Eagles have depth issues at wide receiver

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Eagles have depth issues at wide receiver

LeSean McCoy was at the podium first. When he was done, he said he was interested to see what reporters would ask Jeremy Maclin, because Maclin didn’t practice. Maclin was standing nearby. He laughed. McCoy laughed. He was busting Maclin’s chops. It was a joke, even if the Eagles' receiving situation isn’t all that funny at the moment.

Maclin — who said he has general soreness in his legs (plural) but vowed to return soon — did some half-speed routes on Tuesday and then shut it down, spending much of the afternoon watching from the sideline. Riley Cooper and Jeff Maehl didn’t even do that much. Over the last few days, the Eagles have been “a little short at receiver.” That’s how offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur put it. He wasn’t kidding.

It is early August. The Eagles won’t play a meaningful game for another month. But August will bleed into September before you know it. The roster will be trimmed to 53 men. The games will count. And Nick Foles will throw passes to … which wideouts, exactly?

During this last week or so of Eagles training camp, we’ve learned — or relearned — that the team’s depth at wide receiver gets awfully thin awfully quick. When Maclin went down with a brief scare on Monday, it was natural to flashback to last training camp when he tore his ACL and missed the season. Maclin says he’s fine. Maybe you believe it and maybe you don’t, but at least he was marginally active on Tuesday. Cooper and Maehl were not. They have ankle injuries (Cooper is still in a walking boot). Earlier this week, Chip Kelly said Cooper will be back soon but declined to elaborate.

The wide receiver competition is currently less about talent than it is about attrition and health. Stand upright long enough and you’ll get some playing time. For some of Tuesday’s practice, Arrelious Benn, Brad Smith and Ifeanyi Momah ran with the first team.  Your defending NFC East champs, everyone.

As Shurmur conceded, the Eagles are “at the point in camp where guys are just dealing with the stress on the body.” Then he tried to put a positive spin on it by employing the anticipated NFL talking points about the next guy up.

“The advantage of them being out is guys get the chance to step up and get more and more reps,” Shurmur said. “What we’re doing with them being out is developing the depth of the team. The guys that are second and third in line now become first and second. We obviously want all the guys out there all the time. The reality is, there are times when they’re not. And so the next guys up go.”

As advantages go, pressing Momah and Damaris Johnson into increased duty doesn’t seem like a terrific edge. Momah remains raw, and Johnson has almost certainly overstayed his welcome at the NovaCare Complex. If they’re on the roster this season, something will have likely gone terribly wrong.

There was concern about the Eagles’ receivers heading into training camp, even when the group was entirely healthy. In addition to coming off the knee injury, Maclin hasn’t played a snap in Kelly’s offense. Cooper acquitted himself better than expected a year ago, and posted career highs in receptions, targets, yards and touchdowns. Even so, his 835 receiving yards put him just 38th in the NFL among all pass catchers. After those two, you’re looking at a pair of rookies (Jordan Matthews and Josh Huff) and some veterans (Smith, Benn and Maehl).

Everyone from Shurmur to Kelly to LeSean McCoy has gushed about Matthews. He’s certainly been exciting in camp. But he’s a rookie. The Eagles are a long way from knowing what he can and can’t do and how much he can contribute. Double the unknown and multiply by even more questions for Huff.

Smith should make the team, but he’s more of a gadget play guy on offense. His biggest contribution is on special teams. Benn is only 25, but he’s missed 27 games in his career because of myriad injuries (two torn ACLs, a torn MCL, a concussion and issues with his neck and shoulder), and he hasn’t played in a regular season game since November 2012. Then there’s Maehl, who spent the majority of his pro career on practice squads before getting a promotion last season. He has four catches on nine targets for 67 yards and a touchdown in his career. You are forgiven if you’re a bit worried about the prospect of the Eagles playing any of them for any length of time.

The Eagles should mummify Maclin and Cooper in bubble wrap. Can’t be too careful. If either of them go down for any extended period, the receiving situation would look pretty grim.

Back to the advantage Shurmur mentioned. When the Eagles take the field in Chicago this Friday for their first preseason game, what do the coaches want to see from the pass catchers who fall behind Maclin and Cooper on the depth chart?

