NFL Preseason Preview - Philadelphia (0-0) at Chicago (0-0)
By John McMullen, NFL Editor
(SportsNetwork.com) - The Philadelphia Eagles kick off their preseason slate in the Windy City on Friday as they travel to Soldier Field to take on the Chicago Bears.
The Eagles surprised many by finishing 10-6 and winning the NFC East in 2013 under the direction of innovative rookie head coach Chip Kelly. A potential sequel, however, will have to take place without one of the game's best, pure home-run hitters in receiver DeSean Jackson.
Jackson, who was coming off a career year, was released in the offseason due to problems with Kelly and the whispers of some nefarious off-the-field behavior but division rival Washington had no issue with quickly picking up the Pro-Bowl selection.
Hindsight will ultimately prove that the Jackson mess was either incredible hubris on Kelly's part or provide further proof that the former Oregon mentor is indeed one of the great offensive minds of this generation.
Jeremy Maclin, who is returning from a torn ACL and has been seen limping at times in camp, and the lengthy Riley Cooper will start at receiver for the Birds with rookie second-round pick Jordan Matthews hoping to mix in frequently. None possesses the pure, gamebreaking ability of Jackson, though, so the spacing Kelly craves figures to be a bit more difficult to create this time around.
A second major issue propped up late in June when second-year right tackle Lane Johnson tested positive for a performance- enhancing drug and suspended by the NFL for the first four games of the upcoming season.
On the other side of the ball Philadelphia has struggled at safety since former six-time All-Pro Brian Dawkins walked in free agency after the 2008 season. The Eagles feel they finally have a solid presence on the back end, though, after signing former Saints first-round pick Malcolm Jenkins in free agency.
"He had the specific skill set that we were looking for," Kelly said. "So he was the No. 1 guy we were looking for in free agency."
That skill set Kelly is speaking of is coverage skills, a necessity for a defense which ranked last in the NFL last season defending the pass, allowing an average of 289.8 yards per game.
"It's just about making the calls and eliminating the dumb mistakes to where you (limit) big plays or blown coverages," Jenkins said. "That's where I come in, as far as knowing the defense, making the right calls, and getting everybody lined up so then we can go play fast."
Bears general manager Phil Emery spent much of his offseason trying to upgrade a defense which collapsed in 2013, focusing largely on the front four.
Chicago bid adieu to veterans Julius Peppers, Henry Melton and Corey Wootton and used free agency to bolster the defensive end position, bringing in veteran pass-rushing star Jared Allen, along with Lamarr Houston and Willie Young. Emery then carpet-bombed defensive tackle in the draft with a pair of early selections, second-rounder Ego Ferguson and third-rounder Will Sutton.
Much like last season, though, Chicago will go only as far as its high-powered offense can take it. Little tinkering was done there and rightfully so because the Bears were so explosive on offense last season.
A few issues popped up this week, however. Receiver Marquess Wilson, who was battling for the No. 3 position behind Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery, will be sidelined indefinitely after suffering a fractured right clavicle in Monday's training camp practice.
Wilson was hurt when he dove for a pass in the end zone.
"Diving for balls is one of the most difficult things not to do when you're a competitive player," Bears coach Marc Trestman said. "We promote it, we talk about it a lot. When a guy goes to make a play on the ball you're not going to be disappointed with him if he doesn't go to the ground."
Meanwhile star tight end Martellus Bennett was suspended Tuesday for conduct detrimental to the team after an incident in practice in which he slammed rookie cornerback Kyle Fuller to the ground after the first-round pick spun the veteran around on a tackle after a reception.
The Eagles and Bears will be meeting in the preseason for just the third time since 1975, with the series tied at one game apiece.
08/06 12:43:21 ET