Five Tough Questions for Eagles Training Camp: Wide Receiver

Five Tough Questions for Eagles Training Camp: Wide Receiver

We continue our training camp preview by examining the Eagles’ wide receivers, where several high-profile players are fighting for jobs, and all of them are trying to find their way in a new offense.

[ Five Tough Questions for Eagles Training Camp:
Quarterback | Running Back | Tight EndOffensive Line
Defensive Line | Linebackers | Cornerback | Safety ]

Does Jeremy Maclin deserve a contract extension?

Not yet he doesn’t. Let’s not put Jeremy Maclin on the first train out of town or anything, but he hasn’t exactly lived up the hype as one of the top receivers in the ’09 NFL Draft.

Maclin dropped to the Birds, who traded up to 19 to get him when many draftniks felt he was a top-10 pick. Now entering his fifth season however, we’re still waiting on the 25 year old to reach the next level. Maclin has never gone over 1,000 yards receiving for a season in his career, he’s only played all 16 games once, and quite simply he has done little to establish himself as more than a viable No. 2 to DJacc’s star.

At this point it’s probably fair to acknowledge some strange illness caused Maclin to lose body mass and miss a significant amount of practice time in the lead up to 2011, which just happened to come right on the heels of his best, almost Pro Bowl-caliber season – 70 receptions, 964 yards, and 10 touchdowns. To top it off the Eagles have been dysfunctional ever since, so it’s hard to tell if he ever made it all the way back.

Regardless, Maclin must approach this season as a lame duck, as he is deservedly on the final year of his rookie contract. Even if he actually is worth a big-money extension, the Eagles have a bit of an unknown situation at quarterback already, and unless one of them steps up this season, the franchise is likely several years away from contending anyway.

Without a doubt, Maclin will be monitored closely this season. If free agency started tomorrow though, it’s tough to say how much the Birds would be willing to invest the next time around. And if it's still unclear after this season, the franchise tag is always in play.

Can DeSean Jackson regain his All-Pro form from 2009?

This season may well present his best opportunity. When Jackson burst on to the scene as a rookie in 2008, opponents were devastated. But by the time he was finished racking up 1,146 yards and nine touchdowns receiving in ’09, defensive backs had seemingly seen all DJacc had to offer. Push the safeties back and take away the deep ball = problem solved.

That is somewhat of a simplistic way of looking at things. It’s not like 2010 was a lost season, as Jackson eclipsed 1,000 yards again, and very nearly did so again in ’11 even while he sulked over his contract. The big plays have stopped coming in bunches though, and the once-explosive receiver looks increasingly like a one-trick pony. By the time the 26 year old got his mind right and his contract situation settled, the Eagles’ offense was going extinct under Andy Reid.

Part of the problem is Jackson has a limited skill set compared to most wide receivers being that he’s only 5-10, 175 lbs. He’s not winning jump balls, and he’s not overpowering the coverage.

Yet this is where Chip Kelly comes in and potentially rejuvenates DeSean’s career. No longer will Jackson be relegated to the role of decoy, running sprints down the field on seemingly every play. Jackson can still go deep, but in the new scheme he’ll be put into situations where he can get the ball in space. There are said to be a higher number of short and intermediate routes, and he’ll even be lining up in the backfield with some frequency apparently.

If opponents are worrying about Jackson doing more underneath, it should make him more dangerous when he does go over the top, as safeties start creeping up toward the line of scrimmage again. No matter where he is getting the ball in his hands though, expect it to come his way in higher volumes.

What can we expect from Arrelious Benn?

Hard to predict. It’s fair to presume he will probably show up in the box score every week at least. Let’s not put an actual projection on it, but general manager Howie Roseman traded for Benn from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, then immediately gave him a new contract. This is somebody who will likely be part of the game plan on Sundays.

In 2011, Benn had 30 catches for 441 yards and three touchdowns (roughly two receptions, 27 yards, 0.2 touchdowns per game), numbers he could at least match. Aside from Riley Cooper, the Eagles don’t really have many receivers with Benn’s size – 6-2, 225 – so it’s possible Chip Kelly sees him as a red zone weapon as well, perhaps more. No matter the details, his presence on the roster could spell trouble for the rest of the depth at wideout – one mainstay and another prospect in particular.

Is Jason Avant a lock to make the team?

I’m not so sure. Avant’s situation is something we may not have thought twice about before Chip Kelly started giving the seven-year veteran looks at the safety position. Sure, the head coach will chalk it up as just trying something different, but it’s not like we heard about LeSean McCoy lining up at middle linebacker, either.

At this point we can only surmise Avant’s job is very much in jeopardy. Besides the rather random tryout on defense, the Eagles did trade for Arrelious Benn during the offseason, even if it was only a sixth-round selection. They already have Damaris Johnson, who is younger, cheaper, and seems like the dynamic/athletic type that could be better suited for the slot role in an up-tempo offense. After Jackson and Maclin that leaves one roster spot remaining, and Riley Cooper also happens to play special teams – they could keep him.

