Eagles preseason

Memories of a preseason debut 17 years ago for Josh McCown

Memories of a preseason debut 17 years ago for Josh McCown

The Arizona Cardinals traveled to San Diego in August of 2002 for their preseason opener at Qualcomm Stadium.

Hall of Famer LaDainian Tomlinson was in that game. Heisman Trophy winner Doug Flutie was in that game. Current Eagles tight ends coach Justin Peelle was in that game.

And Josh McCown was in that game.

That was McCown’s first career preseason game, and he remembers it like it was yesterday.

I remember, shoot, Jake Plummer hit David Boston on a dig pump for like a 60-yard touchdown, and I remember sitting there thinking, ‘Man, this game is easy, you know? This is what we’re going to do,’” McCown said. “Then the third quarter rolls around and I get in the game and I just remember running around like a chicken with my head cut off trying to find the open guy and get some completions and finally settling in. But it’s a fun day. When you put that uniform on for the first time and you walk out there it’s special, and they turn the lights on and you take the field, it’s a special feeling. I’ll never forget that.

McCown’s memory is pretty darn good.

The TD from Plummer to Boston was actually 64 yards. That’s 17 years ago.

And when McCown entered the game he started out 0-for-5 with a sack before warming up and hitting six of his last seven passes. 

That was his first career preseason game, and the one against the Ravens last Thursday might wind up being his last. He probably won’t play against the Jets Thursday night in the preseason finale at MetLife Stadium, and at 40 years old and in his 18th pro season this could well wind up being his final NFL season.

McCown has played in 50 career preseason games, completing 310 of 517 passes for 3,088 yards, 13 touchdowns and 12 interceptions.

That’s like a full meaningless NFL season.

McCown, who missed virtually all of this year's training camp, has been around so long he’s a throwback to the old NFL two-a-day practices that have long since been outlawed.

The guys were asking (about two-a-days), what it was like,” McCown said. ‘Hey, practice twice a day, just like it sounds. I think obviously the rule changes for player safety are important, but there was a level of grind and toughness that came out of those days, so when you’re in the middle of that, you weren’t thinking about playing for 17 years, I promise you that. You were hoping to last the next 17 minutes. … I was just trying to make it through camp at that point. Back when camp was really camp. So to be here is a tremendous blessing, I’m very thankful.

The fourth preseason game is always the worst of the bunch. And they’re all pretty bad. 

McCown recalled the final preseason weekend of 2012 with the Bears, when they faced the Browns in Cleveland. 

With Jay Cutler and Jason Campbell not playing and Matt Blanchard just released, McCown had to play the entire game, throwing 29 passes. 

I had been in the league 10-plus years, I’m playing every snap of the fourth preseason game,” he said. “But there were guys trying to make the roster, so I was trying to give everybody their best chance. I got cut the next day.

Then there was last summer, when ironically he was with the Jets finishing the preseason against the Eagles at the Linc. 

He wasn’t scheduled to play, but …

We traded Teddy Bridgewater on the way to the game and I had to find some (cleats) and get myself ready to go,” he said. “But it’s an important night, and you understand that as a young player and going through the league because it’s a night of opportunity and you want to help those guys out.

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Making cases for and against 12 Eagles on the roster bubble

Making cases for and against 12 Eagles on the roster bubble

The Eagles have some decisions to make. 

While the Eagles have most of their roster spots solidified, they have a deep 90-man roster, which means it won’t be easy for the front office and coaching staff to whittle down the list to 53 guys. 

“It's going to be hard,” head coach Doug Pederson said. “It's going to be hard to make decisions on some of these positions because we have talent and depth at a lot of them.”

With that in mind, here are 12 Eagles who are firmly on the bubble as final cuts loom. I’ll make the case for keeping them on the 53-man roster and the case for cutting them. 

QB Clayton Thorson 

The case for: The Eagles don’t want to risk losing Thorson on waivers. They just used a fifth-round pick to draft him out of Northwestern and he’s really started to show progress over the last month. Thorson could be the backup of the future, so burning a roster spot on him, which means keeping four QBs, is worth it. 

The case against: You really want to waste a roster spot on a guy who we all know won’t play this season? (If he does play, a few things have gone terribly wrong.) Four quarterbacks is just too many on a deep roster; it means cutting someone who could actually help this season. And if Thorson gets cut, he’ll pass through waivers. How many teams are going to claim a quarterback who doesn’t know their system and use one of their 53-man spots on him? 

