Mosher's Mailbag: Can Eagles win with current WRs?

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Mosher's Mailbag: Can Eagles win with current WRs?

In this week’s edition of Mosher’s Mailbag, I answer a question about the Eagles’ receivers.

Q. Do you think the Eagles can win the division again in 2014 with their current receiving corps?

-- Rick Brzyski (@BossManRickB)

A. Sure do. Your question seems to imply that the Eagles have a substandard receiving corps, which I don’t think is the case. Of course, the fate of the corps hinges on whether Jeremy Maclin comes back fully healthy from last year’s ACL injury, his second since the start of his college career and in the same knee. If Maclin is anywhere near the receiver he was pre-injury, he should be a really effective weapon in Chip Kelly’s offense.

Maclin won’t be an exact replacement over DeSean Jackson. He’s a different kind of player. He can’t match Jackson’s speed (who can?) but Maclin is a better route runner and more versatile. He’ll probably see a good deal of snaps in the slot because he’s bigger and more equipped to handle the traffic across the middle.

The Eagles undoubtedly lost a pure field stretcher when they got rid of Jackson, but Kelly has shown throughout his coaching career, in college and in his first NFL season, that cats aren’t skinned just one way. Maybe the Eagles don’t get 1,332 yards and nine touchdowns out of Maclin, but it’s entirely possible -- probable, actual -- that tight end Zach Ertz and rookie receiver Jordan Matthews combine for much more than the 39 receptions for 447 yards that Jason Avant produced last year. (Ertz had 36 catches for 469 yards by himself, nearly matching Avant’s production).

I’m not sure what to make of Riley Cooper. He definitely benefited from the change-over from Mike Vick to Nick Foles, but he also reaped the benefits of playing opposite Jackson and seeing plenty of single coverage. Opponents probably won’t commit as many resources to Maclin as they did for Jackson, which means Cooper’s numbers could drop, but he’s still a big target and can still be effective red-zone weapon.

Although Darren Sproles isn’t technically a wide receiver, you still have to consider his impact on the passing game. Teams that try to man-press the Eagles will have to devote a linebacker or safety to Sproles, even if he’s just catching passes out of the backfield, and those are matchups Sproles has historically won.

Eric Rowe explains 'hiccups,' ready for fresh start in pads

Eric Rowe explains 'hiccups,' ready for fresh start in pads

Earlier this week, Doug Pederson admitted cornerback Eric Rowe had some “hiccups” during the spring, and seemed to indicate they stemmed from learning a new defense. 

Rowe says that wasn’t the problem at all.

“It wasn’t the new defense that was giving me whatever hiccups [Pederson] was talking about,” Rowe said on Wednesday as he reported for his second training camp (see Day 3 observations). “It was just, I was having trouble breaking on top of the routes, specifically the curl routes. But fade ball, deep post, digs, I didn’t have any trouble there. It was just curl routes. I just knew I had to work on it after the OTAs.”

Rowe, 23, said the problem was technical; he just needed to get his feet down quicker.

Whatever the problem, whatever the hiccups, it seems as though Rowe’s standing within the organization and on the depth chart isn’t what it once was.

Many thought he would be a starter in 2016, like he was at the end of 2015, but that wasn’t the way things were in the spring. Instead, Leodis McKelvin and Ron Brooks took those positions, and it looks like Nolan Carroll, returning from an injury, and rookie Jalen Mills, who hasn’t yet practiced in pads, are vying for playing time, too.

In back-to-back days earlier this week, Pederson and defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz failed to mention Rowe’s name while listing players at the cornerback spot. Coincidental omissions or a vocalized unofficial depth chart?

Rowe could possibly go from starter to deep bench player, but that’s not what he’s planning on.

“I know I had a little ups and downs in OTAs, but now the pads are coming on,” Rowe said. “I feel like it’s a fresh start for me and I’m just ready to get out here.”

Pads go on Saturday.