Face it, Avant (30) is a dinosaur compared to the rest of the Eagles’ skill players. The club could do worse than somebody who’s hauled in no fewer than 587 yards in a season over the past four. Then again, those numbers aren’t exactly impossible to duplicate, either.

Does Ifeanyi Momah stand any chance at making the 53-man roster?

Minimal to zero. If six-foot-seven with a 4.45 40 time sounds too good to be true, well that’s because it almost certainly is.

If Jason Avant might be caught up in a numbers game, imagine what Momah has to overcome. Jackson and Maclin are mortal locks. Riley Cooper and Damaris Johnson (punt returns) contribute on special teams. The Eagles traded for Arrelious Benn during the offseason and immediately gave him a contract extension, so that looks fairly secure. Between those six players, at least two may have to disappear for Momah to pull down a job – and that's not even considering the rest of the competition.

Momah suffered a torn ACL at Boston College in 2011, causing him to go undrafted and largely overlooked for a full year until the Birds signed him as a free agent this winter. He seems to be healthy, but is also extremely raw, posting just 39 receptions during his collegiate career – so while the incredible size and speed make fans take notice, those qualities do not guarantee a quality wide receiver.

Best case scenario is the Eagles can stash Momah on their practice squad for a year, and he eventually becomes a weapon in Chip Kelly’s offense. However, the odds that he ever develops into an NFL player might be slim.

Andrew Kulp is a freelance writer covering Philadelphia sports for The700Level.com. E-mail him at andrewkulp@comcast.net or follow him on Twitter.

West wins NBA All-Star Game; Anthony Davis earns MVP with record performance

West wins NBA All-Star Game; Anthony Davis earns MVP with record performance

NEW ORLEANS -- Anthony Davis had an All-Star Game for the record books.

And on a night when Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant provided a glimpse of the past, Giannis Antetokounmpo showed he's clearly part of the future and a midcourt lob attempt from James Harden even went in, Davis absolutely stole the show.

He scored 52 points, 10 more than Wilt Chamberlain's All-Star record that had stood for 55 years, and the Western Conference beat the Eastern Conference 192-182 on Sunday night -- the highest-scoring game in league history.

Davis made 26 shots and took 39, both of those also All-Star records. He even outdid Westbrook, who had 41 points in just 20 minutes -- which ordinarily would have been enough to merit him what would have been a third straight MVP award.

Not this time. It was Davis hoisting the trophy, to the delight of his New Orleans fans.

"It was a lot of fun," Davis said. "My teammates did a great job of looking for me."

Durant had a triple-double with 21 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists. Stephen Curry added 21 points for the West -- where a subplot emerged as DeMarcus Cousins played only two minutes, prompting some speculation that a trade sending him out of Sacramento might be looming.

Antetokounmpo had 30 points for the East, with 12 dunks in his night. LeBron James scored 23 points to become the first All-Star to eclipse 300 in a career, Kyrie Irving had 22 points and 14 assists, and Isaiah Thomas scored 20 for the East.

Davis became the story that overshadowed The Story coming into this game, that being the Durant-Westbrook whatever.

And if there is any animus remaining between Durant and Westbrook, it was hidden. They passed each other the ball and slapped hands in the pregame layup line, and not long after Westbrook checked into the game the former Oklahoma City teammates provided one of the game's top highlights -- a give-and-go, capped by Durant lobbing the ball to set Westbrook up for a dunk.

"OH MY GOD! WHAT JUST HAPPENED?" Curry shouted on the West bench, which moments later broke into celebration. Players jumped and threw hands skyward, Curry tossing a cupful of water onto a smiling Durant amid it all.

Draymond Green called the play "cute," and Westbrook and Durant seemed happy with it as well.

"It was a nice give-and-go, man," Westbrook said. "Good give-and-go. Made a good pass. I barely got over the rim, but it was a nice give-and-go."

Added Durant: "It was a great basketball play. He was open so I threw him the lob. He can jump really high so yeah, good play."

Some fans were shouting "De-Fense!" in the fourth quarter. West center DeAndre Jordan heard them, rising from his seat on the West bench to yell "No, no, no" back in their direction.

If those fans were serious, they were disappointed.

Westbrook scored 12 points -- all on 3s -- in a 63-second span late in the third quarter, coming off the bench and firing over and over and over again. And then he opened the fourth quarter with another 3, giving him 34 points in just under 14 minutes played to that point.

It looked like he was a cinch for MVP honors, until Davis scored 20 points in the fourth.

Tip-ins
East: Irving also led the East in rebounds with seven. ... Kyle Lowry scored 19 points and DeMar DeRozan added 16. ... No East player logged more than 24 minutes.

West: Curry took cover in the third quarter, comically hitting the deck face-first as Antetokounmpo went in for yet another dunk. So later in the quarter, Antetokounmpo went over Curry for a rebound slam -- one that left Curry staring at the scoreboard for a replay. ... Kawhi Leonard had a steal and dunk in the opening minute, a defensive display that left West coach Steve Kerr in hysterics.

