Originally posted on Football Nation  |  Last updated 8/20/12
The Eagles will play in their most important preseason game Monday night at Gillette Stadium against the New England Patriots. In regards to the game’s importance, the spotlight will be on key players either returning to regular-season form or fighting to save themselves from the roster cut. Here are your top 10 players to watch on Monday night.

King Dunlap (Left Tackle): Demetress Bell, who was acquired in the offseason to fill in for Pro Bowl left tackle Jason Peters, was demoted from his starting spot after playing only six snaps against the Steelers. In his place, King Dunlap, whom the Eagles selected in the seventh-round of the 2008 draft and has started only five games in the duration, will be manning the position.

Dunlap was in the revolving position battle at right tackle last season, starting two preseason games in the spot before losing the role, and, now he has the opportunity to man start at left tackle. Will he be able to quickly pick up Howard Mudd’s offensive line technique and solidify the line?

Bell, as reported, lost the spot because he has had trouble learning Mudd’s aggressive scheme as he is more accustomed to the vertical step used by Buffalo. Someone needs to fill the spot, quickly.  


Nick Foles (Backup Quarterback): The Eagles entered the season with four quarterbacks on the roster — Michael Vick, Mike Kafka, Nick Foles, and Trent Edwards — and Foles, a 2012 third-round draft pick, is set up to cost either Kafka or Edwards a spot on the finalized roster. He was the most impressive quarterback in the Eagles’ opening preseason contest, going 6 for 10 for 144 yards and two touchdowns, and he will see more playing time this week after Mike Kafka fractured his non-throwing hand.

Foles is scheduled to play with the second-string players at some point in the second half, and, as a result, he will be competing against a more challenging group of defensive players than last week. If he impresses, he could open the season as the backup quarterback.  This game is crucial for Foles.


Michael Vick (Starting Quarterback): Vick injured his thumb in the first preseason game of the season, but the X-ray results came back negative, and he was cleared to practice in training camp. Heading into the second preseason game, he is penciled in to play with the starters for at least the first half of the game.

Although he was largely ineffective in the first preseason game, with two three-and-outs and a sack, his injury highlighted the fact that the team is dependent upon him in order to achieve the ultimate goal this season.  He did not throw any interceptions in the game, but he went 3 for 4 for only 6 yards before being taken out of the game. Needless to say, more positive production and a continued focus on not producing turnovers will be important for Vick in the Eagles’ most important preseason game of the season.  


Fletcher Cox (Defensive Tackle): Cox, the Eagles first selection in the 2012 draft, had an uneventful night against the Pittsburgh Steelers. He was in on one tackle and did not pressure the quarterback or obtain a sack. He did not start, but, with the diverse rotation the Eagles use on the defensive line, every member has a good opportunity to get on the field.

The Eagles traded a fourth- and sixth-round pick to move up to the 12th spot to acquire the 6-foot-4, 294-pound defensive tackle from Mississippi State, so they have every right to hold high expectations for Cox. Concurrently, he is required to prove himself. Even though he is listed as a defensive tackle, he, like Cullen Jenkins, has the ability to slide over to defensive end and can be another threat on a long list of bruising linemen on the Eagles' roster. He should see more time on the field this week because the Eagles need to see what he brings to the table.


Mychal Kendricks (Starting Strong Side Linebacker): With a matchup against trend-setting tight ends Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski slated for Monday night, Kendricks, the Eagles’ second draft pick in the 2012 draft, and the rest of the linebacker corps will have a daunting task at the onset of the contest. Throw in Visanthe Shiancoe into the mix, and the Eagles have to maintain a consistent defense against skilled tight ends for a considerable portion of time.

Kendricks was a stand-out player in the first preseason game because of his speed and ability to close in effectively on receivers. In this week’s contest, his ability to cover tight ends will be one of the most important factors to watch. He is small, 5-foot-11, but his 39.5-inch vertical jump at the combine, which bested all linebackers who participated, could give him leverage in the competition.


Damaris Johnson (Wide Receiver and Punt Returner): Johnson started the Eagles’ first preseason game with the first-team offense because Jeremy Maclin injured his hamstring during pregame warm-ups, and he caught Michael Vick’s first pass of the 2012 season for a four-yard reception.