“Right now, I think I still stand in a good position (with the team),” Rowe said. “Football is about the game with pads on. Now we’re really about to see in a couple days when we put the pads on.”

Small in stature, Wendell Smallwood likes to play big

Small in stature, Wendell Smallwood likes to play big

He looks like a small back. He's built like a small back. He wants to play like a big back.

Wendell Smallwood, trying to make the Eagles as a reserve tailback, stands 5-foot-10, 208 pounds, but he said he’s got a surprise for defenders that think he’s one of those itty-bitty backs that dances around looking pretty … until they get hit.

“I think that’s what most people expect,” he said Tuesday. “But when I actually put my head down and fight for those extra yards and get under guys, guys start to say, ‘Hey!’ They start to feel me a little bit.

“So I definitely think that started to show my last year in college, and I started becoming more of an inside zone type of runner instead of an outside runner.”

None of this should be a surprise considering Smallwood’s position coach is Duce Staley, who during his 10-year NFL career was much more interested in running over people than around them.

Smallwood is nowhere near as big as Staley, who played at about 235 to 240. But that’s the kind of back he wants to be.

“It’s definitely important to me and it’s definitely what Duce wants me to do,” Smallwood said. “He wants me to hit the holes and hit ‘em hard and that’s the reason he got me here.

“Duce, he doesn’t like small backs. He doesn’t. I don’t think he believes in those guys. He was a big boy. Running dudes over left and right. That’s what he wants.”

Smallwood played sparingly as a freshman at West Virginia, shared time with Rushel Shell as a sophomore, then took over last year when he led the Big 12 with 1,519 rushing yards and added nine touchdowns, 26 catches and a 6.4 rushing average.

The Eagles plucked him out of Morgantown in the fifth round, and in an uncertain running back picture, he’s got a realistic chance to not just make the team but also play a role.

Just don’t expect him to play like a typical guy his size.

“I don’t consider myself a small back anymore,” he said. “People have always said that and I kind of started to agree, but then I looked at some of the guys who are around and I’m not a small back at all.

“I’m not little and the running style I like to do is suited for a big back, and my catching kind of throws people off. I definitely think I’m a mixture of both.”

Smallwood ranked 13th in Division I in rushing yards last year, and his 6.4 average was tied for ninth among backs with at least 200 carries.

He said a lot of defenders expect him to be a finesse back, a guy who likes to juke safeties and linebackers instead of bowling them over.

“Get me going downhill and I’ll get you what I can get you,” he said. “A lot of [defenders] kind of take the easy route and think it’s going to be easy and then the rest of the game they’re going low and trying to take my legs out.”

Look at the Eagles’ running back picture.

The starter is Ryan Mathews, who is talented but injury-prone. The backup right now probably is Kenjon Barner, who has 34 career carries. Then there’s Darren Sproles, whose 3.8 average last year was his lowest since 2009 and second lowest of his 11-year career.

With a strong camp, there’s no reason Smallwood can’t work himself into that picture.

The last frontier for the Northern Delaware native is blitz pickup. Something he was never asked to do at WVU.

“I don’t think I did basically any in college,” he said. “They didn’t ask me to block at all. I was mainly running routes.

“But as soon as I got here, Duce emphasized, ‘If you want to get on the field, you’re going to block. If you’re not going to block, you’re not going to play.'”

Staley’s No. 22 wasn’t available, but Smallwood is happy to wear the jersey number of another one of his favorite backs growing up, Correll Buckhalter’s No. 28, who he seems quite similar to.

It’s not fair to compare Smallwood to Staley, Buckhalter, Brian Westbrook or any other former Eagles back until the pads go on and we see what he’s really made of.

But Smallwood said he’s thrilled Staley is his coach and said there’s nobody he’d rather be playing for.

“I think he’s a great fit for me as a coach,” Smallwood said. “I need a kind of guy who drives me, tough guy, who’s not going to let up, who’s going to keep his foot on my back. I definitely need that kind of coaching.

