidney Jones
I’ve already seen enough of this kid during training camp to think he’s going to be special. I’m excited for everyone else to see what I mean. Jones obviously fell to the Eagles at 43 last year thanks to that Achilles tear, but he still has that first-round talent inside of him. After seeing him for just 29 snaps last season after plenty of rust, I want to see him fully healthy and ready to go. 

Dallas Goedert 
Just about every day in training camp, Goedert has been pulling down touchdown passes. I’m not surprised by that. He’s a big body, with good hands and great body control. The red zone is where he can make his biggest impact. Expect to see him get some good time in his first-ever NFL game. 

Michael Bennett
Not sure how much Bennett will play tonight, but if he gets out there, he’s worth watching. The Eagles brought in the Pro Bowler via trade and made their already-deep defensive end group even deeper. And I just love watching Bennett play. He plays the position so loose. If you haven’t seen much of him before, you’ll see what I mean soon enough. 

Jordan Hicks 
Hicks has been a full participant all training camp and even looks like he’s bulked up. Not sure if we’ll see Jason Peters in this game, but I’d expect to see at least a little bit of Hicks. Him returning from that Achilles injury is a huge deal, especially as he enters a contract year. 

Shelton Gibson 
Gibson was having a great camp before it got a little off track thanks to a concussion he suffered in practice. Luckily for him, he was able to return this week and should be good to go for the game. The Eagles kept Gibson on the roster last year after a terrible training camp, but it now appears that patience is paying off. Gibson looks like a different dude this time around. 

Matt Pryor 
The sixth-round offensive lineman from TCU has been a training camp revelation. He’s pretty close to being a lock on the roster already. That’s how good he’s been over the first couple of weeks. I know I’m asking you to watch an offensive guard and that doesn’t sound fun, but he might be the real deal. 

Kamu Grugier-Hill 
Nate Gerry has been working with the first team at WILL, which means KGH will probably not start. But after watching him make play after play at the NovaCare Complex, I want to see if he can do it across the street in a game. I really think KGH deserves more time with the starters. 

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Former Eagle Connor Barwin hired as special assistant to the general manager

Former Eagle Connor Barwin hired as special assistant to the general manager

Connor Barwin spent a lot of time at the Eagles’ complex the last couple months of the season, and now we know exactly why.

The Eagles on Friday afternoon announced that Barwin, who spent four years playing for the Eagles, has joined the team's front office in the role of special assistant to the general manager.

I'm done playing football, but my football career is not over," Barwin said in an interview on the team’s web site. "I want to stay involved. I want to help this team wherever I can and also learn the other side of the game from the coaches and the personnel side. There's still a lot that I can learn about the on-field part of the game, as well. I love being around the game. I still want to win a Super Bowl, multiple Super Bowls.

According to the Eagles’ web site, Barwin will work with the player personnel staff during the offseason and work on player development during the season, with an emphasis on mentoring players making the challenging transition from college to the NFL.

Barwin, 33, retired after spending last year with the Giants. He began his career with the Texans before signing a six-year, $36 million deal with the Eagles before the 2013 season.

He spent four of those seasons here and made his only Pro Bowl in 2014, when he had a career-high 14 1/2 sacks - the most by any Eagle over the last eight seasons.

Despite playing only four years here, Barwin ranks 15th in franchise history with 31 1/2 sacks, tied with Mike Mamula.

When Chip Kelly and his staff were fired after the 2015 season and new defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz switched from a 3-4 defense under Bill Davis to a 4-3, Barwin moved from outside linebacker to defensive end. He had five sacks in 2016 and was released after the season.

Barwin spent 2017 with the Rams and 2018 with the Giants. He had 56 1/2 sacks in 10 seasons.

"I got to play for a bunch of really great coaches and look inside how other organizations are run," Barwin said. "That's some insight that I can bring to the Eagles."

Even after he left the Eagles, Barwin always considered Philadelphia home. He has made a huge impact in the community with his Make the World a Better Place foundation, which refurbishes and rebuilds parks and rec centers in Philadelphia.

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Eagles reportedly interviewing Graham Harrell for offensive coordinator job

Eagles reportedly interviewing Graham Harrell for offensive coordinator job

We have a new and interesting name in contention to be the Eagles’ next offensive coordinator.

The Eagles on Friday interviewed Southern California offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Graham Harrell, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Jeff McLane.

This is an interesting approach from the Eagles and Harrell would certainly qualify as an outside-the-box hire. 

Harrell, 34, spent last season at USC but notably has an extensive history with Mike Leach and his Air Raid Offense. Harrell played for Leach at Texas Tech from 2004-08 before going to the CFL and NFL and then coached under Leach at Washington State from 2014-15. 

So Harrell would likely be able to bring some new and potentially exciting concepts to Doug Pederson’s offense. Remember, Jeff Stoutland is the Eagles’ run game coordinator, which meant that Mike Groh was pretty much the pass game coordinator for the last two seasons before he was fired. Since he wouldn’t call plays, that would basically be Harrell’s role if he got the job in Philly. 

At USC, Harrell was hired by head coach Clay Helton when Kliff Kingsbury left after a month to take the head coaching job with the Arizona Cardinals. USC wanted to have an Air Raid style, so they turned to Harrell. 

In his one year as the offensive coordinator at USC, the Trojans improved drastically in major statistical categories on offense from 2018: 

Points per game: 26.1 to 32.5
Yards per game: 382.6 to 454.0 
Passing yards per game: 248.2 to 335.8  

Check out this interesting excerpt from an Aug. 1 story in Sports Illustrated about Harrell’s hire at USC and his thoughts on the offensive system he comes with:

“People hear Air Raid and they think five wide receivers, no tight ends, 60 pass attempts and 50 points a game. To Harrell, the Air Raid is something else. It is working to death a small number of plays, with shorter playcalls, perfecting those plays and out-executing — not out-scheming — the opponent. Option-based coaches, like former Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson, operate under similar mentalities, but with a different focus: rushing the football. Leach does it through the air. “You can’t do everything. I think a lot of people try to take a little bit of everything offensively,” Harrell says. “If you do that, you don’t have much of an identity. You’re just O.K. at everything and not really good at something.”

At times over the last few seasons, the Eagles have found success after simplifying. They’ve also found success using an up-tempo pace to get Carson Wentz into a rhythm. These seem like concepts that would mesh with Harrell’s philosophy. 

And we also know that Pederson values coaches who, like himself, were once players. After he left Texas Tech, Harrell played one season (but was injured) for the Saskatchewan Roughriders and then was a backup quarterback in Green Bay for a few seasons and with the New York Jets for a season in 2013. Harrell’s only NFL game action came in 2012 as a member of the Packers. He played in four games and threw just four career passes. 

Since then, though, he’s been a quick riser in the coaching world. And he has some fresh ideas that might help an Eagles offense that has been far too stagnant at times over the last couple seasons. 

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