“We want our guys to go in and function,” Shurmur said. “Get lined up quickly. Run the right routes. When it’s time to block — block. Do all the things we ask on the perimeter. And then when it’s time, when you put the shiny pants on and the lights are bright, when the ball comes their way, can they actually make a play? Those are the things you see. Because sometimes, guys will be out here on the practice field, do an excellent job, and then when the lights are bright, not so good.”

Go in and function. Don’t make a mess in your shiny pants. Those aren’t high expectations. But that’s fine. They have to start somewhere – just so long as they don’t have to start in the regular season.

Why the Eagles should ignore big names and buy low at wide receiver

Why the Eagles should ignore big names and buy low at wide receiver

It won't be a surprise if the Eagles go after a big name wide receiver.

The team's receivers were a disaster last year. There's the fact that among the Eagles' receivers, Jordan Matthews' 11 yards per catch led the group (minimum 10 catches). Matthews' also led the receivers in touchdowns with four. The team dropped 24 Carson Wentz passes, the fourth-most for a quarterback last season.

So Alshon Jeffery or DeSean Jackson would be a no-brainer, right? Maybe not.

At the moment, the Eagles' cap situation isn't ideal. Surely they'll take a few more steps to clear space, but signing a high-priced receiver isn't the right way to allocate that money.

Jeffery and Jackson have their pros and cons. Jeffery had two elite seasons in 2013 and 2014, but his last two seasons have been mired by injuries and a PED suspension. Despite being 30, Jackson still has the ability to stretch the field, but his red flags are well-documented. According to Spotrac, Jeffery is scheduled to become the sixth-highest paid receiver, while Jackson will be the 19th-highest paid.

Sure, there are other options. Veteran Kenny Britt enjoyed a renaissance season under new Eagles receivers coach Mike Groh in L.A. and he's still only 28. He's also coming off a 1,000-yard season and could cash in on that. There's also Kenny Stills, who is only 24 and coming off a season where he averaged 17.3 yards a catch and caught nine touchdowns for Miami. Terrelle Pryor is still learning the position but finished with 77 catches for 1,007 yards and four touchdowns for the Browns.

Any of those guys makes the Eagles' offense better immediately. But in reality, just about any decent receiver would make this group better. Howie Roseman is better off buying low in free agency and building the receiver corps through the draft.

CSNPhilly.com Eagles Insider Reuben Frank recently highlighted the lack of success the Eagles' have had in signing free-agent receivers. The list is basically Irving Fryar and a bunch of guys. While the occasional trade (Terrell Owens) has worked out, the Eagles have been better off drafting receivers.

Looking ahead to the draft, this receiver class is extremely deep. There may not be the elite talent of the 2014 receiver class, but there are plenty of intriguing players to explore. In the first round, Clemson's Mike Williams or Western Michigan's Corey Davis could be available to the Eagles. Oklahoma's Dede Westbrook or Eastern Washington's Cooper Kupp could be there in the second. Even in the middle rounds, guys like Louisiana Tech's Carlos Henderson, Western Kentucky's Taywan Taylor and ECU's Zay Jones could be impactful.

As far as free agents go, the Eagles have other options beyond the big names. Kamar Aiken of the Baltimore Ravens is an intriguing name. The 27 year old had a breakout 2015 (75 catches, 944 yards, five touchdowns) followed by a disappointing 2016 (29 catches, 328 yards, one touchdown). He lost snaps to a healthy Steve Smith, free-agent signee Mike Wallace and former first-round pick Breshad Perriman. The Eagles can buy low on Aiken and hope his production is similar to 2015.

Kendall Wright, also 27, had a breakout season in 2013 (94 catches, 1,079 yards) but has fought injuries and inconsistencies over the last few seasons in Tennessee. Then there's Brian Quick from the L.A. Rams, another 27 year old who hasn't quite put it together. He had a career year in 2016, hauling in 41 catches for 564 yards under new Eagles receivers coach Mike Groh.

