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Washington Vs. Eagles, Week 1: 5 Players To Watch

Safety Troy Apke (left) and tight end Logan Thomas (center) make plays on the ball during a practice at the Inova Sports Performance Center on Sept. 3, 2020. (Elijah Walter Griffin Sr./Washington Football Team)
Safety Troy Apke (left) and tight end Logan Thomas (center) make plays on the ball during a practice at the Inova Sports Performance Center on Sept. 3, 2020. (Elijah Walter Griffin Sr./Washington Football Team)

Following virtual offseason workouts, an unorthodox training camp and zero preseason games, the 2020 campaign is finally here.

There will be plenty to watch when the Washington Football Team hosts the Philadelphia Eagles in the regular season opener.

Ron Rivera will make his coaching debut for Washington, as will offensive coordinator Scott Turner and defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio. Chase Young, the No. 2 overall pick in this year's draft, will play in his first NFL game, while Dwayne Haskins Jr. will take the field as the team's starting quarterback.

But as Washington looks to defeat its division rivals for the first time since 2016, other newcomers and returners will have to step up and produce.

Here are five players to watch:

DE Montez Sweat

Let us not forget about Montez Sweat, whose 5.5 sacks over the final eight games propelled him into second place on the team by season's end.

The 2019 first-round pick had one of the best training camps out of anyone, routinely beating offensive tackles with his speed, power and improved technique. It seemed like every practice he was either getting to the quarterback, stuffing an outside run or batting down a pass.

With Young garnering most of the attention ahead of Sunday's game, expect Sweat to reintroduce himself to the Eagles' offense with a disruptive day off the edge.

"He's a tremendously gifted athlete," Rivera said. "Going back and watching his tape and seeing how he was, he was growing and developing. "I'll be honest, just kind of going back and looking at him from his college tape and remembering him putting his hand on the ground and how explosive he was off the line of scrimmage, and then seeing it again, with his hand on the ground knowing that this is a guy, with his ability and DE Chase's ability, and that whole group of guys we have, we have the ability to have a special unit."

WR Steven Sims Jr.

The Eagles know all about Terry McLaurin, who torched them in two games as a rookie with 10 receptions for 255 yards and two scores. To limit wideouts like McLaurin, the Eagles signed Darius Slay in free agency. Eagles insider Dave Spadaro does not believe Slay will shadow McLaurin on Sunday, but McLaurin should still see plenty of the three-time Pro Bowler throughout the afternoon.

That should leave Steven Sims Jr. with some room to operate against an unproven secondary. In Week 15 against the Eagles last season, which happened to be Sims' first-career NFL start, he made five catches for 45 yards and a touchdown on a season-high 11 targets.

Sims has further proven himself this offseason by becoming the No. 2 target behind McLaurin while building chemistry with Haskins. The coaching staff believes in him, too, and will aim to get him the ball in whatever way possible.

"He has me doing everything," Sims said of Turner. "I love how he's using me. I just have to continue to better myself and better my shape and take advantage of my opportunity."

S Troy Apke

Washington brought in Sean Davis this offseason to compete for the free safety spot, only to release him during roster cuts Sept. 5. That's because from the moment the players held padded practices, Troy Apke showed he was the one who should start alongside Landon Collins.

Apke always had the speed to thrive in this spot, but during training camp he displayed physicality and impeccable timing to break up several passes. As a third-year pro, he also feels comfortable and confident in Del Rio's system.

The real test, though, will come Sunday against Philadelphia. In last year's season opener, multiple miscommunications led to DeSean Jackson running free down the field. The result was eight receptions for 154 yards and two long touchdowns -- all of which allowed the Eagles to secure a come-from behind victory.

Alshon Jeffery will miss Sunday's game with a foot injury, but the Eagles still have Jackson and perennial Pro Bowl tight end Zach Ertz. Washington will also have to deal with 2020 first-round pick Jalen Reagor, who adds even more speed to that receiving corps.

To contain these threats, Apke and Collins will have to be on the same page with each other and the rest of the revamped secondary.

TE Logan Thomas

Since converting from quarterback to tight end in 2016, Logan Thomas has never made more than 16 catches in a single season and has hauled in just two career touchdowns. But based on Thomas' production throughout training camp, he'll shatter those numbers in 2020.

Thomas has been one of Haskins' favorite targets, especially in the red zone. At some point, the two connected for five touchdowns over a span of six practices. With the Eagles' defense keying on McLaurin, Thomas will have to get open for Washington to consistently move the chains.

"He's a big, physical guy. He can run," Turner said. "There are some parts of the tight end position that are new to him, but he's been playing that for a few years now. ...He's playing fast. He's gaining some confidence in the position."

LG Wes Martin and LT Geron Christian Sr.

For much of the past decade, one of the Eagles' biggest strengths has been their defensive line. Five-time Pro Bowler Fletcher Cox leads a group that also includes Brandon Graham and Malik Jackson, who have a combined 18 years of NFL experience entering 2020.

Three-fifths of Washington's offensive line is very familiar with this unit, as Chase Roullier, Brandon Scherff and Morgan Moses have started alongisde each other for the past three seasons. But the other two projected starters -- left guard Wes Martin and left tackle Geron Christian Sr. -- have combined for seven-career starts. The only time they started together was against the New England Patriots last October.

The left side of the offensive line was supposed to be a competition entering training camp, but Martin and Christian were the starting left guard and left tackle for most of training camp. Both players looked solid in practice and have garnered praise from the coaching staff. The true test comes Sunday against Philadelphia.

"The biggest thing with Geron more so than anything else is that he's an athletic football player," Rivera said. "He moves very well. He's a smart, young man who's picked things up very nicely. He just hasn't had a chance to play a lot of football, so we're really interested in watching him."

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