Johnson, a 5-foot-8, 175-pound speed machine, also had a great punt return in the contest that would have given the Eagles beneficial field position if an illegal block in the back did not negate the yards accrued on the run. He also caught a 70-yard touchdown pass from Nick Foles that gave the Eagles their first touchdown of the night.

Johnson has a frame and skill set similar to DeSean Jackson, so, if he wants to remain on the team, he will have to make his way on special teams and then try to breach the depth chart at the wide receiver position. Nonetheless, Johnson is an intriguing addition to the team.


Matt McBriar (Punter): One of the least discussed but crucial position battles of the offseason can be found at the punting position, where Matt McBriar, a free-agent acquisition from the Dallas Cowboys, is trying to unseat Chas Henry, who started in the position last season. McBriar was the starting punter in the first preseason game, so the spot is his to lose, setting up a situation that could make Henry a victim of the cut down to the final roster on September 2nd. Henry is an important player to watch, but the focused eye will be laid upon McBriar.


Curtis Marsh (Cornerback): When Nnamdi Asomugha collided with Nate Allen in training camp, the issue of depth behind starting cornerbacks Dominique Rogers-Cromartie and Asomugha became a valid question mark for the team.

Marsh, a 2011 third-round pick who is listed as the third outside cornerback, now becomes a key player to watch. If the team were to lose one of their Pro Bowl-caliber cornerbacks, Marsh is penciled in to fill in the void. He has little experience in the NFL, but, considering Asomugha’s recent injury, the Eagles could be cautious with how they use him. As a result, Marsh may see a bigger role Monday night.

Behind Asomugha and Rogers-Cromartie, Joselio Hanson and 2012 fourth-round selection Brandon Boykin are likely locks on the roster, leaving Cliff Harris, Brandon Hughes, Trevard Lindely, and Kevin Thomas as the likely cuts this season on the outer edge of the roster bubble. Marsh, too, could find his way on the outside if he does not impress, for the Eagles traditionally keep five cornerbacks on their roster. Thus, this preseason game could be a defining moment for Curtis Marsh.


Jaiquawn Jarrett (Safety): Jarrett’s stock has dropped considerably this season, and he, a 2011 second-round draft pick, is now in danger of being cut from the team. Supposedly, Jarrett was going to improve after completing a full sequence of offseason preparation, but he looked lost and made egregious mistakes in the first preseason game of the season. He knocked down his own teammate, Vinny Curry, during a 33-yard run by Jonathan Dwyer before failing to recognize his responsibility to cover Emmanuel Sanders on a 2-yard touchdown throw.

During the play, Asomugha motioned towards the back-left portion of the end zone after he thought Sanders was going to head towards there, but, when Sanders instead took an inside stem, Jarrett failed to implement the proper coverage, and Sanders was left wide open in the end zone. The safety spot could become the Eagles’ most critical weakness on the defense in terms of depth.


DeMeco Ryans (Starting Middle Linebacker): The Eagles signed Ryans as a free agent from the Houston Texans in the offseason to shore up a position that has not been solidified since Jeremiah Trotter left. Ryans, a two-time Pro Bowler with the Houston Texans, averaged 101 tackles from 2006-2009.

However, in 2010, he played in only six games after suffering an Achilles injury. In 2011, he was lost in the Texans’ switch from a 4-3 to 3-4 defense under defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, and, in 2012, he is attempting to resurrect his career with the Eagles. His performance is important because he is going to wear the headphones that receive the calls from defensive coordinator Juan Castillo, and he is also instrumental in playing the role of a veteran mentor alongside a second-year weak side linebacker, Brian Rolle, and a rookie strong side linebacker, Mychal Kendricks.

Ryans' performance against the Steelers was underwhelming. The entire defense was missing tackles, but his mistakes are highlighted in deference to the aforementioned role he is required to take. His worst mistake came during the Steelers’ first scoring drive when he missed a tackle on Chris Rainey, who scampered away for a 14-yard run. Overall, the first-team defense needs to improve, and, this season, the improvement is set up to start with Ryans.

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