Youth Is Served
Some Young Birds Stand Out In Preseason Loss To Ravens
The Eagles dropped their preseason opener to the Baltimore Ravens, 20-19, at M&T Stadium in Baltimore. The Ravens extended their preseason win streak to 24 consecutive games.
Undrafted free agent cornerback Eli Ricks returned an interception 31 yards for a touchdown in the fourth quarter to pull the Eagles within one, but head coach Nick Sirianni skipped the PAT that could’ve tied the game and went for two. The Eagles failed the conversion and neither team scored again.
The Eagles, who sat the vast majority of key players, got strong performances out of their draft class while a slew of deep reserves opened some eyes, likely prompting a longer look.
Let’s get on with the observations.
*Was a bit surprised to see D’Andre Swift and Rashaad Penny active while Kenneth Gainwell and Boston Scott watched idly from the sideline. Perhaps the reasoning had something to do with Gainwell and Scott already having established roles and familiarity with the system. Or maybe next week will be their turn for game reps.
* On the Eagles’ sixth offensive play, Swift churned out a nifty 22-yard run over left guard out of shotgun, setting up a 1st-and-10 from the Ravens’ 38.
*In what was presumably a ploy to enhance value, reserve running back Trey Sermon saw work as a kick returner. The experiment hardly yielded positive results, however, producing 71 yards on three returns. I thought Sermon lacked burst and was largely indecisive in his opportunities. Wide receiver Greg Ward opened as the team’s punt returner before giving way to cornerback Zech McPhearson. McPhearson managed just 10 yards on two returns.
*The starting offensive line was comprised of Tyler Steen, Josh Sills, Josh Andrews, Sua Opeta, and Jack Driscoll. The starting skill players included Swift and wide receivers Joseph Ngata, Tyrie Cleveland, and Greg Ward. Jack Stoll opened at tight end.
*The turbulent “Marcus Mariota Experience” continued against the Ravens. Mariota, who completed 7-of-11 passes for 58 yards (77.1 QBR), struggled with ball placement but dazzled as a runner, finishing with 29 yards on four carries. While it’s tough to scrutinize Mariota behind a second-team offensive line and reserve pass-catchers, you’d like to see the veteran signal-caller establish some sort of rhythm in the passing game.
*The Eagles’ first defensive series clearly depicted the game-wrecking potential of Jalen Carter. On a 3rd-and-10 from the Ravens’ own 29, Carter easily brushed past right guard Ben Cleveland – his former teammate at Georgia – and bore down on Josh Johnson at warp speed, forcing a hasty incompletion and punt. In one play, Carter’s explosion, hand usage, and quickness showed his impact.
*Throughout the offseason, I’d occasionally refer to fourth-year wide receiver Tyrie Cleveland as a darkhorse to monitor during training camp. In addition to boasting a prototypical frame (6-2, 205) and 4.4 speed, Cleveland overlapped for a season at Florida with current Eagles offensive coordinator Brian Johnson. Cleveland also served as a core special teamer over his 23-game stint with the Broncos, logging 320 third phase snaps. The Florida product led the Eagles in targets (10) and yards (68) in the game. With all eyes on ascending rookie free agent Joseph Ngata, it was Cleveland who took center stage. I’ll be interested to see if he earns some looks as a returner to optimize his speed.
*I’m not sure I see a feasible roster path for Greg Ward, but the veteran wideout should absolutely be playing this fall. The 28-year-old Ward, now in his seventh summer with the Eagles, corralled five receptions for 53 yards, showcasing his knack for finding the soft spots in zone and strong hands. Many teams could use a dependable, sure-handed receiver who can also provide added value as a punt returner. A lead-by-example type, Ward also has about as strong of a work ethic as you’ll see.
*Rookie sixth-rounder Tanner McKee really shined in his NFL debut, completing 10-of-20 pass attempts for 148 yards (74.8 QBR), including a long of 33 yards to newly signed rookie wide receiver Johnny King as well as passes of 18 and 27 yards to Cleveland and a 19-yarder to Jadon Haselwood. It’s evident that McKee has tools worth developing and the game certainly didn’t appear to be too big for him. He is the clear front-runner for the No. 3 quarterback spot.
* Conversely, holdover Ian Book appeared scattershot and indecisive. While playing behind a porous, patchwork offensive line certainly doesn’t help, Book held the ball way too long. I was underwhelmed by the separation of his pass catchers for most of his series, but Book was unquestionably hesitant to pull the trigger even when his receivers managed to break free. He finished 1-of-4 for 11 yards (39.6). He also took a pair of brutal sacks and tossed an interception on a two-point conversion play that would have given the Eagles the lead.
* Sydney Brown is undoubtedly a fun player to watch. But he plays the game at 100 miles an hour, which can often yield feast-or-famine results. You’d like to see the rookie harness his aggressiveness, to some degree. Brown led the Eagles with nine tackles. K’Von Wallace, who started alongside Terrell Edmunds, also had an active night. The other starting safety spot still appears to be a two-person race between Wallace and Edmunds.
* Tough break for linebacker Shaun Bradley, who was carted off in the second half following a punt. Bradley, who appeared to suffer an injury to his right leg, has been a special teams mainstay and was in contention for a roster spot.
* Rookie free agent defensive back Mekhi Garner did well to punch the ball out of James Proche’s hand on a third-quarter punt return. These plays factor heavily into the equation during the evaluation process. And with Bradley on the mend, there would appear to be an opening on coordinator Michael Clay’s unit.
* Rookie free agent cornerback Eli Ricks was touted as the crown jewel of the post-draft signings, and logged three passes defended to go along with his pick-six. He’ll need to be mindful of his excessive post-play taunting, and I’m still not sure there’s a spot for him at the moment, but the Alabama product certainly helped himself Saturday.
* While Ricks is likely to garner most of the accolades for his performance, I was particularly impressed with another cornerback. Mario Goodrich, who manned the slot in the second half, accrued three tackles and two pass breakups. On the play prior to Ricks’ interception, Goodrich fought through traffic to drop Proche for a 1-yard loss on a screen. It’s a limited sample size, but Goodrich appears to be playing much faster than last summer and always seems to be around the ball. Perhaps the gap has narrowed between Goodrich and McPhearson for that backup nickel role.
– Andrew DiCecco (@AndrewDiCecco) is a Staff Reporter/Content Producer for InsideTheBirds.com.
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