Wendell Smallwood

The case for: Smallwood is old reliable. No, he isn’t a superstar, but Smallwood has 850 career rushing yards and actually leads the Eagles in that category since 2016. He’d be a good backup for Jordan Howard and Miles Sanders if one of them goes down and he does more than a player like Josh Adams. So if the Eagles want to keep five running backs, Smallwood should be their guy. If they don’t keep him, he probably ends up on a roster somewhere else. 

The case against: It doesn’t make sense to keep five running backs. After all, the Eagles should be set with Howard, Sanders, Corey Clement and Darren Sproles. If Smallwood is on the team, he probably won’t even play unless there’s an injury and while he’s a decent player, there’s nothing he does better than someone we already know is on the roster. 

Mack Hollins

The case for: At least he’s finally healthy and Hollins really is a pretty good special teamer, which is important for an end-of-the-roster receiver. Despite missing last season, there’s still reason to think Hollins has some potential. After all, he did catch 16 passes for 226 yards and a touchdown in his rookie season after being taken in the fourth round in 2017. 

The case against: Hollins has trouble staying healthy. Last year, the groin injuries kept him out all season and he missed considerable time this summer with a hip injury. And while he is a pretty good special teamer, maybe we’re overvaluing that part of his game. As a receiver, he’s been outplayed this summer by guys like Greg Ward and Marken Michel. 

Greg Ward 

The case for: If the Eagles keep six receivers, Ward should make the team, but you can even make a case if they keep just five. He had a better camp than Hollins and offers more value offensively. If an outside receiver goes down this year, JJ Arcega-Whiteside will fill in. What about a slot receiver? Maybe JJAW could do that too, but Ward would be a more natural fit as a backup slot guy. And his QB background makes him an intriguing player for gadget plays. 

The case against: The Eagles probably don’t need to keep six receivers and they’ve had no problem sneaking Ward to the practice squad before. As well as Ward has performed this summer, Hollins was a draft pick and the Eagles seem to think he has more upside, especially when it comes to making big plays. Hollins is clearly the better special teamer. 

Stefen Wisniewski 

The case for: This guy started in the Super Bowl less than two years ago. He’s a backup who has a ton of NFL experience (123 games, 101 starts) and experience within this offense. And he’s versatile. He’s played guard and center in the league. Wiz came back this season for a pretty cheap price given his experience. 

The case against: While he’s been versatile in the past, Wiz has had serious issues snapping the ball this summer, so he might actually be a liability at center. So, really, he’s not versatile. He’s simply the backup at left guard, a position that he eventually won in 2017 but was taken away from him early in 2018. And cutting him would save around $1.5 million in cap space. 

Matt Pryor 

The case for: Pryor has versatility as a guard and a tackle and has played both in practice. He also has a year under his belt learning the Eagles offense. Even though 2018 was basically a redshirt season, the Eagles have already invested plenty of time in the sixth-round pick. 

The case against: He’s versatile, but how good is he? Pryor has been guilty of several penalties this offseason and it would still take at least two injuries for him to get on the field. The Eagles would probably be able to get Pryor to the practice squad. Players get claimed off waivers way more infrequently after final cuts than you’d think. 

Daeshon Hall 

The case for: The guy has been a monster this preseason. You could argue he hasn’t just earned a roster spot, but that he’s earned real playing time. He has 3 sacks, 4 TFLs, 8 QB hits and 2 forced fumbles in three preseason games, leading the Eagles in every single category. He’s also a former third-round pick who has plenty of upside. 

The case against: The preseason doesn’t matter to coaches as much as practice, where he hasn’t been as electrifying. And, like it or not, the Eagles used a draft pick on Josh Sweat and there’s still a lot of buzz around him. 

Shareef Miller

The case for: The Eagles just used a fourth-round pick on the local product and he’s shown some encouraging flashes this summer. His numbers aren’t as great as Hall’s this preseason, but he still has 2 sacks, 3 TFLs and 4 QB hits. Like any young player, if they cut him, the Eagles would have to hope he makes it through waivers to get him to the practice squad. 

The case against: Miller has shown flashes, but he’s still too raw, he still needs time in the weight room and still needs to develop better pass rush moves. Keeping him on the roster could mean cutting a player who could actually help more this season. And getting him through waivers might not be as difficult as you’d think. 

Treyvon Hester 

The case for: This guy got a finger on the double-doink in Chicago and blocked another kick this preseason; so he can help on special teams. After joining the Eagles during last season, Hester looks much more comfortable in the defense and has gotten good push this summer. He gives the Eagles very good depth at DT, a position where they lacked it last season. 

The case against: The Eagles traded for Hassan Ridgeway on Day 3 of the draft and he’s been ahead of Hester on the depth chart. So if they keep four defensive tackles, it probably makes more sense to keep Ridgeway, who also has more NFL experience and has had more productivity. 

