How you view the NFL preseason — which started for the Philadelphia Eagles on Thursday night against the Tennessee Titans — has a lot to do with where you are in your NFL career.
If you’re Carson Wentz, preseason action is “definitely never needed,” though the Eagles’ fourth-year starting quarterback, who might or might not play a series, did concede that “preseason’s helpful.”
If you’re a rookie about to wear an Eagles uniform in a game for the first time, even if that game is meaningless, your view is different.
“It’s what I’ve been waiting for this whole time, since I got here in May,” first-round offensive tackle Andre Dillard said ahead of Thursday’s game. “I’m just really excited to finally get that first-game experience. Finally put everything I’ve learned to the test for the first time, in an NFL environment.”
Dillard said his mother and younger sister are making the journey from the Seattle area to witness his debut.
Another plus for players new to the rigors of NFL training camp is the first real break, a couple of days around the game with no sun-baked practice; in fact, the Eagles will get Friday off entirely.
This, Dillard will not mind.
“The camp grind is real, for sure,” he said.
Second-round wide receiver J.J. Arcega-Whiteside said he expected “a lot of emotion, but I’m ready for it.”
Arcega-Whiteside recalled his Stanford debut.
“I was way more excited than nervous,” he said. He added his mindset then was to “enjoy the moment, show everybody what I can do.” On Thursday, “I expect probably the same thing is going to happen, but we’ll see.”
Arcega-Whiteside said his mother was coming up from the Spartanburg, South Carolina, area for the game.
Asked what he hoped to derive against the Titans, Arcega-Whiteside said: “Prove to myself and prove to everybody else that I belong out on the field. Not only that, just be able to get reps against somebody who hasn’t seen you do the same rep over and over a million times. It’ll be exciting.”
Cornerback Sidney Jones is officially starting his third season, but this is only his second preseason, since he was drafted in 2017 after suffering an Achilles’ tear. Jones, dogged by hamstring problems last season, needs to build on his strong training camp work in this preseason to nail down a starting role in a crowded secondary. Jones said that even if he didn’t have anything to prove, he would do his best Thursday. Fans are watching.
“Every snap is valuable,” Jones said. “You go on the field, it’s your work. You can’t treat it any differently, preseason game or regular-season game. When you step on that field, it’s go time.”
Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said this week that preseason games will help him sort out the picture at cornerback, with regard to Jones and everyone else.
“When you go live, and offenses and the pass rush is real, I think that’s when you really see what your corners can do,” Schwartz said. “A lot of times in 7-on-7, a corner might not look great, but in reality, the quarterback pumped one way and held the ball for four seconds, and the coverage isn’t designed to last that long.”
He added that a corner can make a tag “tackle” in a noncontact practice that might not be a tackle in a game.
Running back Corey Clement’s situation is similar to what Jones faces. It’s his third preseason, but he’s coming off a knee injury and a 2018 body of work that did not meet expectations, even before Clement went on injured reserve after the Dec. 9 Dallas game.
Clement, though, might not play Thursday, having just been cleared for full-team practice this week. On Tuesday, he didn’t know whether he figured in the rotation against Tennessee.
“I didn’t get a chance to practice too much,” Clement said. “It’s in the coaches’ hands. You know me, I love to play football any day I can.”
He has goals this preseason: “Getting back into the rotation ... getting back into the rhythm of things.”
Clement looks great, at what he said is his NFL low of 210 chiseled pounds on a 5-foot-10 frame. Clement is listed at 220. He said he showed up for his first rookie camp at 227 and played last season at 216.
Defensive end Brandon Graham is embarking on preseason No. 10. It might not matter much to him whether he plays Thursday, but Graham said he wants some preseason snaps sooner or later. He sat out the exhibition games last year, while recovering from ankle surgery, and Graham didn’t like the way his regular season started.
“I think it does get you kind of mentally ready,” he said.
Graham said he has learned that games, even preseason games, test the ability to push yourself to full-throttle better than practice does.
“Sometimes in camp, going against your teammates, you can get riled up and go, but you never know how it’s going to translate to the game,” Graham said.
For that, he needs “just a little taste” of preseason action, he said. It helps “get ready for that adrenaline rush” that accompanies the real season, which starts Sept. 8 at home against Washington.