The Eagles' best bet would be to take a flyer and buy low on one of these receivers and dig deep on this draft. Aiken or Wright and two rookies could help overhaul the position and create serious competition.

Can the Eagles count on Roseman to deliver the next Irving Fryar? The safer bet is him delivering the next DeSean Jackson... instead of the actual DeSean Jackson.

Roob's 25 Random Points: Eagles' wide receivers, Flat Earth Truthers, Mondo Cozmo and more

Roob's 25 Random Points: Eagles' wide receivers, Flat Earth Truthers, Mondo Cozmo and more

Free agent receivers, the Flat-Earth Society, Zach Ertz, Mondo Cozmo, Mike Mamula, LeSean McCoy and Pro Football Focus, Johnny Brenda’s and bad pizza!

It can only be one thing!

The return of Roob’s 25 Random Points.

1. Am I the only one that doesn’t want to over-pay for some 30-year-old free agent wide receiver who is only going to be well beyond his prime by the time the Eagles are presumably ready to make a deep playoff run? I want young receivers. I want draft picks. I want young wideouts who can run. I want guys who can come in and grow with Carson Wentz and reach their prime as he’s reaching his. I don’t see the point in patching yet again with over-priced free agents whose best years are past and who are just looking for that one final pay day. Haven’t we seen time and time again that this approach just doesn’t work? At some point if the Eagles are going to once again be an elite football team, it’s going to have to be through the draft. If you have more faith in older wideouts than draft picks, then you have the wrong people in the draft room.

2. There are exceptions to every rule (and every random point), and that said, I wouldn’t mind adding a guy like Terrelle Pryor, if the price is right. Pryor is 27, but he’s still very young as a wide receiver. For him to put up the numbers he did with the Browns as a first-time wideout learning a new position — 77 catches, 1,007 yards  with a rotating cast of ineffective quarterbacks, I feel like he could come right in and be very good playing with Wentz and still be in his prime in two or three years, when Wentz should be really hitting his stride as an elite QB. Don’t just sign a big name because he’s a big name. Sign a guy that makes sense.

3. It’s been fun watching the improvement Donte DiVincenzo has shown for Villanova this year. He’s gone from being just a bench guy to really a crucial piece of the puzzle for the Wildcats, who are ranked No. 2 a year after winning the national title. DiVincenzo, a red-shirt freshman, is Villanova’s third-leading scorer in five February games (going into Saturday’s Seton Hall game), averaging 11.8 points per game. He’s also fourth in rebounding (3.6), fourth in assists (2.0) and third in field goal percentage (53 percent) in February – all coming off the bench. But what’s really been encouraging has been DiVincenzo’s fearlessness. He senses when the Wildcats need him to be aggressive offensively, and he never hesitates to shoot, no matter how big the situation. On a team with a National Player of the Year candidate, a championship game hero and a brilliant sophomore point guard, that’s impressive. DiVincenzo’s versatility allows coach Jay Wright to use him in a number of different roles. He can play the 1 through the 4. He’s an athletic freak but also can handle and pass. And he’s only going to get better.

4. Listen to “She’s a Rainbow” by the Stones but just focus on the piano. It’s incredible. It was recorded by the late great British session man Nicky Hopkins, and what makes it so cool is how the piano figure changes each time it comes around between chorus and verse. Hopkins doesn’t play it the same way twice.

5. “She’s a Rainbow” is an unquestioned classic. Still … I’ll bet Mick and Keith would change that “She combs her hair” line if they could.

6. Best place to see a show in Philly: Johnny Brenda’s. Worst place to park in Philly: Johnny Brenda’s.

7. Getting back to free agent wide receivers … was just thinking who’s the best UFA wide receiver the Eagles have signed since Irving Fryar 20 years ago? Kevin Curtis? James Thrash? Consider this: Since 1973, Eagles wide receivers have had 36 seasons with 50 or more catches. Only six of those 36 have been courtesy of wideouts the Eagles signed as free agents (Charles Johnson (1), Curtis (1), Thrash (2), Fryar (2)). Safe to say Fryar is the only true impact wideout signing the Eagles have made since the inception of free agency in 1992. The Eagles have landed Mike Quick, Fred Barnett, Calvin Williams, Jason Avant, DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin in the draft and Miles Austin, Jeff Graham, Steve Smith, Michael Timpson, Rueben Randle and Chris Givens in free agency. See a pattern?