T.J. Edwards 

The case for: The Eagles don’t have a ton of depth at linebacker and they didn’t draft one, so the UDFA is their best chance to groom a young ‘backer this season. Edwards got off to a slow start in training camp, but has flashed recently with 11 tackles and two TFLs this preseason. He is also a pure MIKE and looks like he can also help on special teams. 

The case against: He’s an undrafted rookie so every NFL team already passed on him multiple times in the draft. So if the Eagles don’t think he’d play this season, they could find a spot for Edwards on their practice squad. 

Orlando Scandrick 

The case for: After Cre’Von LeBlanc went down, Scandrick was signed and plugged in as the second-team nickel. He’d enter the season as the primary backup nickel corner and would be a veteran presence in a cornerback group that is pretty young. If the Eagles want to IR LeBlanc with the goal to return him, he needs to be on the initial roster, so keeping Scandrick would ensure depth going into Week 1. 

The case against: The Eagles could cut Scandrick and then bring him back after Week 1 or whenever they need him to avoid guaranteeing his contract this season. And if LeBlanc or Jalen Mills return, Scandrick becomes expendable. 

Rudy Ford 

The case for: He hasn’t been here long (traded to the Eagles on Thursday), but the 24-year-old safety played 455 special teams snaps for the Cardinals over the last two years. Every season, teams keep guys who are pure special teamers and Ford would fit that role. 

The case against: He’s been here for less than a week and missed all of training camp. And the Eagles seem set at safety — Malcolm Jenkins, Rodney McLeod, Andrew Sendejo, Johnathan Cyprien and maybe Tre Sullivan or Deiondre’ Hall — so keeping Ford would simply be a move for special teams. That’s more of a luxury than a necessity. 

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One guy who didn’t want Eagles-Ravens preseason game canceled: Clayton Thorson

One guy who didn’t want Eagles-Ravens preseason game canceled: Clayton Thorson

There were plenty of people who were happy on Thursday night when the Eagles-Ravens preseason game was canceled with 11 minutes and 43 seconds still left to play. 

Clayton Thorson was not one of them. 

“Really disappointed,” Thorson said this week. “You come here to play football and you practice throughout the week and you don’t play in the game. It was disappointing, but I don’t control that so I can’t sit here and think about that all the time. It’s kind of the 24-hour rule when you play a game. You’re in and you’re out. 

“Just a bummer. But gotta come back and have a good week at practice and then play well this Thursday.” 

Last Thursday night was supposed to be a chance for Thorson to build on his positive performance in Week 2 of the preseason. But in his third taste of NFL action, Thorson played just three snaps. He threw just one pass, an incompletion. 

After Thorson’s three-and-out, the Ravens’ offense was on the field early in the fourth quarter when a bolt of lighting drew “oohs” and “aahs” that could even be heard on the game broadcast. The field was cleared and players were forced to return to their locker rooms. 

Twenty-four minutes later, the game was canceled. Fans and players were told to head home. 

“That was weird,” Thorson said. “It was crazy, we just had our first possession and it was like we just got struck by lightning basically. It was a bummer. But then in the locker room, after a little bit of time, they came to us and said, ‘We’re going to call the game.’ Definitely bummed, especially because you only get a few opportunities.” 

The Eagles’ fifth-round developmental quarterback from Northwestern was coming off an impressive performance in his second preseason game and a really great week of practice. That came after a horrendous performance in the first preseason game. So Thursday was a chance for him to build on his progress. 

He threw one pass. 

The good news is that after his impressive performance in Week 2 of the preseason, Thorson looked like a completely different guy at practice against the Ravens. It was clear that his confidence peaked. There’s a lot for a rookie quarterback to deal with and worry about early in training camp, but he’s made huge strides over the last month. 

“I think just starting out your first training camp, I think there’s so much to learn,” he said. “So I think I’ve learned in every facet, whether that’s having a routine, whether that’s going about reading defenses, knowing our offense. I think everywhere has improved. I think it’s been a good camp.

“I think as I get more comfortable in the offense and seeing the defenses, I think it has slowed down.” 

The Eagles will eventually have a decision to make about Thorson. They can either try to cut him and sneak him through waivers to their practice squad or they can keep him on the 53-man roster as their fourth-string quarterback. It won’t necessarily be an easy decision because they don’t want to risk losing him. 

And with the game this Thursday in North Jersey against the Jets to close out the preseason, Thorson can make that decision a little harder — as long as lightning doesn’t get in the way again.  

“I’m looking forward to it,” Thorson said. 

For his sake, hopefully Mother Nature is too. 

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