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:
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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.

Big night in Columbus as rookies star for Union and Jim Curtin quotes Rasheed Wallace

Big night in Columbus as rookies star for Union and Jim Curtin quotes Rasheed Wallace

What’s the best way to respond to a controversial game-tying goal on the road?

If you said score the game-winner 62 seconds later, celebrate by shushing the crowd, and then quote Rasheed Wallace after the game, the Union agree with you. 

That’s what happened Wednesday night in Columbus as Crew SC were credited with scoring a second-half equalizer even though it looked like the ball may have been cleared off the line before it crossed (where’s goal-line technology when you really need it?). But before the cameras could even get back to the game, the Union charged down the field off the ensuing kickoff with Keegan Rosenberry scoring a very pretty goal to lift Philly to a 2-1 victory — and then put his finger to his mouth to quiet the crowd.

Watch the whole chaotic sequence here:

Remarkably, the goal was the second of the night for a Union rookie as Fabian Herbers scored the opener. Herbers got the start on the right wing in place of Ilsinho and another rookie, Joshua Yaro, started at center back instead of Ken Tribbett.

If you’re scoring at home, that’s three of the team’s top six picks from this year’s draft all starting together (for just the second time ever) and two of of them scoring.

That was certainly an exciting development for Curtin, who praised the rookie trio for growing up in a hurry before touting Rosenberry as an MLS Rookie of the Year frontrunner.

But none of those comments were as good as when Curtin quoted fellow Philadelphian Rasheed Wallace for the karmic retribution that happened after Crew SC’s controversial goal.

“It’s a true Philadelphia-type team — blue-collar, tough, doesn’t let adversity get in the way,” Curtin said. “And I guess in words of Rasheed Wallace, the ball doesn’t lie.

Then, after completing the season sweep of Crew SC, the Union coach added a little insult to injury.

“You guys won’t get that in Columbus but the ball does not lie.”

Hear that, Columbus? ’Sheed is ours.

MLB Notes: Miami Marlins acquire Jeff Francoeur from Atlanta Braves

MLB Notes: Miami Marlins acquire Jeff Francoeur from Atlanta Braves

MIAMI -- A person familiar with the deal says the Miami Marlins have acquired outfielder Jeff Francoeur from Atlanta in a three-team trade.

The person spoke to The Associated Press under condition of anonymity Wednesday night because the trade hadn't been announced.

The Texas Rangers also were part of the trade. Francoeur was the only major leaguer involved.

Miami is contending for an NL wild-card spot and isn't sure whether star outfielder Giancarlo Stanton will return this season from a severe groin strain.

Francoeur was hitting .249 with seven home runs and 33 RBIs in 99 games for the Braves. The 32-year-old plays left field and right field and is known for a strong arm.

Nationals acquire lefty reliever Marc Rzepczynski from Athletics
WASHINGTON -- The Washington Nationals have acquired left-handed reliever Marc Rzepczynski from the Oakland Athletics for minor league infielder Max Schrock.

The A's also sent cash to Washington as part of the trade announced Thursday.

Rzepczynski gives the Nationals another lefty out of the bullpen since trading Felipe Rivero and putting Sammy Solis on the disabled list. He is 1-0 with a 3.00 ERA in 56 appearances this season for Oakland.

The 32-year-old joins the sixth team of his major league career. It was not clear if he'd be available for Washington's game Thursday night against the Baltimore Orioles.

The 21-year-old Schrock was a 13th-round pick in 2015.

Red Sox place rookie Benintendi on 15-day DL with knee sprain
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla.  -- The Boston Red Sox have placed rookie left fielder Andrew Benintendi on the 15-day disabled list with a left knee sprain.

Benintendi was hurt in the seventh inning of a 4-3 loss in 11 innings to Tampa Bay on Wednesday night. He tried to avoid a tag while running toward second base, but was tagged out on a double play.

Red Sox manager John Farrell says team doctors are evaluating the results of an MRI exam on Thursday. He says the severity of the injury isn't clear and will be "determined after the review."

Farrell is hopeful Benintendi, a first-round draft pick in 2015, will return before the season ends.

Chris Young will be the primary left fielder with Benintendi sidelined. Infielder Marco Hernandez was recalled from Triple-A Pawtucket.

Future Phillies Report: Jorge Alfaro ticketed for a September call-up?

