The Philadelphia Eagles will compete for the first time in seven months on August 8 against the Chicago Bears. The last time the Eagles were in action, they watched their season end on the very last play of their wild card game against the New Orleans Saints in Philadelphia. Since tonight marks the preseason opener, this is a far less important game, but it will be the first small sign on whether the Eagles can take another step forward in 2014.
At this time last year, there was much more mystery on how Chip Kelly's fast pace and innovations would work in the NFL. 16 games and one postseason contest later, the Eagles have certainly proven themselves in the Kelly system, along with quarterback Nick Foles. However, this is the year that will determine whether the NFL will adjust to them accordingly.
Like the Eagles, the Bears have an explosive offense and a more questionable defense under a second year coach. Like Kelly, Marc Trestman ended his rookie season with a heartbreaking last second loss at home, only it was to the Green Bay Packers in Week 17. Like Philadelphia, Chicago wants to take the next step this season if all breaks well.
While there aren't as many question marks over the Eagles in Kelly's second year, there is one giant hole in the system this season. This is the first time Philadelphia will see whether the absence of DeSean Jackson makes as big a difference as many feared. Letting Jackson go to the Washington Redskins could hang over the Eagles all season, unless Kelly quickly validates that his team is just as explosive without its best big play threat.
This is also the first time Kelly will coach Jeremy Maclin in a game, after the receiver missed all of last season. But despite having sore legs, he is scheduled to play against the Bears and is back in his regular spot as the Eagles' No. 1 receiver, now more than ever before. If anyone can make up for Jackson's departure, Maclin can, although he doesn't have much of a choice.
Kelly's sustainability, Maclin's health, life without Jackson and the Eagles' Super Bowl chances are all big questions that won't get answered until next month, if any time soon. Yet for now, the first clues will have to come in the preseason, starting in Chicago at 8 p.m. est.