The Eagles had a successful start to their preseason with a 36-10 win over the Colts on Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field. There were some errors, as would be expected, but there was significantly more good than bad, and most important for the team, there weren't any major injuries. Here's what we learned:
1. Mark Sanchez killed any inkling of hope he had to start. Sanchez got the start at quarterback with a healthy Sam Bradford sidelined. He did little to advance his case for starting ahead of Bradford, or at least to compete for the No. 1 spot. I don't want to make much of one preseason game and a few series, but Sanchez was shaky. He completed just 2 of 7 passes for 52 yards and on both completions he was bailed out by his receivers on high throws. Nelson Agholor could have pulled in an earlier pass, and Darren Sproles let a third down pass sail through his hands, but Sanchez underthrew an open Trey Burton and overshot a free Jordan Matthews. Sanchez has to make those throws. And he has before. He is a good NFL backup quarterback and can win games as a starter. But to expect more, or to overreact when he isn't sharp for a short span in the preseason, is folly.
2. Matt Barkley further separated himself from Tim Tebow as a thrower. Barkley took over in the first quarter and played through the first series of the third quarter. He completed 12 of 20 passes for 192 yards. The Eagles offense netted 13 points when he was at quarterback. Barkley tossed one interception. He rolled to his right and Colts linebacker Bjoern Werner tipped the ball and Colts linebacker Amario Herrera caught it. Maybe Barkley should have pumped there, but Chip Kelly said Werner should have been blocked on the bootleg. He otherwise had a strong first game. Barkley tossed a strike to Matthews for 26 yards and a play later hooked up with Miles Austin for 39 yards. The pass was underthrown, but Austin did a nice job of shielding the defender and catching the ball over his shoulder. As I have written since the spring, if Kelly wants a pure passer as his third quarterback, Barkley is the choice. I'm not quite ready to say Barkley should be given as many second team snaps as Sanchez, though.
3. Tebow struggled, but as Kelly said, he didn't get much help. Tebow played the rest of the way after Barkley sat. He got off to a solid start, hitting rookie TE Eric Tomlinson for three passes for 38 yards during one stretch. They weren't what you would call difficult NFL throws, but he got the ball where it needed to go. He didn't run until late in his first drive and picked up three yards. The Eagles then switched up their offensive line and played some young receivers and Tebow and the offense sputtered. Kelly had Tebow's back. "I think there's a different set of receivers in with Matt than Timmy had and really a different line at times," Kelly said. "So you have to take some of that into -- there's a couple of those where Timmy held the ball and looks like, 'Why is he doing that?' Well, the receiver ran the wrong route." That may be true, but Tebow held the ball too long on a few occasions when he should have just thrown the ball away. And he also had some woefully off-target throws. Tebow did rush for a 7-yard TD when he kept on the zone read. So there's that.
4. Marcus Smith showed some progress, but let's hold off on the hyperbole – for now. Smith was credited with a tackle for loss when he slipped under a reserve Colts tackle and dropped a running back in the backfield. But his best moments, I thought, came when he had the opportunity to play against the Colts' first team offense. On his first play, he got in on a run tackle after he pushed into the backfield. On the second, he dropped and had tight coverage on the tight end over the middle. (The ball was thrown wide.) And on the third, he ran a stunt and seemed to get some pressure on backup QB Matt Hasselbeck, who threw incomplete. Smith played a lot of snaps in the second and third quarters. The Eagles' 2014 top pick seemed to be gassed at times. Kelly said he saw a different Smith than the one from last year. "He's carrying himself in a different manner," Kelly said. "He was excited about going out and playing in a football game today. We are excited to see where this goes."