Future Phillies Report: Jorge Alfaro ticketed for a September call-up?

Minor-league schedules are wrapping up and both Reading and Lehigh Valley have just a dozen regular-season games remaining. From there, both teams will be in their league's playoffs, giving many of the Phillies' top prospects a chance to win a championship.

Even if the Fightin Phils and IronPigs fall short, 2016 has provided many of the Phillies' top young players with a taste of winning. In that respect, it's been a successful season. Even at the major-league level, guys like Maikel Franco, Odubel Herrera, Cesar Hernandez and the Phillies' young starting pitchers have seen what winning feels like. The Phils played very well for the first six weeks of the season, and even though they've faded from contention, they're not nearly as irrelevant as they were at this time a year ago.

This week, the Future Phillies Report begins at Double A:

C Jorge Alfaro (AA)
Alfaro, hitting .279/.322/.444 on the year with 13 homers and 60 RBIs, could be playing with the Phillies by mid-September. He's the only catcher on their 40-man roster other than Carlos Ruiz and Cameron Rupp. With the 40-man roster filled and teams routinely bringing up a third catcher when roster expand in September, it seems likely Alfaro could get his first taste of The Show.

Reading is the favorite to win the championship, which ends on Sept. 17 if it goes the full five games. The Phillies will almost certainly keep Alfaro with Reading through the end of its run; it would make little sense to keep him at Double A all year only to move him when the Fightin Phils are within striking distance of a title.

But those Alfaro skills you've been hearing and reading about for a year — power, arm strength, athleticism — could be on display at Citizens Bank Park for a few games in mid-to-late September. That opportunity would be as positional as anything else, because Alfaro is likely to begin 2017 at Triple A.

OF Dylan Cozens (AA)
It's not a huge surprise that Cozens has gone homerless in his last six games, all on the road. He has 37 homers and 114 RBIs on the year, with 28 HR and 77 RBIs coming at FirstEnergy Stadium in Reading.

Cozens is 1 for his last 20 with 10 strikeouts. Those K's just continue to pile up for him — he has 162, second-most in the Eastern League and 43 more than teammate Rhys Hoskins, who ranks fourth with 119.

Cozens has the tools. He has impressive raw power, he can run, he can field his position. But the tendency to swing and miss could hold him back from ascending the minor-league ladder as quickly as Phillies fans want. It certainly has this season. If Cozens had his same numbers — .284/.361/.608 with 36 doubles, 37 HR and 114 RBIs — but with 40 fewer strikeouts, he'd probably be in Triple A by now. But a 30-percent strikeout rate is impossible to overlook. For reference, only six players in the majors have a higher strikeout rate than Cozens: Steven Souza Jr., Chris Davis, Chris Carter, Mike Napoli, Trevor Story and Giancarlo Stanton.

And keep in mind this is Double A pitching Cozens is whiffing against. It's not like he's faced an assortment of experienced former major-leaguers with five-pitch mixes. 

Look for the Phillies to work this offseason and next spring training with Cozens to correct the issue. He has so much power potential that he could be a true difference-maker if he makes more contact and becomes less of a liability vs. lefties (.205 BA, four HR).

1B Rhys Hoskins (AA)
Reading's powerful first baseman has slowed down in August, going 54 plate appearances without an extra-base hit. But Hoskins continues to walk, so he has a .352 on-base percentage over that span despite hitting .190.

As I outlined in last week's Future Phillies Report, Hoskins' walk rate has increased in each of the last four months — he walked in seven percent of his plate appearances in May, nine percent in June, 13 percent in July and 21 percent in August.

That's a valuable skill for an all-offense slugger like Hoskins to develop. 

He's hitting .278/.369/.562 this season with 25 doubles, 35 homers, 107 RBIs, 61 walks and 119 K's.

OF Andrew Pullin (AA)
An underrated member of the Phillies' farm system, Pullin has had an impressive year. In 80 games, the left-handed hitting corner outfielder has hit .321 with 14 homers, 51 RBIs and an .885 OPS. 

In 44 games since his promotion to Reading, Pullin has hit .344 with with nine doubles, 10 homers and 32 RBIs. He's hit at home and on the road, against lefties and against righties. Pullin, who had a two-homer game on Sunday, has hit .348 with a .400 OBP in 100 plate appearances vs. left-handed pitchers this season.

