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.

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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.

Phillies want 2 bats for Velasquez, deal unlikely at this point; Tigers check on Hellickson

Phillies want 2 bats for Velasquez, deal unlikely at this point; Tigers check on Hellickson

ATLANTA – Two days before the non-waiver trade deadline, the Phillies have several pitchers who could be on the move.

The market for Jeremy Hellickson, Saturday night’s starter against the Braves, remains alive. The Phillies have received several offers, but nothing yet to their liking. A strong start against Atlanta on Saturday would certainly help the right-hander's value.

The Phillies had talks with Miami about Hellickson, but the Marlins filled their need for starting pitching by acquiring Andrew Cashner and Colin Rea from San Diego earlier in the week.

Pittsburgh, Texas, Toronto, Baltimore, the Dodgers and others remain in the market for starting pitching. The Detroit Tigers could be a team to watch on Hellickson. They had a scout come in to watch Hellickson pitch in Atlanta on Saturday night.

The headline-grabbing name on the Phillies’ trade front remains Vince Velasquez. Major league sources continue to tell CSNPhilly.com that the Phillies have had meaningful trade discussions with the Texas Rangers involving the power-armed right-hander.

Sources say a deal is unlikely at this time because the Phillies are seeking a high price and the Rangers could use their prospect resources in their quest to add a more established pitcher like Chris Sale or Chris Archer or a catcher like Milwaukee’s Jonathan Lucroy. But it remains noteworthy that the Phillies have made Velasquez available for the right price.

What is that price?

Sources say the Phillies would like to get two hitters from Texas’ bounty. One of those hitters must be ready to play in the majors now and the other must be close. The Rangers have a number of hitters who fit this description. Outfielder Nomar Mazara is almost certainly untouchable. (He was last year in the Cole Hamels talks). Power-hitting outfielder Joey Gallo, infielder Jurickson Profar and outfielder Lewis Brinson would probably fit the Phils’ wish list.

A source described the Phillies as being “pretty deep” in talks with Texas. The Rangers even dispatched a top scout to watch Velasquez pitch in Atlanta on Friday night. The scout was not in attendance for Saturday night’s game.

Relievers David Hernandez and Jeanmar Gomez are also in play in the last couple of days before the deadline. The Giants, who need bullpen help, have had scouts tailing the Phillies for a couple of weeks.

More NFL Notes: Texans star WR DeAndre Hopkins not at training camp

More NFL Notes: Texans star WR DeAndre Hopkins not at training camp

HOUSTON -- Houston Texans star wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins did not report to training camp Saturday.

Entering his fourth pro season, Hopkins is holding out for a new contract. He is scheduled to make $1 million in salary in the final season of his rookie contract, though the Texans have picked up his fifth-year option.

Hopkins can be fined up to $40,000 for every day he misses camp.

He comes off a huge season with 111 receptions, 1,521 yards receiving and 11 touchdowns despite inconsistency at quarterback and few other receiving options on the Texans.

Houston general manager Rick Smith said in a statement: "We are disappointed DeAndre has elected not to report to training camp with the rest of his teammates. He has expressed his position regarding his contract status, and we have been clear with both he and his representatives of ours. Our focus is on the 2016 season and all of our collective efforts and attention will be centered on that endeavor."

Hopkins was the 27th overall pick in the 2013 draft out of Clemson. He has started all 48 games in his career, making 239 catches for 3,533 yards and 19 touchdowns. He went to the Pro Bowl last season.

49ers: Offensive lineman Anthony Davis reinstated by NFL
SAN FRANCISCO -- Right tackle Anthony Davis was reinstated by the NFL on Saturday after an 11-month retirement that he planned to come back from all along.

The San Francisco 49ers made the announcement ahead of their first day of training camp Sunday under new coach Chip Kelly.

Davis was the 49ers' first-round draft choice, the 11th overall pick, in the 2010 draft out of Rutgers. He was affected by a concussion late in the 2014 season.

On June 5, 2015, at age 25, Davis announced his retirement in another surprising offseason departure last year for the 49ers. He became the fourth prominent San Francisco player to retire in a three-month span, joining linebackers Patrick Willis and Chris Borland and defensive end Justin Smith. The announcement came four days before the team's mandatory June minicamp.

Also Saturday, San Francisco placed nose tackle Ian Williams on the reserve/non-football injury list (see full story).

Bears: LB Willie Young signs to 2-year extension
CHICAGO -- The Chicago Bears signed outside linebacker Willie Young to a two-year contract extension on Saturday.

Financial terms of the contract were not disclosed.

The 30-year-old Young signed with the Bears two years ago after spending his first four seasons with division-rival Detroit. He had a career-high 10 sacks that year before tearing his Achilles tendon in December, but bounced back to play in 15 games with 6 1/2 sacks last season.

MLB Notes: Nationals acquire All-Star closer Mark Melancon from Pirates

MLB Notes: Nationals acquire All-Star closer Mark Melancon from Pirates

SAN FRANCISCO -- The Washington Nationals have acquired All-Star closer Mark Melancon from the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Washington sent reliever Felipe Rivero and pitching prospect Taylor Hearn to the Pirates for Melancon, who supplants Jonathan Papelbon as Washington's closer.

Melancon, a 31-year-old right-hander, has 30 saves and a 1.51 ERA this season. He is making $9.65 million and is eligible for free agency after the World Series.

Papelbon is 2-4 with a 4.41 ERA and has allowed eight runs and seven hits in his past three outing. Manager Dusty Baker wouldn't say earlier Saturday whether Papelbon still was his closer. Baker pulled Papelbon from a game Thursday in the ninth inning.

Rivero, a 25-year-old lefty, is 0-3 with a 4.53 ERA this season. Hearn is a 21-year-old lefty who was the Nationals' fifth-round pick in the 2015 amateur draft (see full story).

GIANTS: Pence back after 48-game absence
SAN FRANCISCO -- Giants right fielder Hunter Pence was activated Saturday and in the starting lineup against the Nationals after missing 48 games with a strained right hamstring that required surgery.

San Francisco hopes Pence will bring some much-needed life to a club that had lost 11 of 13 since the All-Star break.

Newly acquired infielder Eduardo Nunez made his first start since joining the team in a trade from Minnesota on Thursday and having his first at-bat Friday. Nunez was playing shortstop Saturday because Brandon Crawford, who lined into a bases-loaded triple play during Friday's 4-1 loss, had a sore left hand from a swing early in the game.

Center fielder Denard Span also was out of the lineup because of a tender quadriceps from a collision at home plate Friday.

The Giants designated for assignment infielder Ramiro Pena to clear roster room for Pence's return.  

MARINERS: Karns to DL, Martin recalled
CHICAGO -- The Seattle Mariners have placed right-hander Nathan Karns on the 15-day disabled list with a lower back strain a day after he was roughed up in a relief appearance.

Right-hander Cody Martin was recalled from Triple-A Tacoma before Saturday's game against the Cubs.

Chicago scored five runs in two innings off Karns in Friday's 12-1 romp. He gave up three hits, walked three and allowed a home run to David Ross.

Karns began the season as a starter, but was moved to the bullpen in June. He has a 5.15 ERA.

Martin has appeared in two games and thrown four innings for Seattle this season, allowing one run and five hits.