Should we have seen more Marcus Mariota? Where does Eli Ricks fit in? And where the heck did Tyreek Maddox-Williams come from?
Here’s our 10 Instant Observations from the Eagles’ 27-13 preseason loss to the Colts at the Linc. Opening day is just over two weeks away. It’s finally almost here.
1. I would have liked to have seen a little more Marcus Mariota. I’m glad he played, but I’m not sure what one six-play series really showed. I know Nick Sirianni wants to get to the starting line with everybody on the 53 healthy, but Mariota needs reps. He needs to play. He needs work. He has not been good this summer, and the more work he can get with a new offensive coordinator and just experiencing the speed of the game the better off he’ll be. Mariota only threw two passes – a 21-yarder to Deon Cain and an incomplete pass into the end zone to tight end Dan Arnold that should have been a DPI. That was somewhat encouraging. I don’t think Mariota will be a disaster if he has to play. He’d be out there with a big-time offensive line, great receivers and a top-three tight end. But a couple more series going into the regular season would have been beneficial.
2. It’s kind of mind-blowing how good Jake Elliott is. He’s now made field goals of 56 and 59 yards in the last two preseason games, and he’s making those kicks seem easy – blasting them with room to spare down the middle of the goal-post. Elliott did miss a 46-yarder against the Ravens, but that was with Ty Zentner holding. Elliott is 4-for-7 in his career in the regular season from 55 yards and out, and the ease that he’s hitting those long-distance field goals this preseason sure makes it seem like he’s gotten stronger and more consistent from deep. What a weapon. He was already one of the best in the league and he looks better than ever right now.
3. One thing we’ve learned this summer is that the Eagles don’t have the offensive line depth this year that they had last year. Losing Andre Dillard eliminated a solid backup left tackle, and losing Isaac Seumalo hurt the depth because it moved Cam Jurgens into the starting lineup. Jurgens has been very good at right guard, but he provided great depth at center and guard last year. And Jack Driscoll – who can play pretty much anywhere on the o-line except center – has had a disappointing summer for a 4th-round pick in his fourth season who has 16 career starts. The likely backups are Tyler Steen, Josh Sills or Josh Andrews, Sua Opeta, Fred Johnson and Driscoll if they keep 10. The Eagles may have the best starting five in the league. The next five not so much.
4. I know there’s been a groundswell of opinion that Tanner McKee should be No. 2, and I get it. I’ve also been really impressed by the way the rookie 6th-round pick has handled himself this year. He’s way ahead of where anybody thought he’d be. But Thursday night our first chance to see him against a starting defense, and you can see the difference. The game moves a little faster, and McKee wasn’t as sharp against the Colts’ 1’s as he was against the Ravens’ and Browns’ third teams. This isn’t a knock on McKee, just part of the reason Mariota will remain No. 2 and McKee No. 3. For now.
5. How about Devon Allen with his annual preseason electrifying play. Last year it was a 55-yard TD catch from Reid Sinnett in Cleveland, and Thursday night it was an impressive 73-yard kick return to open the game. That was the longest Eagles kick return in a preseason game since Josh Huff’s 102-yarder for a TD against the Bears at Soldier Field in 2014. We know Allen is fast. He’s a two-time Olympic hurdles finalist. What I liked most about the play was that Allen showed some toughness. After muffing the kickoff at the goal-line, he took off up the left side of the field and ran into traffic before busting out of a Adetomiwa Adebawore tackle at the 16-yard-line, changing direction, ran to his right, and really did a nice job eluding a couple Colts after crossing midfield before finally getting tackled at the 27. I also liked the way he quickly popped up after getting clobbered by corner Dallis Flowers following a seven-yard catch in the second quarter. And then you saw his outstanding work as a gunner, stopping Amari Rodgers for no gain on a 3rd-quarter punt return. Allen doesn’t look like a track guy trying to play football. He’s got the toughness and grit of a football player. It’s been a rough summer for Allen, who missed the first two weeks of camp with a calf injury he suffered in June while training for the U.S. Track Nationals. But every time you write him off, he shows off that blazing speed. Do the Eagles really want to carry a 28-year-old rookie who’s never played an NFL snap on the practice squad? Why not. Allen has one trait that very people have. If he wants to stick with football – and he’s said he can make more money on the practice squad than running track – I’m all for keeping him around.