A fifth-round pick in 2012 out of Centralia HS in Washington, Pullin is still just 22 years old after five seasons in the Phillies' farm system. He doesn't have the same prospect label as a Nick Williams or a Cozens, but he's produced.

Pullin, citing personal issues, actually retired in April before returning to Clearwater in May. The Phillies are glad to have his bat back. The organization has so much more young outfield talent now than it did a year or two ago, when that position group was as bleak as it got.

OF Nick Williams (AAA)
Williams' bat has picked back up this week. He had multi-hit games Tuesday and Wednesday, and four of his last eight hits were doubles.

But again, he's striking out a lot and not walking. Over his last 150 plate appearances, Williams has one walk and 40 strikeouts. He's hit .236 with a .240 OBP over that span. If you're hitting .236 with, say, a .320 on-base percentage, you can still provide your team value during a slump — especially if you're a middle-of-the-order hitter like Williams. 

But Williams doesn't do that. When he's cold, there's no production at the plate. That's an issue and it's not one you just correct at the major-league level, where pitchers have more control and command than anywhere else in the world.

Williams has power. He has bat speed and foot speed. But if his plate selection doesn't improve in a tangible way, his ceiling will be limited. There are plenty of guys in the majors with power and speed and a sub-.300 on-base percentage. They're mostly role players, not stars.

SS J.P. Crawford (AA)
Crawford has three errors in his last five games to give him 19 on the season. For most of the year, he was well ahead of last year's pace, when he committed 27 errors. Now, he's in line to finish with 22 or 23, which wouldn't represent meaningful progress.

Of course, defensive ability is not perfectly illustrated by an error total. Errors don't take into account all the balls an infielder reaches that others don't. Things like range and arm strength don't show up in that one counting stat.

Crawford has range and impressive arm strength. He has the tools that will enable him to stick at shortstop and potentially be an above-average defender there one day. But talent alone doesn't make you a good defensive shortstop. Look at Freddy Galvis as an example — for years, the Phillies touted Galvis' glove as he showed flashes of brilliance but also made a lot of mental mistakes or miscues on routine plays. There was a difference in the defense of Jimmy Rollins and Galvis — Rollins had the flashiness while also making just about every routine play every season. It took Galvis a few years, but finally in 2016 he's lived up to his defensive potential. It could take Crawford a similar amount of time.

Offensively, Crawford continues to walk — he has 69 walks and 69 strikeouts this season. He's hit .253 with a .342 OBP in 334 plate appearances at Triple A.

RHP Nick Pivetta (AAA)
Pivetta lasted just four innings on Thursday night, giving up two runs in a loss to the Pawtucket Red Sox. He hit 95 mph and struck out six more batters, though, giving him 20 K's in 15 innings since his promotion to Triple A.

The Phillies appear to be monitoring his innings count. Pivetta is at 139, seven above his career-high with probably three more starts to go. He'll finish somewhere between 155 and 160 innings in his age-23 season. 

The rising strikeout rate and decreasing walk rate with Pivetta are true signs of progress. He's struck out 8.5 batters per nine this season and walked 3.0. Prior to this season, his K/9 was 6.9 and his BB/9 was 3.3.

RHP Jimmy Cordero (AA)
Cordero, the hard-throwing reliever the Phillies acquired from Toronto last summer for Ben Revere, has pitched well lately at Double A. After giving up three runs in his first two appearances with Reading, he's allowed just one run over his last 7⅓ innings.

Cordero's presence on the Phils' 40-man roster and his potential as a setup man or closer could get him a look in the majors in September. Phillies manager Pete Mackanin wants more relief options, and Cordero has the stuff to spell Edubray Ramos or Hector Neris. Ramos has made 24 appearances since July 1, and Neris has pitched in a MLB-leading 64 games.

CF Roman Quinn (AA)
Quinn has homered in two of his last three games, both from the left side. That's good news for the switch-hitter because he is naturally right-handed.

All five of Quinn's homers this season have come from the left side. But he's actually hit 35 points better (.319) from the right side. It's important for a switch-hitter to hold his own against both sides. We saw for years with Shane Victorino, for example, that when a hitter is so much weaker from one side (Victorino was from the left) it almost nullifies that switch-hitting ability.

Quinn, who has deceptive power, has hit .320 over the last week with a double, a triple and those two homers. He's hit .278 with a .355 OBP with Reading this season and has 29 steals in 37 attempts.