8. Am I the only one who thinks it’s ridiculous that during the I-95 construction there’s no open entrance ramp onto 95 North between Center City and, like, Maine?

9. Only two tight ends have had 75 or more catches and 800 or more yards in each of the last two seasons: Greg Olsen and Zach Ertz. If Ertz hits those milestones again next year, he’d become only the 10th tight end in NFL history with three such seasons and just the seventh to do it three straight years.

10. The biggest thing I’d like to see Wentz improve on next year is getting out to fast starts. Wentz really struggled early this year. In the first quarter, he had one TD pass and six interceptions and a 67.2 passer rating, which ranked 28th out of 32 quarterbacks who threw at least 50 passes in the first quarter (ahead of only Andrew Luck, Jameis Winston and Blake Bortles). From the second quarter on, Wentz had 15 touchdowns and eight interceptions and a much healthier 82.3 passer rating. The interceptions Wentz threw early sure seemed like simply the product of a guy who was too amped up, too excited. Several times, he fired balls right at opposing D-backs, something you rarely saw him do late in games.

Think about it — he threw an INT every 21 attempts in the first quarter and every 60 attempts in the second through fourth quarters. The Eagles were a terrible first-quarter team this year. They scored an NFL-worst four first-quarter offensive TDs all year, and Wentz’s only first-quarter touchdown pass was a 19-yarder to Jordan Matthews against the Browns — on the first series of the Eagles’ first game. Seems like Wentz calmed down after the first drive or two and really let the game come to him. If he can just take a yard off his fastball early in games and have the same calm demeanor he does when the game is on the line, that alone is going to make him a much more effective quarterback. Bottle Wentz’s last three quarters and you have a playoff-caliber quarterback.

11. Here’s the bet Gunner and I made on Quick Slants on Monday: Victor Cruz's 2017 receiving yards with whatever team he’s with vs. Nelson Agholor's 2017 receiving yards. Gunner has Cruz, I have Nelly. Who do you like?

12. OK, why do I still believe in Agholor? I think about this a lot. Here’s my thing. I don’t see any of the usual red flags with unsuccessful draft picks. He works hard. He cares. He’s healthy. He wants to succeed. He isn’t too slow, too small or too short. No, the issues Agholor has had are mental more than physical. He has the tools. You see him run good routes, separate from corners, get open. He just doesn’t catch the ball. That tells me that buried somewhere under there lies a decent NFL wide receiver. No amount of coaching can make a slow guy fast or a small guy big. But I do think it’s possible to take a kid who has all the physical tools and help him find his confidence. A new position coach should help. Another year with Wentz should help. A year of maturity should help. I don’t think it’s a slam dunk that Agholor will perform at a decent level in 2017, but I sure think it’s possible.

13. OK, I think it’s time for my top 10 Classic Rock keyboard players: 1. Rick Wakeman (Yes), 2. Keith Emerson (ELP), 3. Tony Banks (Genesis), 4. John Lord (Deep Purple), 5. Pat Moraz (Yes, Refugee), 6. Herb Schildt (Starcastle), 7. Kerry Minear (Gentle Giant), 8. Eddie Jobson (UK, Zappa), 9. John Tout (Renaissance), 10. Kit Watkins (Camel, Happy the Man).

14. It’s amazing to me that they actually built the Egyptian pyramids faster than they’re building the I-95 ramp to the Pennsylvania Turnpike. And they did it without frontloaders.

15. I like Jim Schwartz and I think he has a chance to be a very good defensive coordinator for the Eagles. I don’t like — and never have liked — assistant coaches that try to be personnel experts. It was Schwartz that wanted the Eagles to sign cornerback Leodis McKelvin, who he coached in Buffalo, and it was Schwartz that didn’t want Eric Rowe, the 23-year-old second-round cornerback because — among other reasons — he would have been buried on the depth chart, behind – among others – McKelvin. So now McKelvin has been released, Rowe has a Super Bowl ring, the Eagles are in dire need of young, promising cornerbacks, and Rowe is just entering his prime as a Patriot, not an Eagle. Presumably, none of this happens if the Eagles leave the scouting to the scouts and the coaching to the coaches. Scouting and coaching are two completely different things, and it’s very possible to be really good at one and not so good at the other. And the Eagles’ trust in Schwartz as a scout may have cost them a promising young corner they could desperately use.