6. Not only were spots on the 53 on the line Thursday night, practice squad spots were as well, and one kid who really helped himself was newly acquired linebacker Tyreek Maddox-Williams, who just joined the Eagles on Saturday. Maddox-Williams, a South Jersey kid from Timber Creek, spent last year on the Chargers’ practice squad before getting released early in training camp. TMW, who played at Rutgers, had a monster game with an interception and 42-yard return, six tackles, a quarterback hit, a tackle for loss, two pass knockdowns and a couple big hits. That’s impressive stuff for anybody. For someone who just walked through the door of the NovaCare Complex for the first time five days ago, it was eye-opening.
7. It was kind of strange seeing Kentavius Street inactive for Thursday night considering the guys who didn’t dress are generally going to make the team. Street, a 27-year-old veteran defensive tackle, was a 4th-round pick of the 49ers back in 2018 and has played in 52 NFL games over five seasons with the 49ers and Saints. But he hasn’t really flashed this summer. One theory is that the Eagles don’t know if Moro Ojomo – who suffered a concussion last Thursday in the Browns game and was carted off the field – will be back in time for the regular season. But with final cuts looming on Tuesday, they want to keep Ojomo on the 53 so they don’t miss him for the entire season. So Street and Ojomo both make the initial 53 in a crowded defensive tackle room (along with Fletcher Cox, Jordan Davis, Milton Williams and Marlon Tuipulotu) and then Ojomo goes on I.R. after final cuts and just misses a month. Maybe it’s something else. Maybe an unreported injury. Maybe they just didn’t want Street to play for some other reason and he’s not going to make the 53. But that was a serious injury Ojomo suffered. Concussions are impossible to predict. So keeping Street could make sense.
8. I really like Eli Ricks. That dude keeps making plays, and I think Howie Roseman might have to carve out a roster spot for him. Ricks was once so highly regarded during his LSU days that he was considered a possible 1st- or 2nd-round pick. But for a variety of reasons, his stock plunged and the Eagles got him as a priority undrafted free agent. He’s around the ball, smart, instinctive and supremely confident. Most guys you don’t worry about clearing waivers, but teams are desperate for young, talented cornerbacks and Ricks is both. Darius Slay, James Bradberry, Josh Jobe, Avonte Maddox and Kelee Ringo are locks and the amount of slot Bradberry has taken in practice lately says the Eagles just might be comfortable without a true backup slot. When he goes inside, Jobe goes outside. That could allow the Eagles to keep Ricks as a sixth corner and fourth outside corner. Ricks hasn’t been great at practice. He’s been better in the games than at practice. But you can see the potential. I’m not sure the Eagles want to risk losing him.
9. If you didn’t watch Thursday night or turned the game off early – and I can’t imagine why you would – you missed an intriguing performance by undrafted rookie linebacker Ben VanSumeren, who piled up a ridiculous 16 tackles – 10 solo, five assisted. Those are insane numbers for anybody against anybody in any game. VanSumeren is a crazy athlete with off-the-charts tools but very little experience at linebacker – he began college as a fullback. But he was all over the field Thursday night, especially in the second half, when he had 13 of his 16 tackles. He makes plenty of mistakes too, but he's making them going 100 miles an hour. VanSumeren isn’t going to make the team, but put him on the practice squad and let him continue learning how to play linebacker and the Eagles might have something at some point. I’ll tell you what, VanSumeren will be a terrific special teamer as soon as he gets that opportunity. No doubt he’s a project, but he’s one heck of an impressive project.
10. Arryn Siposs had a decent game (45.0 average, 45.0 net) and a decent preseason and I still think it would be a mistake to keep him. He’s always good in the preseason. He’s always good early in the season. But he’s never finished a season strong, and I just don’t know how the Eagles can trust him in a big moment late in the season in an important game after what we saw in Glendale in February. If the Eagles look at a few strong punts in a meaningless preseason game against the Colts and decide Siposs has somehow figured it all out, I feel like that’s a big mistake. Who’s better out there? I’ll trust Roseman to figure that out.