Celeb watch
A huge roar greeted Jon Batiste, who performed "The Star-Spangled Banner" pregame, when he started the song.

It wasn't for him.

That happened to be the moment when John Legend -- the halftime performer -- and Chrissy Teigen were shown at their sideline seats on the video screens around the arena. And a louder cheer came not long afterward when Beyonce and Jay Z got on-screen.

Among the other celebs in the seats: Guy Fieri, Dave Chappelle, Julius Erving, Alonzo Mourning, Bill Russell, Oscar Robertson and The Roots.

Up next
The next All-Star Game is Feb. 18, 2018, in Los Angeles, which will host for a record sixth time.

Temple's youth shows again as lead slips away late in loss to UConn

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Temple's youth shows again as lead slips away late in loss to UConn

BOX SCORE

Temple’s Sunday tilt with UConn at the Liacouras Center was the embodiment of a young team trying to find its way.

The Owls had a double-digit lead against one of the hottest teams in the nation, thanks in part to their young guys producing in pivotal moments in the game.

However, the inability to finish cost Temple again, as the Owls allowed Jalen Adams to convert a reverse layup with 2.9 seconds remaining in a 64-63 loss to the Huskies (see Instant Replay).

“It’s hard,” Temple Head Coach Fran Dunphy said after the loss. “We have two of these now. We have Tulsa (70-68 on Jan. 14) and Connecticut at the buzzer at home. There’s not a lot to say.

“If we all make one better decision, including me, whether it’s a defensive set, a substitution or whatever. They hold onto the ball, they get a rebound, they make a shot, whatever it happens to be. We all make one better decision and we’re coming away with two great wins in Tulsa and UConn and not sitting here after two tough losses.”

After UConn hit a three to tie the game at 60, Temple freshman Quinton Rose made a huge three-pointer of his own to put the Owls back up 63-60 with 2:32 left in the game.

With Temple (14-14, 5-10 AAC) still clinging to a three-point lead, sophomore Shizz Alston, Jr. came up with a huge offensive rebound, only to turn it over with 1:08 left on the clock. Adams came up with the steal and raced up the court, but was fouled by Rose while attempting a dunk.

Following Adams’ two makes at the free-throw line, Temple’s lead was trimmed to just 63-62. On the ensuing possession, senior Daniel Dingle was fouled by UConn guard Rodney Purvis.

Dingle missed the front end of a one-and-one set at the line, which set the stage for Adams’ acrobatic shot to give the Huskies (14-12, 9-5 AAC) their seventh win in the last eight games.

“We knew they were going to come off that high ball screen with Adams,” Dunphy said. “We needed to sit down and keep him in front of us. One guy could have helped a little bit more than he did. It would have been a drive and kick for an open jumper, but it would have been better than [a layup]. The other guy just needs to sit down on that play and keep Adams in front of him, but we knew that ball screen was coming.”

“I honestly thought the ball was going to Purvis because he made the last three shots, so I did my best to deny him,” Dingle said. “[Adams] did a fantastic move.”

Things had been going Temple’s way for a majority of the night. The Owls led for the vast majority of game time thanks in part to 5 of 9 shooting from three in the first half, which gave them a 35-29 halftime lead. The lead increased to 56-46 with 8:29 left in the contest.

Dingle’s all-around play and leadership helped push Temple ahead. Freshmen Damien Moore and Alani Moore II combined for 22 points on 9 of 10 shooting.

However, the Owls went cold late. Temple made only 2 of 12 three-point shots in the second half.

UConn's day went in the opposite direction as the Huskies shot a blistering 54.2 percent in the second half and 62.5 percent from downtown. Purvis poured in 13 of his game-high 18 after intermission.

“The younger guys are doing very well,” said Dingle, who finished with 17 points, six rebounds and six assists. “We’re going to learn how to win. They’re doing a great job. It just so happens that we let one get away again.”

The Owls have made close defeats a habit. Sunday marked their fifth loss this season by five points or less.

These type of losses are the reason why Temple is in the eighth spot in the American Athletic Conference. With three regular-season games left and the AAC conference tournament quickly approaching, this Temple team, which holds victories over No. 9 West Virginia and No. 17 Florida State, will need to start showing the same promise it had earlier in the season to keep alive any dreams of dancing in the NCAA Tournament.

“I definitely talk to the guys about having that sense of urgency,” Dingle said. “For me, time is running out, so that’s the sense of urgency I’ve got. We’ve got to get there as a whole. I say that in the huddle, ‘We’ve got to get there.’ I remember being a freshman to now I’m in my fifth year. Time is not waiting, so every game we’ve got to go out there and play like it’s our last.

“The sense of urgency I think is all right but it has to increase. In order for us to get an opportunity to play in the NCAA [Tournament] – that’s something I want to do and I know the team wants bad for us as a whole and definitely for the seniors. Coach talks about the sense of urgency has to pick up.”