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.

Up from 217 to 250, Ben Simmons also stronger mentally from work with LeBron

Up from 217 to 250, Ben Simmons also stronger mentally from work with LeBron

CAMDEN, N.J. — It appears Ben Simmons took the saying about having the weight of the world on your shoulders a tad literal.

The Sixers' No. 1 overall pick walked into the team's sparkling new training complex for media day sporting a much bigger frame than when his name was called on draft night.

"I'm a lot stronger. When I started getting ready for the draft I was about 217 [pounds] and now I'm around 250," Simmons said Monday.

When you're expected to be the centerpiece of an organization that managed just 10 wins a season ago, it helps to have that extra bulk to carry those expectations. 

But Simmons isn’t just being looked at as a key to help change the franchise’s fortunes. He’s also being viewed as perhaps a once-in-a-generation talent after drawing several comparisons to LeBron James, who Simmons shares an agent with in Klutch Sports Group.

So how did the incoming rookie deal with being likened to four-time MVP and three-time NBA champion James? He went to work like someone trying to achieve those same goals.

“Just being around him and learning from his habits and what he does has just helped me overall,” Simmons said of working out with James and other NBA stars during the summer. “He’ll be one of the first guys in the gym every day. It doesn’t matter what day it is. He’s one of those guys who gets the work in and enjoys the rest of his day. Just learning from him I think I can take a lot from what he’s done. ... He’s done a lot for me. He’s helped me experience things I need to learn.

“They get in the gym and work. It’s one of those things where they don’t play around. They get straight to it. Obviously in the weight room too. LeBron loves the VersaClimber and they also brought two more in here. I’m starting to learn from what these guys do, D-Wade (Dwyane Wade) also. They’re all doing the same thing, working out every day and getting ready.”

That type of work ethic will go a long way toward Simmons' earning the respect of his Sixers teammates. The group was already eager to get on the floor with him for training camp at Stockton University and get a firsthand look at the versatile forward, especially his prowess as a passer.

“The most exciting thing that I’ve seen was his passing ability,” Jahlil Okafor said of Simmons. “That’s going to help me out a lot. He’s selfless. Being with the summer league guys he was always about the team. I’ve always considered myself a good teammate and he’s a great one as well. I’m excited to work with him.”

“I think for anybody who likes to shoot or likes to score, whenever you can have a big man who is a really good ball handler, can make good decisions, has great vision, it’s always a great thing,” Gerald Henderson said. “If you can be aggressive on the offensive end you don’t always have to have the basketball to be able to be right there and score. You have somebody that can find you and really is thinking pass-first. I think it’ll be great, not only for us but just our offense in general.”

Considering that the Sixers finished 29th in scoring a season ago, Simmons knows they will need him to be more than just a facilitator. The team needs consistent scoring from everyone on the court. And while the LSU product’s jump shot was questioned during his lone year in college, he believes he has worked hard to silence those doubts.

“I usually try to take what they give me. Obviously I’ve been working on my shot a lot with all the coaches,” Simmons said. “I can shoot the ball. I’m not really worried about that. Coming into training camp, it’s one of the things I’ve been working on since LSU.”

Simmons made it clear several times that he is confident in his offensive game and that the Sixers’ logjam in the frontcourt will work itself out on the floor. One thing he’s not so sure about: that he’s even in this position.

Despite dreaming about being in the NBA since he was a kid in Australia and being groomed to be the No. 1 overall pick for years, Simmons said it’s still a bit of a surprise to be at this point.

“I think it’s still surreal for me,” he said. “I think it’ll finally hit me once I step on the court matched up against OKC the first game.”

There were Carson Wentz and Ben Simmons fans at the debate last night

There were Carson Wentz and Ben Simmons fans at the debate last night

I'm not sure if they could win nationally, but there is absolutely no doubt that a Wentz-Simmons ticket would dominate the Delaware Valley.

An intrepid Philadelphia sports fan was up at the Presidential Debate last night at Hofstra University and made a sign showing his support... for the Eagles and Sixers.

I don't know though, I'm pretty sure Simmons was born in Australia.