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.

Jason Kelce ignoring trade rumors as he tries to work on himself

Jason Kelce ignoring trade rumors as he tries to work on himself

Jason Kelce is aware of the rumors and reports that have surrounded his name this offseason. 

As much as he might try to avoid them, the Eagles' veteran center does not, presumably, live under a rock. So he's heard for months about the possibility of his long run with the Eagles coming to a close. 

After all, the Eagles have stockpiled an abundance of interior offensive linemen who can play center, and trading Kelce would save the team $3.8 million in cap space. 

So it all makes sense, but Kelce is trying to keep it out of his mind. 

"I think you'll drive yourself crazy if you're reading too much into what's going on," he said on Tuesday as the Eagles kicked off their voluntary OTAs. "My whole offseason has just kind of been really the only thing I can control is my game and the way I play and what I've been doing. So I've just really tried to hit the weight room, work on technique, work on things to try to get my game back to where it used to be."

How is he able to put it out of his mind? 

"Because worrying about it doesn't do any good," he answered.

While the Eagles have Isaac Seumalo and Stefen Wisniewski ready to play center if necessary, head coach Doug Pederson said on Tuesday that Kelce is still "the guy." 

Kelce, 29, was named to his second career Pro Bowl team last season, which might be a surprise to those who watched the Eagles throughout the year. Kelce wasn't as bad as some people think, but he also probably wasn't a Pro Bowl-caliber player. 

He got off to a very slow start in 2016 but did seem to get better as the season went on.  

"I feel at times last year, there were times I was dominant and games where I didn't really do a great job," he said. "You go back and watch film and try to make the corrections, try to make sure that moving forward I'm the same player I was in the past."

Kelce attributed many of his problems early last season to lousy technique. He's been trying extra hard to work on that part of his game as well as in the weight room. 

Often characterized as undersized, he said weighed 295 pounds on Tuesday morning. That's also his listed weight on the Eagles' website. 

All last season, Kelce said he played in the 290s, which was heavier than he had been in a long time. His goal this offseason is to make it up to 300 pounds by training camp, and then he hopes to keep the weight on. 

"I would certainly think so," he said. "As you get older, it gets a little bit easier to put on the weight and hold it on. I think everybody kind of finds that out."

Perhaps the biggest reason for the Eagles to keep Kelce around this season is the development of quarterback Carson Wentz in his second year. Kelce, as his center, might be integral to Wentz's growth. Although Kelce said he doesn't think of it like that when asked if that relationship gives him an advantage over others.  

Kelce has been with the Eagles since 2011 when he was a sixth-round pick out of Cincinnati. He's played and started 78 games in six seasons. 

He admitted last season he needed to play better or he knew he would become expendable (see story). So the rumors and reports this season likely aren't a shock to him. 

He's still not going to pay attention to them. 

"The reality is, we always have guys coming in, coming out," he said. "Now we happen to have a lot of really good depth at interior line. But like I said, it doesn't do me any good worrying about the what-ifs. All I can control is what I can control and that's how I go out and play, how I go out and prepare and how I try to get back to the player I've been in the past." 

Hall of Fame defensive tackle Cortez Kennedy dies at 48

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Hall of Fame defensive tackle Cortez Kennedy dies at 48

Cortez Kennedy, one of the best defensive linemen of his generation and a Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee despite rarely finding himself in the spotlight as a player, has died. He was 48.

Police in Orlando, Florida, say the former Seattle Seahawks star was found dead Tuesday morning. Orlando Police Department public information officer Wanda Miglio said the circumstances surrounding his death are still unknown but that there is nothing suspicious about his death. An investigation is being conducted.

"Cortez Kennedy has been a pillar of the Seahawks franchise since joining the team as a rookie in 1990," the Seahawks said in a statement. "Tez was the heart and soul of the Seahawks through the 1990s and endeared himself to 12s all across the Pacific Northwest as a player who played with a selfless and relentless approach to the game. ... We are proud to have been represented by such a special person."

A star who spent his entire 11-year NFL career in relative obscurity playing in Seattle, Kennedy became the second Seahawks player inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2012. He was an unmovable wall as a dominant defensive tackle, and a quiet, gentle soul away from the field never interested in finding himself in the spotlight.

"Cortez will be remembered not only for all his great achievements on the football field but how he handled himself off the field," Pro Football Hall of Fame President David Baker said. "He epitomized the many great values this game teaches which serves as inspiration to millions of fans."

Kennedy was the No. 3 overall pick in the 1990 draft out of Miami and Seattle smartly never let him leave. He brought notoriety to an otherwise dreadful period in Seahawks history as an eight-time Pro Bowler and was the NFL Defensive Player of the Year award in 1992.

"Really sad to lose a guy like Cortez Kennedy," Broncos' general manager John Elway tweeted Tuesday. Elway was chased around by Kennedy twice a year for much of the 1990s as competitors in the AFC West. "A great personality, a great player and I enjoyed competing against him."

Even though he last played for the Seahawks in 2000, he remained a significant part of the organization. He was a mainstay around the team during training camp and would occasionally roll through the locker room during the regular season grabbing a few minutes with anyone -- players, coaches, media -- up for a chat.

Kennedy was scheduled to be in Seattle on Thursday as part of an event for the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games.

"My heart hurts," current Seahawks offensive lineman Justin Britt tweeted. "We lost a truly great player but even better person."

Kennedy experienced only minimal team success in his career with the Seahawks. His 1992 season, when Kennedy was the league's defensive player of the year, was made even more remarkable by the fact that his 14 sacks, 27 tackles for loss and 92 tackles came for a team that went 2-14 and was among the worst ever offensively in a 16-game season.

What made Kennedy so difficult to stop was his low center of gravity, unexpected quickness and remarkable strength packaged in a 6-foot-1, 300-pound frame. If he was asked to hold the line on a running play, he would regularly eat up two or three potential blockers.

But he could also rush the passer up the middle, a rarity for an interior defensive lineman. While 1992 was his best individual season, Kennedy recorded at least six sacks in six of his 11 seasons.

"(One) of the most talented players I ever recruited or coached," tweeted Jimmy Johnson , one of Kennedy's coaches at Miami. "... A sad day."