“Just being around him growing up and seeing what he did when he was here and how he runs and him being one of my favorite backs, I was kind of star-struck to be around him, and now he’s my coach. It’s definitely a great situation for me.”

NFL Notes: Rams release former Eagles QB Nick Foles

NFL Notes: Rams release former Eagles QB Nick Foles

LOS ANGELES -- The Los Angeles Rams released quarterback Nick Foles on Wednesday after failing to find a trade destination for the disgruntled veteran.

The Rams announced the move one day before their veterans report to training camp for their homecoming season in Southern California.

Foles hasn't been around the Rams since they traded up to choose California quarterback Jared Goff with the No. 1 pick in the draft this spring. The veteran skipped offseason workouts while Los Angeles attempted to trade him.

Instead, the Rams had to release a capable veteran quarterback without compensation after teams likely realized they could attempt to sign Foles as a free agent (see full story).

Panthers: Former Eagles S Coleman extended 3 years
SPARTANBURG, S.C. -- The Carolina Panthers have signed safety Kurt Coleman to a three-year contract extension through the 2019 season.

Coleman led the Panthers and finished tied for third in the NFL with career-high seven interceptions in his first season in Carolina last year. He contributed to a team that ranked sixth in the NFL in total defense and led the NFL in interceptions (24), takeaways (39) and points off turnovers (148).

The 28-year-old Coleman finished third on the team with 103 tackles. Financial details were not released Wednesday.

Coleman called the contract a blessing, saying "when you go through situations you want what's best for your family and what's best for the team, and I'm really excited. I'm fortunate to be a part of this team for three more years."

Ravens: Long signs 1-year contract pending physical
OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- The Baltimore Ravens have reached an agreement with veteran offensive lineman Jake Long on a one-year contract, pending the condition of his oft-injured right knee.

Long played in four Pro Bowls after being selected by Miami as the No. 1 overall pick in the 2008 draft.

But he played sparingly in just four games with Atlanta last year after tearing his right ACL in back-to-back seasons.

The contract won't be official until the Ravens receive more information on Long's knee. He will visit Dr. James Andrews to receive an assessment of the knee, coach John Harbaugh said Wednesday.

The Ravens are willing to sign the 31-year-old Long if they're not on the hook to pay him for the entire season if he's forced out with another knee injury.

Baltimore has been looking for another tackle since releasing Eugene Monroe last month.

Vikings: 5-time All-Pro Kevin Williams to retire
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- The Minnesota Vikings have signed five-time All-Pro defensive tackle Kevin Williams to a one-day contract so he can formally retire as a member of the team.

The Vikings announced the news Wednesday. Williams will finalize his retirement Thursday after 13 seasons, including 11 with Minnesota.

Taken with the ninth pick in the 2003 draft by the Vikings from Oklahoma State, Williams is eighth in team history with 60 sacks. His 171 regular-season starts are the most all time by a Vikings defensive tackle, and his five interceptions are tied for the most by a defensive tackle in NFL history.

Williams played for NFC champion Seattle in 2014 and New Orleans in 2015. He was picked for six Pro Bowls.

Jets: Bernard Pierce signed; Zac Stacy waived
FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- The New York Jets are signing running back Bernard Pierce and waiving running back Zac Stacy, who failed his physical after missing the last half of last season with a broken left ankle.

Pierce ran for just 11 yards on six carries in seven games last season with Jacksonville after spending his first three NFL seasons with Baltimore. He ran for a career-best 532 yards as a rookie with the Ravens in 2012 after being a third-round pick out of Temple.

Pierce was released by Baltimore in March 2015, when he was charged with drunken driving. He was claimed off waivers by Jacksonville the next day.

The NFL announced in May that Pierce will be suspended for the first two games of this season, likely stemming from the DUI arrest.

Stacy ran for 89 yards in eight games for the Jets last season, but he was lost for the rest of the season in November when he broke his ankle on a kickoff return.