Tonight’s game between the Eagles and Ravens will give us our first taste of football for the 2011 season. Preseason games are usually a slop-fest for the most part, especially the first one. This year it could be even worse thanks to the lockout and shortened offseason.
So for tonight, my focus is going to be on two players; one who is a rookie and is slated to start in the middle of the defense, and the other is a second-year player who could wind up being a key starter for the offense.
Casey Matthews and Riley Cooper.
These guys are not only battling for roster spots and perhaps a starting position, but more importantly, they’re battling for hair supremacy!
Yesterday I wrote about the possibility of Kirk Morrison waiting on the Eagles to decide whether or not they are going to stick with Matthews. You can bet that his play will be highly scrutinized by the Eagles coaches.
They’ll be analyzing his ability to diagnose plays and react, his ability to take-on and shed blocks, and his prowess in pass coverage. They’ll also be looking at how handles running the defensive huddle.
The middle linebacker is typically the defensive leader. He is responsible for relaying the play call to the rest of the players and making sure the front seven are lined up properly.
Juan Castillo has stated that Matthews is a natural leader. Tonight is his first test and time for him to start proving Castillo right. He’ll most likely have this week and next week’s game to show he can handle the job before the Eagles decide to bring in a veteran.
On the other side of the ball, Riley Cooper will be the player I give special attention to. The reason being is that with Jeremy Maclin’s status unclear, it is highly possible that Cooper is in the starting lineup come opening day.
Jason Avant is listed as the third receiver and has made a living as the Eagles’ slot receiver. He is very productive in that role. If Maclin isn’t ready for the start of the season, I believe the most likely scenario is that Avant stays in the slot and Cooper moves to the outside.
The Eagles are high on Cooper and expect him to make significant strides from last year. Unfortunately, last year ended with an intercepted pass from Michael Vick that was intended for Cooper.
Vick and Cooper need to work on their chemistry together as it appeared they lacked it at times last season. Cooper also needs to work on his route running and in particular, when and how to adjust his route depending on what the defense is doing.
If Cooper can show that he has made big strides, it will go a long way in making Eagles fans feel a little better about the prospect of not having Maclin in there.
Other key things I’ll be watching tonight are:
All of our nice, new, and shiny free agent acquisitions
Michael Vick’s progression
Our rookie kicker and punter
How the first team defense looks as a whole
What aspect of tonight’s game will you be paying the most attention to?