We all have questions as the Eagles line up for real — well, kind of for real — tonight at the Linc. We don’t expect Chip Kelly to reveal too much about the intricacies of his up-tempo offense. Obviously, he’ll test out some things but we’re more interested in evaluating personnel and things we saw in practice. With that in mind, here are the biggest things we’ll be looking for when the Eagles and Patriots line up:
» Is the secondary fixed? The additions of Cary Williams, Bradley Fletcher and Patrick Chung were supposed to fix a broken secondary, or at least apply a temporary band-aid. After watching Tom Brady torch the unit in joint practices this past week, there are more questions than ever. Granted, Brady is a future Hall of Fame quarterback. Still, it’s more than a little disconcerting to see them struggle so mightily. It kind of makes me wonder if all the progress Mike Vick and Nick Foles have been making in recent weeks is just a mirage, a byproduct of going up against an overmatched secondary.
» Where is Danny Watkins? Former first-round pick Danny Watkins is entering bust territory, if he isn’t there already. With Jason Peters injured, there was a spot open for him on the offensive line. Instead, Chip Kelly is going with journeyman Allen Barbre and keeping Watkins with the second team. Hmmm. That has to make you wonder just how much trust the coaching staff has in Watkins. It’ll be interesting to see how much he plays against the Patriots, and how much he has improved without Howard Mudd’s antiquated blocking system.
» Is it a nifty-fifty split? Mike Vick and Nick Foles are expected to share the reps evenly, straight down the middle. Of course, that’s easier said than done. If Vick leads the Eagles on a few clock-eating drives, the coaches may decide the starting offensive line needs a rest. Fair enough, but then Foles wouldn’t get a fair shot with the backups in. And what about the starting receivers? The team is already down one starter, Jeremy Maclin, and DeSean Jackson and Damaris Johnson aren’t likely to see a lot of time. These are all variables that could affect the quarterback competition.
» Will the special teams be special? The Eagles spend a good chunk of practice time working on special teams, probably triple the amount that Andy Reid did. They are constantly going over proper return technique, like protecting the football and catching it with two hands. It started to pay off this past week, with guys starting to find lanes. If the Birds can break a big return against New England, it will prove how important that extra work was. Don’t be surprised if the Eagles try an onsides kick or two.
» Who’s hanging with Mr. Cooper? We’d like to be done with this story as much as you, but it’s bound to come up. Riley Cooper is slated to start tonight, in his first live game since video of him making a racial slur surfaced. Every move he makes will be analyzed: Where he stands? Who stands next to him? How hard the Patriot defenders hit him? Do they help him up? … and the list goes on. Cooper has said all the right things since the incident, and he enjoyed his best week of practice so far this summer. Now, it’s time to see if all is really forgotten.