1. Trent Cole, Brandon Graham
The Philadelphia Eagles are making the switch from 4-3 to 3-4, so the position to watch: outside linebacker. Their roles have changed the most, and the guys to watch are pass rushers Trent Cole and Brandon Graham.
Cole has been a top-flight defensive end (71 sacks in eight seasons with the Eagles) for the Eagles, and has been the better of the two thus far in camp. He seems more comfortable rushing from a stand-up position, but it will be interesting to see how he makes the transition in live game action.
2. The Secondary
ONE. That is the number of starters in the 2012 secondary who will be starting tonight, and that guy is Nate Allen, who is this close to being replaced by Kenny Phillips or Earl Wolff. This unit had a complete makeover.
Brandon Boykin had a great start to camp, so he gets the start, and deservedly so. He may have played nickel last season, but he has the athleticism and the work ethic to play on the outside. He will certainly be an upgrade over Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.
Bradley Fletcher is getting the nod over Cary Williams; he has been playing well on the outside for the most part, although he was burned several times by the Patriots in the recent joint practices. If he can work on getting his feet set before turning on go-routes, he won’t lose that first step and become a more complete player. Still someone to watch.
And then there is the safety position; you already know about Allen, but what about Patrick Chung? He was a nice player with New England, but his struggles last season landed him here. He will certainly be better than Kurt Coleman, but tonight will be our first glimpse into whether he is evolving into a dependable starter or whether he’ll settle back into his 2012-2013 role of being a big hitter who is a liability in coverage.
3. Chris Polk vs Bryce Brown
The Eagles might have the deepest backfield in the NFL. With LeSean McCoy, a top five NFL back in my opinion, starting and two young studs in Bryce Brown and Chris Polk in reserve, opposing defenses will struggle to contain the run game. And, with Chip Kelly, not Andy Reid, at the helm, the running game will finally be a focus.
Now, we know who will be starting, but the 2nd-string position is up for grabs. Bryce Brown was explosive last season when LeSean McCoy went down with injuries, but his fumbling issues have opened the door for Chris Polk, another explosive, young back. Polk has had long TD run after long TD run in camp, so tonight will be the first of many competitions between the two to see who will be the Eagles’ primary change-of-pace back this season.