5. The starting secondary is set, but the slot position is still an unknown. We got to see the new-look Eagles secondary for a few series. Cornerbacks Byron Maxwell and Nolan Carroll gave up a few passes underneath, but nothing deep. It was a small sample of plays vs. one of the best quarterbacks in the league in Andrew Luck. Safeties Malcolm Jenkins and Walter Thurmond didn't seem to get many opportunities to make plays. Jaylen Watkins was the first team slot corner. He didn't stand out good or bad there. He did struggle on the outside as the second team corner, mostly when he was asked to tackle. He took a bad angle on a bubble screen and whiffed when Colts RB Josh Robinson ran nine yards for a score. Watkins did break up a pass down the sideline. Rookie Eric Rowe played both inside and out. He got beat on an inside route by Colts rookie WR Phillip Dorsett, but didn't give up and striped the ball from behind and forced a fumble.
6. The third safety job remains up for grabs. "Whoever plays are the guys that we evaluate so that's what the deal is," Kelly said when he was asked about the third safety job. Kelly didn't have to say the name, but it was clear he was referencing Earl Wolff, who didn't dress. Wolff opened camp healthy, but was back on the sidelines last week. He told reporters that his knee has been bothering him again. Wolff's stock continues to drop. The old adage, "You can't make the club from the tub" applies here. It might be time to invest in some Ed Reynolds stock. He hasn't exactly stood out in camp, but he made two interceptions against the Colts and also broke up a pass. Reynolds, a 2014 fifth round draft pick, was cut before the season, but was brought back on the practice squad. He still has an uphill climb to make the 53-man roster – safeties Chris Maragos and Chris Prosinski likely make it because of their special teams contributions – but he helped his cause on Sunday. That third safety spot could be important if Bill Davis decides to slide either Jenkins or Thurmond into the slot corner spot in the nickel.
7. Ryan Mathews, on just two carries, showed why the Eagles signed him. Kelly opted to hold DeMarco Murray out. He has insisted that Murray is healthy and that he just wants to ease him back after last season's heavy workload. Mathews had two carries for 18 yards. He got all of a possible five yards on his first tote, and gobbled up 13 yards when Jason Peters cleared out the left side on a zone read. Kenjon Barner rushed six times for 29 yards and is the favorite if the Eagles are to keep four running backs, but a 92-yard punt return for a touchdown was his highlight. Sproles is probably still the Eagles' No. 1 punt returner, but Barner could make a strong push for the open kick returner job.
8. The right guard competition remains up for grabs. Andrew Gardner got the start, but Kelly said it wasn't because he had separated himself from the competition. "It wasn't a separation," Kelly said. "I think it was just who we had in there the last day or so. We are going to give all those guys an opportunity before we make a decision on what's going to go on there." I'll have to watch the replay to have a better idea of how Gardner did – Sanchez had to scramble away from one inside rush – but the line seemed more cohesive than it did in last year's preseason opener. Matt Tobin was the second team left tackle. He'll get an opportunity at some point. John Moffitt played a lot of right guard in the second half. And Julian Vandervelde spent the majority of his time at center.
9. Brad Jones made a strong case for one of the backup inside linebacker spots. Jones and Emmanuel Acho got the start with Kiko Alonso (concussion), DeMeco Ryans (?) and Mychal Kendricks (?) inactive. Jones led the Eagles with seven tackles -- six of them solo. He's a competent run defender. He didn't play at outside linebacker, but he has that in his toolbox and that versatility makes him a virtual shoo in to make the team. Acho and Najee Goode, who bit the cheese on a pass to a running back, will be hard pressed to sneak onto the 53 with third round rookie Jordan Hicks assured a spot. Hopefully, the Eagles will have their top three inside linebackers for Saturday's game against the Ravens so we can have a better grasp of how Davis plans to rotate the three.
10. Don't hit the panic button on Cody Parkey. The Eagles kicker missed an extra point – now from 31 yards – and was wide right on a 34-yard attempt. He did convert on two 40 yards and snuck a 48 yarder through the uprights. … Rookie receiver Rasheed Bailey had maybe the catch of the game – aside from Agholor's 34-yard score (here's my column on his day) – when he one-handed a high Tebow throw.