Rookies Tanner McKee, Jalen Carter stand out in Eagles’ preseason opener


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BALTIMORE — The Philadelphia Eagles’ schedule this season includes matchups against five of the seven teams with the best Super Bowl odds, but there might not be a matchup more daunting than the Baltimore Ravens in the preseason. The Eagles’ 20-19 loss to the Ravens meant it was Baltimore’s 24th consecutive preseason victory, a league record that stretches back to the summer of 2016.

Eagles coach Nick Sirianni sat most of his starters after dressing every healthy player for pregame warmups — he said he does not want their first pregame routine to come in the season opener — and the Eagles will treat their joint practices this week against the Cleveland Browns like exhibition games.

Here’s what stood out on Saturday:

Throughout the summer, Mariota has been mostly inconsistent as a passer while showcasing contain-breaking speed. On Saturday night, he was inconsistent as a passer while showcasing contain-breaking speed. What you see is what you get.

Mariota started and played two series, finishing 7-of-11 for 58 passing yards with a long completion of 14 yards. He also ran four times for 29 yards, including a 14-yard pickup on third-and-13 on the game’s opening drive.

Part of the Eagles’ reasoning for signing Mariota as their preferred No. 2 quarterback was his overlapping athletic skill set with Jalen Hurts that would, in theory, allow them to run the same offense. The way Mariota played Saturday night (and the way he’s played all summer) paints the picture of a Mariota-led Eagles offense that would probably have to be more run-heavy than Hurts’ version, but maybe there are worse things.

“It definitely helps to get some of the cobwebs out for sure,” Mariota said of running against a defense that was able to tackle him, unlike in practice. “When you don’t play football for seven, eight months, it’s just part of it. You want to kind of get some of the contact out of the way. I just kind of play the game that I always know how to play. I try to use my legs when I can, and being in a preseason game is no different. If there’s an opportunity for me to go make a play, I’m going to do it.”

The Hawaii native also played with a heavy heart and used his time on the podium to urge support following the wildfires in Maui.

“My heart goes out to them and just everybody back home,” he said. “Hawaii’s such a small place, such a small community, that everyone has family or friends (who) have been affected by it. All I can say is we’re thinking about them, we’re praying for them. Please, if you have an opportunity to help donate or help support, it’s bad. I appreciate the love and support and always think about them whenever I’m not there.” – Bo Wulf

Marcus Mariota completed 7 of 11 passes for 58 yards and rushed for another 29 yards in his Eagles preseason debut. (Tommy Gilligan / USA Today)

On the other hand, the sixth-round rookie McKee was very much not the same player we have seen most of the summer. Throughout training camp, he has primarily thrown the ball within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage. Those throws have mostly been accurate and timely but also unexciting. On Saturday night, he dazzled.

The first throw of his professional career was a 27-yard dime to a single-covered Tyrie Cleveland on a route McKee called at the line of scrimmage. He also completed passes of 33, 19, 18 and 17 yards, plus a 31-yarder that was called back for offensive pass interference. Most of those throws stemmed from recognizing one-on-one man coverage at the snap and decisively throwing catchable balls. He finished 10-of-20 for 148 yards on 7.4 yards per attempt.

In an offense that prides itself on the ability of its receivers to win those matchups, that’s a good place to start.

“I feel like it depends on what we’re trying to do as an offense and what coach (Brian) Johnson calls,” said McKee on the bombs-away approach. “But yeah, I would say we were pretty aggressive.”

It’s not a stretch to say McKee probably made the 53-man roster Saturday night. Having lived through the summers of Clayton Thorson, Nick Mullens and Carson Strong, McKee was a breath of fresh air. There’s probably even a part of Sirianni that will be as happy about the enthusiastic way in which McKee carried out the fakes on his handoffs as he will be about the downfield completions.

“Once you get out there, it’s football,” McKee said of getting over the jitters of his debut. “The crowd and everything, you can just walk out and it’s just like practice. The plays that we ran, we’ve run them hundreds of times in practice, repped them so many times. I feel like pregame and especially these night games, when you’re sitting in the hotel, thinking about it all the time, like, ‘Man, what different looks could they give us?’ But then once you get out there … we really were prepared for everything.” — Wulf

How did the first-round picks debut?

It took one snap for Jalen Carter to show the tantalizing ability that made the first-round pick one of the best players in the draft. Carter entered the game on a third-and-10 on the Ravens’ opening drive. He swiped away Ravens guard Ben Cleveland (a former Georgia teammate who has five NFL starts) and accelerated toward the quarterback to force an incompletion.

“I was just doing my normal thing rushing, and I felt the guard presence to my left heavy and I made an inside move,” Carter said. “We were in a certain front where we have two (three-techniques), so I was thinking pass off the rip.”

The combination of speed and power shows what Carter has been when at his best, and the fact that it came the first time many Eagles fans watched him play will only raise his hype. He said his personal goal is to win Defensive Player of the Year. That can be difficult to do for an interior pass rusher — though Aaron Donald has won it three times — but penetration like the one in his debut will position him for sacks.

The Eagles limited Carter to two snaps. Sirianni wanted to get him experience in the game and expects him to get considerable work during the joint practices with Cleveland.

