After a mundane preseason for the players, coaches and fans, the Eagles definitely have more pep in their step as they prepare for Sunday’s 1 p.m. opener at Lincoln Financial Field against the Washington Redskins.

Coach Doug Pederson spoke about the excitement of opening day. “It’s electric,” Pederson said Wednesday before practice. “I mentioned the other day it’s a little bit like a playoff-type atmosphere, that first game. Emotions are running high, adrenaline is running high for players and coaches. It’s the excitement. It’s a new year. We’re finally here. Football is back.” Indeed, it is.

If you like what you’re reading, tell your friends it’s free to sign up here​. I want to know what you think, what we should add, and what you want to read, so send me feedback by email or on Twitter @sjnard.

And if you’re looking for more on the Eagles, we’ve got you covered: Join our coverage team in an exclusive conversation on Sept. 10 at The Inquirer with live Week 1 analysis, expert season predictions, and more. We’ll bring the Wawa hoagies, you bring your burning Birds questions. Tickets: inquirer.com/minds.

— Marc Narducci (earlybirds@inquirer.com)

Eagles cornerback Rasul Douglas intercepts a pass intended for Washington wide receiver Josh Doctson last December at FedExField.
DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer
Eagles cornerback Rasul Douglas intercepts a pass intended for Washington wide receiver Josh Doctson last December at FedExField.

Jay Gruden says early downs are the key

Redskins coach Jay Gruden feels for his team to be competitive with the Eagles, it will have to perform well on the early downs.

Speaking on a conference call with Eagles beat writers on Wednesday, Gruden only needed to point to the final game of last year’s regular season to make his point.

The visiting Eagles won the game, 24-0.

“A lot of people make a big deal of third down and red zone and those are main keys, but I think first and second down are the biggest keys,” Gruden said. “I think when Coach Pederson stays on track as a play caller with run and play action and bootlegs, they are very effective and can hit you a lot of different ways."

Gruden pointed out to last year’s shutout loss as an example.

“I made a point today, I think our first six first downs against the Eagles at home, I think we threw an interception, lost three yards on a holding call, lost four yards and lost two yards,” Gruden said. “You get in second and long, that’s a tough down in the NFL for a young offense.”

For the record, here is what the Redskins did on their first six first downs:

— Interception

— Holding penalty (-10 yards)

— 7-yard completion

— 4-yard loss

— 1-yard loss

— 1-yard gain

Washington trailed 13-0 at the half and had just two first downs and 30 total yards. So no doubt, Gruden is using last year’s game as a teaching tool for Sunday’s opener.

What you need to know about the Eagles

Eagles outside linebacker Nigel Bradham flexes his muscles during the playoff victory over the Bears in Chicago.
YONG KIM / Staff Photographer
Eagles outside linebacker Nigel Bradham flexes his muscles during the playoff victory over the Bears in Chicago.

— The Eagles thought linebacker Nigel Bradham went AWOL after missing the preseason finale. Jeff McLane has the exclusive story, with Bradham telling him he was sick.

— Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz says he feels “more than ready” for the the start of the season. Les Bowen has all the details.

— Lots of great Eagles notes by Bowen, beginning with running back Jordan Howard’s reaction to a report that the Eagles offered him to San Diego for holdout running back Melvin Gordon.

— Former Eagles president Joe Banner begins the first of his weekly conversations with Paul Domowitch. Banner feels this year’s team is the most talented since at least the 2004 Super Bowl team.

— Former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo talks Eagles, Carson Wentz and his own future as Rob Tornoe writes.

— In case you missed it, here is The Inquirer’s comprehensive Eagles season preview.

— The Eagles offensive line bared all for ESPN The Magazine’s Body Issue and the photos have been released. E.J. Smith has the update.

— The defending NFC East champion Dallas Cowboys finally came to terms with running back Ezekiel Elliot, as Smith reports.

— McLane, Bowen and Domowitch predict the outcome of each Eagles game while offering analysis.

From the mailbag

Hey Will, thanks for the question. Even if Sanders is getting the majority of first-team reps, I am not sure he will be replaced on kick returns because Doug Pederson never likes to overuse his running backs. Yet if he is replaced, Corey Clement would be a viable alternative. In fact, don’t be surprised if Clement is returning kicks, regardless of Sanders’ status. While it is a small sample size, Clement has averaged 25.5 yards in 15 regular-season returns, including 13 last year.

Based on statistics, neither Sanders, Clement or anybody else returning kickoffs should plan to be too busy on Sunday. As colleague Paul Domowitch points out, the Redskins and Dustin Hopkins led the NFL last year with an 80 percent touchback percentage. For his career, Hopkins has recorded 202 touchbacks on 275 kickoffs (73.5 percent).