16. And the few remaining Eagles fans who deny that the Eagles could use Rowe because he’s not a “scheme fit” or some nonsense, remember that Bill Belichick finds talented players and then finds ways to use them. If you don’t think the Eagles could use a young, athletic cornerback who graded out well all year playing against some top wideouts, you’re kidding yourself. There’s a reason Belichick has won five Super Bowls and the Eagles haven’t won a playoff game in eight years.

17. Scat singing — a kind of vocal improvisation with nonsensical words that was made famous by Ella Fitzgerald — is the single most annoying form of music I’ve ever heard.

18. Except Billy Joel.

19. I don’t blame LeSean McCoy for lashing out at Pro Football Focus for leaving him off their list of the 101 best players in the NFL. I know it’s easy to lose track of him up in Buffalo, but have you looked at Shady’s stats this past year? He rushed for 1,267 yards with a 5.4 average, 13 touchdowns, 50 catches and 1,623 yards from scrimmage. Do you know how many players in NFL history have rushed for 1,200 yards, averaged 5.4 yards per carry, scored 10 or more TDs and caught 50 passes in a season? How about three? Marshall Faulk in 2000, Chris Johnson in 2009 and Shady this past year.

20. And this is from a guy in his eighth NFL season, when running backs are supposed to be fading from prominence. Shady’s 5.4 average this year is highest in NFL history by a running back in his eighth season. The previous record was 5.3 by Faulk in 2001. Shady’s as productive as ever. PFF’s explanation for omitting Shady — that he’s not a good blocker — is ridiculous. His virtually unprecedented production with the ball in his hands more than makes up for any deficiencies he has as a blocker.

21. One more on Shady. In his first eight seasons, he’s averaged 1,119 yards and 4.7 yards per carry. If he has three more seasons at those benchmarks, he’ll have 12,311 rushing yards to go with a 4.7 average. Do you know how many players in NFL history have done that? Two. Barry Sanders and Jim Brown. You can make a very good case that if Shady keeps up his career average level of play for three more seasons, he’s a Hall of Famer.

22. How do so many pizza joints stay in business selling terrible pizza?

23. It’s funny how our perception of different athletes changes depending on non-football circumstances. Mike Mamula is seen as a first-round bust and a horrible player, I believe to great extent because he rarely gave interviews during his playing days and was seen by fans as surly, difficult and uncooperative. Brandon Graham is beloved now, I think to a great extent because he’s such a great guy, always available for a sound bite, funny and insightful on TV.

So let’s look at the careers of the two first-round defensive ends, one who was taken instead of Warren Sapp, the other who was taken instead of Earl Thomas. Mamula had 31½ sacks in 77 games as an Eagle, and Graham has 29 sacks in 96 games as an Eagle. Mamula averaged 6.3 sacks per season and twice had 8.0 or more sacks. Graham has averaged 4.8 sacks per season (not counting 2011, when he barely played) with a career-high of 6½. Now, I’m not knocking Graham at all. He’s been playing at a high level and has proven himself worthy of being a No. 1 pick. But I will submit that Mamula has been unfairly maligned over the years and was far more productive than people realize.

24. I was going to make a joke about Kyrie Irving believing the Earth is flat. But the more I thought about it, the more it struck me that it’s more sad and scary and disturbing than funny that in this day and age a someone can actually believe something so absurd. I mean, freaking Galileo first realized the planets are round 500 years ago. What the heck were they teaching at Duke?

