WR competition will be crucial for Eagles at camp

WR competition will be crucial for Eagles at camp
July 21, 2013, 12:15 pm
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Pictured from left to right: Riley Cooper, Jason Avant and Damaris Johnson. (USA Today Images)

You’re probably sick of hearing about the Eagles’ quarterback battle by now.

So let’s take a moment to talk about a positional competition we’ll be watching this preseason.

One nobody’s really talking about.

A crucial one.

Twelve wide receivers. Five or six roster spots.

This is going to be interesting.

“It’s tremendously competitive, the wide receiver position,” quarterback Nick Foles said. “You really just don’t know how it’s going to sort itself out. It’s like the competition between me and Mike [Vick]. It really does push you and make you better.”

The only locks right now are DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin, who rank sixth and 11th among wideouts in franchise history in receiving yards and eighth and 11th in catches, even though Jackson is only 26 and Maclin is just 25.

Jason Avant? He’s one of only two receivers in the NFL to catch 50 or more passes the last three years without being a full-time starter. But he’s 30 now and was never the fastest guy to begin with, so can he function in Chip Kelly’s high-octane offense?

Riley Cooper? He always seems to produce when he gets to play a lot. But as a former fifth-round pick with 46 career catches, he’s certainly no lock to make the team.

Damaris Johnson? He’s the fastest of the bunch and showed flashes of brilliance as an undrafted rookie last year. But he’s also 5-foot-8, 175 pounds, so how much can the Eagles rely on him in the receiving game?

B.J. Cunningham? All-time leading receiver at Michigan State. Ifeanyi Momah? At 6-7, 239 pounds with 4.40 speed, a unique prospect. Arrelious Benn? A second-round pick just three years ago.

Nick Miller? Will Murphy? Greg Salas? Russell Shepard? All are part of one of the deepest wide receiver corps the Eagles have had in recent memory.

But none of them are locks.

“I think this is one of the more talented groups of guys we’ve had, top to bottom,” Maclin said. “I think everybody will have the opportunity to go out there and showcase what they can do. We’ve seen a little bit in OTAs and minicamps, but that can all change when the pads go on. It’s going to be interesting.”

It’s going to be very interesting, because nobody really knows what Kelly, offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur and wide receivers coach Bob Bicknell are thinking. What they’re looking for. How everything will fit together. This is all uncharted territory.

Benn, Momah, Murphy, Miller and Shepard are the only receivers in the group that Kelly brought in, and it’s possible none of them will survive final cuts. Everybody else is an Andy Reid holdover, and it’s impossible to tell until training camp starts how they’ll each fit into Kelly’s frenetic offense.

So training camp and the preseason games will be fascinating as we see this group take shape.

“I think there’s a lot of guys right now who have the skill set to go out there and play receiver,” Maclin said. “A lot of these guys have yet to play a down of NFL football, a lot of these guys are still young. So training camp will give them their first taste of real football as far as actually going up against bump-and-run and press coverage and things like that.”

Guys like Salas, Cunningham, Miller, Murphy and Shepard are all longshots at this point. 

So it could come down to that second group –- Avant, Cooper, Benn, Momah and Johnson -– for three or four roster spots.

But really, who knows? It’s July. Opening day is still seven weeks away.

“It’s going to be exciting,” said Momah, the rookie from Boston College. “It’s going to be a pretty talented receiving corps. I’m not going to make any guesses what’s going to happen, but I guarantee it’s going to be pretty exciting competition in practice, everybody just pushing each other.

“With this kind of team, everybody can reach their potential. The good thing is that every receiver is behind each other, so if somebody does something wrong, somebody is going to get on you about that. They’re not going to just let you go out there and play bad just for their benefit, they’re going to look out for you because that’s what’s best for the team.

“I think that’s going to help everybody reach their potential, and it’s going to be what’s best for the offense and for the team.”

On Monday afternoon, the Eagles open their first training camp within the Philadelphia city limits since 1943, when they were at St. Joe’s.

Rookies, quarterbacks and first-year players are scheduled to report Monday and will start practicing Tuesday. Everybody else is due in on Thursday and will begin practice on Friday.

The wide receiver competition won’t get the attention the QB battle will, but it’s crucial that this group performs so the coaches can get a good look at the quarterbacks.

Any receiver that isn’t keeping up can expect to be on the next shuttle van to the airport.

“You have to be tough, because there’s a lot of pressure and a lot at stake, but it’s going to be fun,” Momah said. “We have a lot of talent. I’m excited to play with all these guys. They push each other and they coach each other up, and that’s what you want when you have competition.”

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