The so-called dress rehearsal for the regular season, NFL preseason Week 3 will give coaches and fans a nice taste of what’s to come in 2019.
With starters slated to play extended action for most teams, it’s both nerve-wracking and a ton of fun. As we look ahead to the 16-game preseason slate, these are the players that have our attention.
Nick Foles, quarterback, Jacksonville Jaguars
The Jags have kept Foles under wraps so far this preseason, opting instead to let rookie Gardner Minshew take plenty of reps. Yet we fully expect to see the former Super Bowl MVP make his preseason debut in Week 3 against the Miami Dolphins Thursday night.
A lot has been made about how Foles will make the Jaguars Super Bowl contenders again. But it might be smart to pump the brakes on that narrative. Foles had a tremendous run in Philly. Can he duplicate that success for his new team? That’s a season-defining storyline we’re watching with great interest.
Montez Sweat, outside linebacker, Washington Redskins
Sweat wowed teammates this offseason with his quickness and burst, drawing comparisons to a future Hall of Famer. However, after missing the first preseason game due to a lingering calf injury, Washington’s first-round rookie flew way under the radar in Week 2, only minimally impacting Cincinnati’s offense.
Washington’s defense has the high-powered Atlanta offense to deal with in Week 3. But as we saw last Thursday, the Falcons have a big problem with pass protection up front. If Sweat can’t bring some heat in this game, then it may be safe to assume he will be a late bloomer for Washington in 2019.
Tony Pollard, running back, Dallas Cowboys
Dallas selected Pollard in the fourth round this past April, and the Memphis product has done nothing but impress. Pollard has been given a huge opportunity to showcase his talent due to the Ezekiel Elliott holdout. This past weekend, he showed Dallas might not miss a beat if Elliott continues that holdout into the regular season.
Of course, that narrative falls to pieces if Pollard takes a step backward in Week 3. Dallas has the Houston Texans coming into AT&T Stadium, and they feature quite a potent defensive front. This should be a fantastic test for Pollard.
Kyler Murray, quarterback, Arizona Cardinals
In his NFL debut a couple weeks ago, Murray was razor sharp. Then last Thursday, he looked like a wide-eyed rookie against Oakland, netting minus-two yards passing while incurring two false-start penalties and taking a safety.
Needless to say, Cardinals fans really don’t know what to expect from the No. 1 overall pick this coming year. Arizona will be in Minnesota Saturday for a battle against the Vikings, who feature a dangerous defense. This is a huge test for Murray, and we can’t wait to see how he handles the pressure that’s sure to come his way.
Damion Willis, wide receiver, Cincinnati Bengals
With star A.J. Green sidelined for an indeterminate amount of time to open the season, the Bengals are on the lookout for young receivers to step up. So far, undrafted rookie Damion Willis out of Troy appears to be a guy who has answered the call.
During Week 2’s matchup against Washington, Willis led all receivers with five catches for 59 yards. He would have scored a long touchdown, too, if not for an awful pass-interference call that went against him. Another strong outing in preseason Week 3 could result in Willis locking up a final roster spot this summer.
Devin White, linebacker, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Bucs haven’t given White many reps so far this preseason. All the reports coming out of training camp have been overwhelmingly positive concerning this first-round rookie out of LSU, however.
White should get a chance for some extended action in Week 3 as Tampa Bay hosts Cleveland. The Browns’ first-team offense has been practically unstoppable so far this preaseason. So it’s going to be a lot of fun to see how White and his defensive teammates handle this challenge on Friday night in front of their home fans.
Justin Jackson, running back, Los Angeles Chargers
Like Pollard in Dallas, Jackson is doing a good job this summer while starting running back Melvin Gordon holds out for a massive long-term deal. This second-year back has touched the ball 14 times in two games, gaining 64 yards for an average of 4.57 yards per touch.
As a rookie in 2018, Jackson showed himself capable of making plays in the passing game, hauling in 15 passes for 135 yards in limited action. Now he’s showcasing the ability to make tough gains between the tackles. More and more, he’s proving the Chargers may not need Gordon to feature a balanced offense in 2019. Another strong outing against a very tough Seattle defense Saturday night will only strengthen that notion.
Frank Clark, EDGE, Kansas City Chiefs
Kansas City gave up draft picks to land Clark in a trade with Seattle, and then the Chiefs made him one of the highest-paid defenders in the league. He hasn’t played much so far this preseason, thanks to a sore wrist and Kansas City playing it safe with starters last weekend.
The Chiefs have a Week 3 preseason date with the San Francisco 49ers at Arrowhead Stadium. Clark and the other starters should get an extended run, and he’ll be going against two really good offensive tackles in Joe Staley and Mike McGlinchey. This should be a fun tape session for film junkies to dig into afterward.
Matt Kalil, left tackle, Houston Texans
Texans head coach Bill O’Brien definitively stated that Kalil is the starting left tackle after the team’s second preseason game. That’s a terrifying thought for anyone concerned with the long-term health of Deshaun Wastson. However, Kalil and the rest of the starting offensive line showed well in Week 2 against Detroit, giving Watson a ton of time to throw.
A Week 3 battle in Arlington against Dallas’ front seven might lead to a different result. The ‘Boys can bring plenty of heat, and it’s going to take nothing but a phenomenal effort by Kalil to keep Watson from hitting the turf.
Cam Newton, quarterback, Carolina Panthers
The Panthers have, for two weeks in a row, said that Newton would play in a preseason game, only to keep him off the field in the end. Week 3 should finally provide us with the opportunity to see the former NFL MVP in action.
The reason that Newton’s preseason debut is such a big deal this year is that he is coming off surgery on his throwing shoulder for the second time in less than three years. On top of that, Newton has been tweaking his mechanics and is said to be utilizing a new throwing motion. The Panthers have been openly excited about the change, but until the product is revealed to the public we’re taking a wait-and-see approach.