25. OK, I gotta tell you about Mondo Cozmo. It’s kind of a long story, so settle in. There’s a Bucks County band called Illinois that is still kicking around but had a pretty good run a decade ago playing to huge college and festival crowds across the U.S. and Europe. Illinois was formed by Chris Archibald, who had played with a Bucks County band called Ty Cobb, and Martin Hoeger, who had played in a Bucks County band called Trip 66. When they were in their late teens, a neighborhood kid named Josh would watch their rehearsals through their basement window. Josh was learning to play the guitar but was just 13 or 14. Too young to hang out. But he kept playing guitar and started writing songs and when he was old enough, the Illinois guys kind of took him under their wing and they all became pals.

Josh – Josh Ostrander – went on to form a band called La Guardia with Greg Lyons, who had played in Trip 66 with Hoeger. Ostrander and Lyons then moved to L.A. and formed a band called Eastern Conference Champions, which had a pretty good following on the pop-punk scene and recorded three records. But when they couldn’t find anybody to release their third record, they split up. Ostrander stayed in L.A., writing songs and working two jobs as a landscaper. Illinois meanwhile stayed somewhat active in Bucks County, although the members all have kids and other jobs now and lead singer Archibald is heavily involved with his brilliant new project, "Archawah" (catch them at the Boot and Saddle Thursday!). So that’s the background. And it takes us up to present day. One of Ostrander’s new songs is called "Shine," a moving, inspirational, almost-gospel track that he recorded mostly by himself, with just his girlfriend adding some backing vocals. Radio stations picked up on the song and began playing it. It caught fire.

“I was visiting my mom in Iowa and we were driving, and Shine came on the radio,” Josh told me the other day. “I just started crying. I had worked so long and so hard for something like this. I had to pull over. I couldn’t drive.”

About a month ago a crazy thing happened. On Jan. 20, Shine hit No. 1 on the Billboard’s Adult Alternative singles chart, knocking off Kings of Leon’s “Waste a Moment,” which had spent 14 weeks at No. 1. Ostrander, after decades of disappointment in the music industry, after working tirelessly for years as a landscaper, had a No. 1 hit. Suddenly, he began receiving invitations to play all the major summer festivals — Shaky Knees, Hangout, Sasquatch, Governor’s Ball, Boston Calling, Coachella, Firefly, Bonnaroo.

Before that, there were industry showcases and some East Coast gigs to play. But he didn’t have a band. There are some guys he plays with in L.A., but for the East Coast shows he needed musicians. So he called his old friends from Bucks County, and Archibald, Hoeger and original Ilinois drummer Craig Labor became his East Coast band. After being close friends for 20 years, they were sharing a stage for the first time ever — at some really important shows. They played a series of sold-out gigs, including the Boot and Saddle in Philly and the Mercury in New York, along with a bunch of industry insider gigs, TV auditions and radio station promotional shows. But before Ostrander returned to L.A. he wanted to do something special for his friends and family in Bucks County, the people who had stuck with him, supporting him, throughout all his ups and downs. And that’s how the secret show at a tiny bar in Bucks County came about.

Earlier this month, Mondo Cozmo played a show at an old-fashioned bar in Hatboro called Connolly’s that Archibald happens to manage. With the Illinois guys backing him and maybe 100 adoring friends and family jammed into this little bar, Ostrander and the guys he used to watch through a basement window tore through about an hour of songs from the forthcoming Mondo Cozmo record along with a Radiohead cover. "Shine" (now No. 2 on the Billboard AAA chart) turned into a powerful 100-person singalong and I don’t think there was a dry eye in the house when Ostrander said, “This is a song that means the world to me. I hope it means a lot to all of you, too.”

After a quick change of drummers – from Labor to his pal and current Illinois drummer John Paul Kuyper – Archibald and Ostrander switched spots and ripped through a short set of Illinois songs as the crowd jammed into a random suburban bar went bonkers. It was an absurd scene — the guy with the No. 1 song in the country playing his heart out with his boyhood friends in a tiny bar off Old York Road between Produce Junction and a 7-11. But it didn’t feel absurd. It felt incredible and deeply moving. In a world of manufactured pop and lifeless autotuned hits, this was as pure and powerful as live music can be. You wonder what keeps a guy like Ostrander going as a struggling musician after literally decades of disappointments. Those couple hours at Connolly’s made it all clear.