If Chase Daniel didn’t ruin your love of football Thursday night, we’ve got 10 instant observations off the Eagles’ preseason-opening 17-9 win over the Bucs at the Linc for your reading pleasure (see Instant Replay).
We’ve got some Jalen Mills, some offensive line depth, some Jaylen Watkins, some Joe Walker, some Kenjon Barner and much more, so jump in!
1. I hate the idea of Daniel starting the season as the Eagles’ No. 2 quarterback. And not only because of how terrible he was Thursday night against the Bucs. I’ve been saying it all summer. It makes zero sense. I know offenses are vanilla right now, and Daniel was playing behind the No. 2 offensive line, for a while against a starting defense. But let’s be honest, there is no way he’s going to come in and win games in the event that Sam Bradford gets injured or benched. I know it’s only one preseason game, but for crying out loud, the dude looked like Mike McMahon out there. Daniel played seven series and generated negative-four net passing yards. He wasn’t even looking down the field. And this is a guy going into his seventh NFL season. And he’s your No. 2? Maybe he’ll play better the rest of the preseason. But seriously, based on what we’ve seen in camp and Thursday night against Tampa, I don’t know how Doug Pederson can in good conscience make a case that Daniel gives this team a better chance to win than Carson Wentz.
2. Wentz? He came in and just started firing. The difference in firepower between Daniel and Wentz was obvious to everybody in the stadium (see story). Wentz had more passing yards on his second career attempt (19) than Daniel had in the entire game (15). Granted, Wentz was facing threes after Daniel faced ones and twos. And he was far from perfect. But he gave the offense some juice. He dropped back and fired. He eluded trouble in the pocket. He ran when it made sense to run. And we saw what kind of gamer he is when he scrambled back 10 yards for an errant snap, then rolled to his right and threw out of bounds. Just a heads-up play. Now, he also threw an interception on a ball that sailed on him, and that’s been a problem throughout camp. It’s something he has to figure out. But I liked the way he carried himself, I liked the way he played with confidence and I liked the way he responded to adversity. He played like he belongs, and that’s a big step for a kid who played FCS ball and not all that much of it. If you’re asking me who should be No. 2? It’s not even close.
3. I would have liked to have seen a little more of Bradford. I know it’s only the first preseason game, but one pass for three yards? What’s the point? The first drive started deep in Tampa territory, thanks to a Bucs fumble on the opening kickoff. One three-yard Bradford dumpoff and two Ryan Mathews runs produced a quick touchdown. And that was it for Bradford. New system, new coach, several new receivers … Maybe give him at least one full series?
4. One effective way to neutralize the Wide 9 is with screen passes, and you saw the Bucs have success with them on their first-quarter touchdown drive, Jameis Winston lobbing the ball over the pass rush to a couple running backs — 11 yards to Doug Martin, 26 yards to Mike James. These plays put a lot of pressure on the linebackers, and the Eagles’ linebackers were not in position to limit the yards after the catch on those two screens. Something to keep an eye on moving forward this preseason.
5. I was very curious to see how cornerback Mills handled himself in his first NFL game after an impressive training camp. The results were not good. Mills struggled in coverage and also did not tackle well. The Eagles are very high on Mills, and it’s obviously still very early, but this was not an auspicious debut for the rookie seventh-round pick from LSU.
6. I like the way Watkins showed up. Watkins, now in his second stint with the Eagles, got a lot of reps at safety Thursday night and was active with a couple pass breakups. There’s really nothing set at backup safety behind Malcolm Jenkins and Rodney McLeod, and Watkins has a chance. He’s physical and has enough coverage ability that he’s played some corner in the league. He did drop an interception Thursday night, but he was in the right place. Keep an eye on him.
7. Barner runs hard. I’ll tell you what, Darren Sproles is officially the No. 2 running back on the depth chart, but we all know Sproles is not going to give you 16 to 18 carries a game if injury-prone Mathews gets hurt, and we certainly don’t know enough about Wendell Smallwood to make him the No. 2. It has to be Barner. I like this kid. Ran seven times for 35 yards against the Bucs for an even 5.0 per pop and added a 47-yard kick return. He’s got to show he can pick up the blitz and catch the ball out of the backfield, but he is a tough, slashing runner who always seems to get positive yards.
8. Here’s another guy who I thought stood out Thursday night — rookie seventh-round pick Walker, a backup middle linebacker. Walker has looked solid at practice and was stout against the Bucs. He moves around pretty well, and he’s a sure tackler. Made a couple plays Thursday night that got your attention. Could be headed for the practice squad but has a shot to stick considering the Eagles’ lack of linebacker depth.
9. That second-team offensive line is a wreck, by the way. I’m not sure what options the Eagles have at this point other than waiting for some veterans to hit the waiver wire, but the Eagles are paying the price right now for not drafting an offensive lineman in 2014 or 2015. In fact, going back to 2007, the Eagles have only taken three offensive linemen in the first three rounds — Danny Watkins in the first round in 2011, Lane Johnson in the first round in 2013 and Isaac Seumalo in the third round this past year. The Eagles really have to hope Johnson doesn’t get suspended (more on Johnson here), Jason Peters stays healthy and Jason Kelce bounces back. Because there isn’t much behind them.
10. We don’t talk about Chris Maragos very often, but he’s a pretty valuable player. He’s an absolute stud on special teams — he recovered a fumble on the game’s opening kickoff Thursday — and can fill in at safety in an emergency, although at 5-foot-10, 200 pounds, you don’t want him out there too much. He made a pretty athletic interception off Mike Glennon Thursday night in the second quarter. The kind of guy it's easy to forget about but you always like having on your team.