Good morning. The Eagles leave for New England today and play the New England Patriots on Thursday in the second preseason game, which happens to be a rematch of the Super Bowl. The light poles on Broad Street are safe; this game probably won't produce the same celebrations.
This is a preseason edition of the Early Birds newsletter, which will arrive in your inbox three days per week until the season begins. If your friends haven't subscribed to Early Birds, 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 @ZBerm. Thank you for reading.
— Zach Berman
What to watch in the Eagles-Steelers game
Nick Foles and Mike Wallace debut: After missing the preseason opener, quarterback Nick Foles and wide receiver Mike Wallace are expected to play against the Patriots. Foles finished a strong week of practice and will face a defense against whom he won Super Bowl MVP. Doug Pederson would not disclose how many snaps he wants Foles to play. The first-team offense took 17 snaps in the second preseason game last season. Foles is preparing to start Week 1 in case Carson Wentz is not cleared by then, so it will be helpful for Foles to find a rhythm entering the season.Wallace, a former Pro Bowler, signed with the Eagles this offseason to replace Torrey Smith. The 32-year-old still has his jets; he showed his speed throughout the past week. The Eagles are missing Alshon Jeffery and Nelson Agholor, so Wallace is the lone starting receiver playing Thursday. Don't be surprised if Foles tests Wallace's speed with a deep pass on Thursday night.
Defensive dominance?: The Eagles defense has outplayed the undermanned offense throughout the summer, and they looked dominant while forcing two three-and-outs against Pittsburgh last week. With Tom Brady likely to play for New England, the defense will be tested on Thursday. Brandon Graham won't be on the field to try to relive the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl, but the secondary can hope for a better showing than in February. The defensive line remains a strength even while missing Graham and Tim Jernigan. Look for Michael Bennett to take snaps at defensive tackle on passing downs.
A new face in the slot: Avonte Maddox has emerged as an option to be the slot cornerback in the first-team defense this week. Sidney Jones and DeVante Bausby were leading the competition throughout most of training camp, but Maddox, the Eagles' fourth-round pick, now appears to be in the mix. Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said Maddox is"trending up." This is one of the few true competitions for meaningful playing time on the roster. The Eagles will likely want their lineup set after the third preseason game, so time is running out for the Eagles to settle on a replacement for Patrick Robinson. Maddox will have a chance to continue raising his stock on Thursday.
Opportunity at running back: Wendell Smallwood and Matt Jones will have the chance to carry much of the load for the Eagles. The team practiced Tuesday without Corey Clement, Donnel Pumphrey, and Josh Adams. Pumphrey's prolonged absence hurts his hopes to make the team and Adams' new injury could cost him an opportunity to further distinguish himself. The Eagles won't overuse Jay Ajayi or Darren Sproles, so Smallwood and Jones will have valuable reps in their bid for the fourth running back spot. Jones, a former starter in Washington, missed the first preseason game. Smallwood had an up-and-down game, with a fumble the blemish on a night when he had a 13-yard gain.
Super Bowl rematch: On the spectrum of meaningful games, Thursday will be on the complete opposite end from last year's Super Bowl. The Eagles will tell you it's just a preseason game, and that's accurate. This is for evaluating the roster and preparing for the season. There won't be a game-planning duel between Doug Pederson and Bill Belichick. Plus, Pederson retired the Philly Special. But the history between the two teams cannot be ignored, and Lane Johnson's offseason comments won't make him popular in New England."It's going to be fun," Pederson said. "It's obviously a different atmosphere [than in the Super Bowl]. …I know the Patriots will focus on the Patriots and we're going to focus on the Eagles. It will be exciting. It should be a good crowd obviously up there in Foxboro. It is a great place to play."
If any Eagles fans enter the gates at Gillette Stadium, they might have some reminders from last year. After all, there was a banner with the final score of the Super Bowl at the Phillies-Red Sox game on Tuesday.
What you need to know about the Eagles
After 15 practices, Jeff McLane wraps up his practice observations by handing out training camp awards.
Nick Foles' first preseason game comes against the opponent from his last game. Will he speak with Tom Brady?
Carson Wentz wants to play in the opener. He expects to take part in 11-on-11 drills next week. But as Les Bowen writes, time might not be on Wentz's side.
Can Mack Hollins make a sophomore jump? Paul Domowitch looks at Hollins entering Year 2.
Christian Hackenberg is used to going to training camp. He didn't have one to go to this year until the Eagles offered him a contract. Find out why the Eagles signed the former second-round pick.
Avonte Maddox is the smallest cornerback on the Eagles. Bowen tells you why he's a player you need to know.
From the mailbag
Howie Roseman certainly hasn't lost that thrill to make trades. I think you need to be realistic about trades. They're harder to make early in camp because teams are still evaluating their personnel. They're more likely to come later in the preseason when teams start figuring out how to make their roster numbers work. There has been only one trade in the NFL during training camp. Last season was an anomaly with five Eagles trades in July and August. In 2016, Roseman Made one trade on Aug. 16 and then two in September. In 2014, there were two trades in late August. So Roseman still has time.
The Eagles could look at positions where they have a surplus (cornerback, maybe running back depending on health, potentially interior offensive line or defensive end) and see if they can get an extra pick or perhaps a linebacker or defensive tackle. I don't think it's that the Eagles are so sold on the roster that they don't feel they can upgrade it or make a change. They just need to know what they have and know what others need.