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Eagles Vs. Steelers: Five Things To Watch

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By Spike Eskin

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – Typically, the excitement for the first Eagles pre-season game of the season goes like this: huge build up, enormous peak when starters hit the field, immediate crash back to Earth when the starters leave the field a few short minutes afterward.

The starters probably won’t play more than a couple of series tonight at Lincoln Financial Field, but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing to see. Here are five things to watch for, before and after the varsity team finishes.

The Backup QB Situation: We’re all too aware of the trouble Michael Vick has staying healthy for an entire NFL season. Even though Barack Obama has asked him to slide, and he promised to oblige, one has to imagine it’s more likely than not that he’ll miss at least a game or two this season. Before last year, we’ve been spoiled in Philadelphia with backup QB’s who can get the job done. Kevin Kolb (regardless of current failures), and Michael Vick (when he was a backup) have provided a sense of calm when the starter goes down. We don’t really have that sense of ease yet with this year’s backups. So much so that more than one person has mentioned bringing Donovan McNabb back as a second string QB. Mike Kafka seems to have Reid’s confidence, as well as a firm grasp of the system, but lacks arm strength. It’d be nice to know he can keep the ship afloat. Trent Edwards and rookie Nick Foles will likely be fighting it out for the third QB spot.

Dion Lewis: LeSean McCoy’s yards per carry decreased with each passing month of the 2011 Eagles season. Perhaps if Ronnie Brown wasn’t so busy throwing the ball away, he’d have been able to provide McCoy with an extra breather or two. By all accounts, second year player Dion Lewis has had an impressive camp, and will have every opportunity to get some carries this season. As long as we keep him away from kickoffs and fire alarms we’ll be in good shape. As Sheil Kapadia of Birds 24/7 points out, Chris Polk is another running back to keep an eye on, possibly filling the void at fullback.

Danny Watkins: If there was a bad year to hold out of camp, it was last year. Watkins, the Eagles first round pick of the 2011 draft, did just that and never seemed to catch up. Though he improved as the season progressed, he was the weakest link of an otherwise impressive offensive line (Herremans, Kelce, Mathis, Peters). All signs point to Demetress Bell doing an adequate job of filling in for the injured Jason Peters, so let’s hope Watkins takes that “next step.” Hopefully he can teach Lewis the importance of those fire alarms as well.

Andy Reid’s Welcome: Eagles fans support of Reid over the last week as he’s dealt with the tragedy of losing his eldest son Garrett has been huge, and not gone unnoticed by Reid, as he mentioned in Wednesday’s press conference at Lehigh. Expect Reid to get a huge ovation at some point before tonight’s game, which is notable given fans polarized at-best perception of Reid before this year.

Brandon Graham: It’s hard not to cheer for Graham, who is one of the nicest most upbeat professional athletes you’ll meet. Out to prove the “bust” label false, the Eagles 2010 first round pick came into camp this year on a mission, and 25 pounds lighter than he did last season. After a disappointing rookie season that saw him play tackle, end and linebacker, and then a sohphomore season decimated by injury, this would seem to be Graham’s best chance to prove the Eagles made the right choice in the 2010 draft by choosing him. Graham’s strength is getting to the quarterback, and Jim Washburn’s system should give him every opportunity. I’d sure like for him to succeed, so I can stop hearing about Jason Pierre-Paul.

Honorable Mentions: Michael Vick’s slide, DeSean Jackson’s mood, the rookies on defense (Cox, Kendricks, Curry), DeMeco Ryan’s mobility, Juan Castillo’s new demeanor, Howard Eskin’s fur in August, the injury cart (hopefully not very busy).

Listen to tonight’s game on 94WIP.

Listen to KYW’s Matt Leon preview the game with Comcast Sportsnet’s Ray Didinger:

Follow Spike on Twitter @spikeeskin.

Follow Matt on Twitter @mattleonkyw.

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