“He’s had some really nice plays,” Sirianni said of Carter’s summer. “He’s really talented. He just needs to keep working. He still has yet to make a play in the NFL.”

Nolan Smith, the Eagles’ other first-round pick, started and played most of the first half. He was credited with one quarterback hit when he bent underneath and around Ravens tackle Daniel Faalele. He was also caught out of position on a long running play, which was the blunder in his evening. This was Smith’s first game action since October. Look for him to continue to get work throughout the preseason and then settle into a role as Philadelphia’s fourth edge rusher when the regular season begins. — Zach Berman

What’s the latest with the backfield?

D’Andre Swift has caught attention for his pass-catching ability throughout the summer, but it was his explosiveness on the ground that stood out in his Eagles preseason debut. Swift started and rushed twice for 24 yards, including a 22-yarder. He took a handoff out of the shotgun, froze at the line and cut to the outside, accelerating through the second level. He even dropped his shoulder to pick up extra yards at the end of the run. Swift had three rushes of 20-plus yards last season, two of which occurred in the first two games of the season.

Rashaad Penny had more work for the Eagles, rushing nine times for 34 yards. His longest run was 10 yards. He also had a 9-yard rush. Sirianni wanted Penny to play after being limited to five games last season.

It was a good night for both of those running backs, who are part of the Eagles’ new-look committee approach. But it did not give much indication of how the running backs will stack in the rotation this summer.

The Eagles kept returning running backs Kenneth Gainwell and Boston Scott out of uniform, instead using Saturday to evaluate the newcomers in the offense. They also gave Trey Sermon extensive work. Sermon was with the team during the regular season in 2022, but not in training camp or the preseason. Sermon finished with nine carries for 21 yards and a touchdown.

Sirianni said he wants all his running backs to take hits before the season opener and suggested Gainwell and Scott will play next week against Cleveland. — Berman

Eagles lose key special teams contributor

The first major injury of Philadelphia’s summer came in the second half on Saturday when linebacker Shaun Bradley injured his lower leg while in punt coverage. Bradley was visibly emotional on the field and exited on a cart. Most of his teammates emptied the sideline to embrace Bradley, and Sirianni consoled the fourth-year linebacker.

Bradley has been a key contributor on the Eagles’ special teams, which would have been his ticket to a roster spot this season. His injury leaves the team undermanned on its already-thin linebacker depth chart. The Eagles signed Myles Jack and Zach Cunningham last week and could be forced to make another move if Bradley’s injury is as significant as it appeared.

Wide receivers Greg Ward and Joseph Ngata left the game in the first half, but both returned in the second half. — Berman

Depth chart developments

Given the quick turnaround ahead of Monday afternoon’s joint practice with the Browns, Sirianni gave most of the Eagles’ expected starters the night off. Jordan Davis, last year’s first-round pick, was the only one who did play, and that was just a handful of snaps in the first quarter. Some notes on how other positions of interest shook out:

• With Jordan Mailata, Landon Dickerson, Jason Kelce, Cam Jurgens and Lane Johnson on the sideline, the “starting” offensive line was, left to right: Tyler Steen, Josh Sills, Josh Andrews, Sua Opeta and Jack Driscoll.

• At wide receiver, Ngata, Ward and Tyrie Cleveland worked as the starters. Ngata’s ascension over the last week of camp is notable as he pushes for a roster spot as the fifth or sixth wide receiver, though he caught just one pass for four yards. Cleveland, the 25-year-old 2020 seventh-round pick of the Denver Broncos, was the receiver who stood out, winning a handful of one-on-one matchups on the outside and finishing with five catches for 68 yards. Britain Covey did not play for undisclosed reasons.

• At tight end, the pecking order seemed to clearly be Jack Stoll, Grant Calcaterra, Tyree Jackson, Dan Arnold, Brady Russell.

• Linebacker was a series of shuffled chairs, with Christian Elliss and Nicholas Morrow playing the first series together, then Elliss and Jack playing together in the second series, then Cunningham and Morrow working together before they all mostly gave way to deeper backups — until Cunningham was again called into action following Bradley’s injury. Elliss and Morrow both had moments of activity. Nakobe Dean did not play.

• With Reed Blankenship given the night off, Terrell Edmunds and K’Von Wallace started at safety. Edmunds only played the first series, giving way to Justin Evans.



Myles Jack gets starter reps, Reed Blankenship standing out at Eagles training camp

• At cornerback, the cement is starting to dry on Josh Jobe’s status as the top outside backup. Greedy Williams was relegated to the second team (really third team, with no starters) while Kelee Ringo was victimized for the Ravens’ first touchdown. Jobe was flagged for illegal contact but also recorded a pass breakup. Perhaps the best individual play of the night, though, was made by undrafted rookie cornerback Eli Ricks, who intercepted an Anthony Brown pass in the fourth quarter and returned it for a touchdown to bring the Eagles within 20-19 (they failed the two-point conversion attempt).

• There appears to be some separation between Derek Barnett, who worked with the starters, and Janarius Robinson, who wasn’t called on until later in the game and looked ineffective. — Wulf

(Top photo of Tanner McKee: Tommy Gilligan / USA Today)

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Alexandra Williams
Alexandra Williams
Alexandra Williams is a writer and editor. Angeles. She writes about politics, art, and culture for LinkDaddy News.

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