The Philadelphia Eagles used only one offensive starter in their final preseason game, a meaningless 24-14 victory over the New York Jets, and so I thought I'd focus on him. He was Danny Watkins, the first-round pick out of Baylor and the Eagles' starting right guard. He played about 20 snaps against backup Jets defenders, looked good on some, looked lost on others, and I came away with no idea how prepared he is to help protect Michael Vick once the real games begin.
The good: Watkins generally looks strong enough to hold his blocks once he gets his hands on his man. He got good second-level push on one of Dion Lewis' runs on the second offensive series of the game. And he did an excellent job getting down field to make a block on a defensive back on the screen pass to Lewis on the play right before the Eagles' first touchdown. (Oddly, he appeared to be beaten on the touchdown play, but it didn't matter since Vince Young made the throw before the pressure got there.)
The not-so-good: There was a three-play sequence on the first offensive series where he looked very much like a rookie. On the first, his man beat him to the outside and got into the backfield. On the next play, he made some progress into the second level, as Howard Mudd is trying to teach his linemen to do, but got knocked to the ground quickly. And then on the next, he was kind of swimming around in the crowd, blocking no one and looking as though he didn't know where he was supposed to be. Two plays later, he failed to pick up a blitzing Aaron Maybin, who got to Young but was unable to sack him because he's Aaron Maybin and so Young completed the pass anyway.
Watkins is a rookie who didn't have an offseason, and as such he's a work in progress. He'll almost certainly be better by Week 4 and Week 9 and Week 17 than he will be in Week 1. The key is that he has to be good enough, consistently, from play to play, to keep Vick from getting crushed and help the Eagles' offense put points on the board early in the season. Because the Eagles are one of these teams, due to the offseason they had, that can't afford to get off to a slow start unless they're happy with the whole world jumping on their backs about it.
Anyway, some more stuff I saw in the Eagles' final preseason game:
1. Dion Lewis! Oh, I don't have any idea how much he can expect to play -- if at all -- in an Eagles offense that features as many dynamic options as it does. He's the No. 3 running back behind LeSean McCoy and Ronnie Brown in an offense that passes more than it runs. So we might not hear much more from him the rest of the year unless they're going to use him on kick returns as they did Thursday. But if we do, man, is he fun to watch. Good burst at the line. Doesn't need much of a hole to squeeze himself through. Fast. Shifty. Patient. Balanced. Tough to bring down. Yeah, against second-teamers. But he's got some obvious skills, and should be a nice option for the Eagles if they suffer an injury or two at that position.
2. Vince Young is the backup quarterback, and a very good one. The idea that Mike Kafka could beat out Young for the backup quarterback spot was rooted in the idea that Young would take a long time to learn the West Coast offense. And Young may not have it all down yet. But he looks more advanced by leaps and bounds than he did in the first preseason game and in the early training camp practices. And his pure athletic ability and experience as a quarterback making throws in the NFL puts him well ahead of Kafka in terms of being a guy the Eagles can put in, should Vick get hurt, and ask him to win them a game. Young did end up leaving this game with a hamstring injury (on a play that wouldn't have happened but for a botched field goal snap on the play before, incidentally), and Kafka with a rib injury, so there's no way to know what the depth chart looks like at quarterback for the opener. But if everyone's healthy, what Andy Reid said after the game about Young being the backup sounds obvious at this point.
3. Defensive backups. Linebacker Brian Rolle looked good, and defensive lineman Trevor Laws had some nice moments after missing the bulk of the preseason due to injury. Defensive end Phillip Hunt also had a sack, and he's an interesting guy as cuts loom, because he made a big-time name for himself in the CFL and is someone who obviously knows how to play the game and the position. But he's so small for his position that you wonder if he can have any impact at all in a real game against first-team offensive linemen. Hunt has been very good this preseason, but nothing is assured for him yet. The Eagles have to decide if his playmaking ability outweighs his measurables.
4. Alex Henery doesn't look great. And hasn't all month. And you do wonder if going with a rookie kicker is the wisest move in the world for a team with expectations as high as the Eagles' expectations are. Henery missed his first field goal attempt of the night -- a 43-yarder -- very badly. He made a 49-yarder late in the game, which is fine. But there's no doubt he can make a kick from almost any distance. What the Eagles would like to know about him is whether he's reliable enough to make every kick they need him to make. And the first-quarter miss is the kind of thing that makes you wonder. On the plus side, rookie punter Chas Henry looks excellent.
Anyway, four games, none of which mattered, and now the Eagles have a week and a couple of days before they need to beat the Rams in St. Louis or everybody starts yelling that the sky is falling. The spotlight -- and the bulls-eye -- will be on this team all year, and fun time is over.