Eagles Better or Worse: Receivers

Eagles Better or Worse: Receivers

While there was rampant change throughout most of the roster, the wide receivers and tight ends were largely unscathed, at least as far as the impact players are concerned. A few veterans were dumped, and some competition was brought in at the back end, but all of the starters remain intact, including the slot receiver. That type of consistency should be a tremendous help for a first-year starter at quarterback, but the question we're asking is whether the group is better or worse?

BETTER

Jeremy Maclin

This might be up for some debate, as we're going out on a bit of a limb predicting Maclin will continue to develop and make advances in his second pro season. That's just what's expected of wide receivers entering their sophomore year, and from what we saw from him as a rookie, we're comfortable projecting a leap forward.

The question is what type of receiver Maclin will become. He has big play ability, racking up three catches over 50 yards already, including the 76-yard touchdown reception in the Wild Card loss to the Cowboys, yet he only went over 100 yards on two occasions the entire season. Instead, he was merely dependable, particularly down the stretch where he went eight straight (injury-free) games with at least four catches and 50 yards.

That's a strong finish for a rookie season, something most people anticipate him building upon in 2010.

Brent Celek

We touched on the idea of Celek seeing an improvement in production again. Most people think it's unlikely after the Pro Bowl caliber digits he threw up in '09. Is a near-1,000 yard effort something he can seriously outperform?

There are a couple reasons why it may not be such a stretch. First of all, Celek battled through some torn ligaments in his hand toward the end of last season. While it didn't keep him out of the lineup, or even from remaining a frequent target, there were some issues with reliability. Pro Football Focus lists him third among tight ends with eight dropped passes, half of those occurring over the final six games of the season. We'll give him a pass and believe that total will drop.

The main indicator was what he achieved in two games with Kevin Kolb under center. Kolb looked for Celek frequently, which should come as no surprise given how much they worked together in practice and an inexperienced quarterback's tendency to rely on the tight end. It resulted in two of his biggest games of the season, a pair of consecutive eight reception, 104 yard days and a 35-yard touchdown. They are in sync, and over a full season, Celek could emerge as one of the elite pass catching tight ends in the NFL.

Tight End depth

Over the past few years, Andy Reid has managed to enter the season without one fairly essential, but easily overlooked piece of the club. In '07, the lack of an experienced punt returner cost them a game. In '08, they had a defensive player lining up as their regular fullback. Last season, you could make the case it was tight end depth.

The Eagles failed to sign a tight end in free agency, and didn't bother to draft one until the fifth round. Cornelius Ingram promptly went down with an injury, which left... um, nobody actually. Literally. They brought in Alex Smith, who seemed capable enough as a blocker, but only managed to contribute three catches all year.

They'll still be an inexperienced bunch behind Celek, although they hope to have added some insurance. Clay Harbor is an athletic prospect who played tight end, fullback, and even some wide receiver in college. Meanwhile, Ingram is recovering from another ACL tear, and while he hasn't even seen a down in the NFL, that's another high ceiling player if he can stay on the field.

At the very least, they added an extra body, and overall there is some solid potential behind Celek now.

WORSE

Experience

Nobody is going to miss Reggie Brown or Kevin Curtis. Each had their moment here, however brief; Brown's career got off to a promising start before falling off the face of the earth, and Curtis reached the 1,000 yard milestone in his first season in Philadelphia before getting derailed by injuries. Just wasn't meant to be here for either man, as the two combined for a lowly 15 catches in '09.

There's something to be said for removing both from the roster though. It should be noted Brown has more catches and yards than any Eagles receiver or tight end over the last five years, and Curtis was the only player between T.O. and DJac to gain over 1,000 yards through the air. While both are probably fringe starters at best now, they both have plenty of games under their belt, experience in the system, and have been known to fill up the stat sheet once in awhile. That has to count for something.

OVERVIEW

We all knew where this was going. There simply wasn't much change across the board, but particularly among the major players at wide receiver and tight end. Everybody is back. It's actually pretty silly to say they're better now, because they could already be considered among the best units in the league, but they sure as hell aren't any worse. Should be another fun season watching this group flying down the field.

Grade: Better

Eagles Film Review: Carson Wentz's improvisation pays off big

Eagles Film Review: Carson Wentz's improvisation pays off big

Carson Wentz takes pride in not letting plays die easily. 

In Sunday’s 34-3 win over the Steelers, one play he didn’t let die ended up being the back-breaker in the blowout. 

We’re, of course, talking about the 73-yard touchdown pass to Darren Sproles at the 13:08 mark in the third quarter. Coming into the second half, the Eagles had a 10-point lead, but this touchdown pushed it to a 20-3 advantage and the rout was on. This play was a tone-setter (see story)

“That’s something that we talk about a lot,” Wentz said after the game. “We always say that a play is never dead. I like to make plays when we need to and everyone just does a great job of getting open in those situations.”

This was the first big off-schedule play Wentz has hit during his three weeks as the team’s starter, but the signs were there. In the Chicago game, there were several times where he showed his ability to extend plays. We broke them down in a film review last week (see story).

Throughout the week, Wentz had been compared to Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. One of the reasons was their shared ability to extend plays and make something happen. Big Ben showed his ability in the first quarter and almost connected on a huge touchdown pass to Markus Wheaton in the back of the end zone, but the receiver couldn’t pull it in. 

When Wentz got his shot later in the game, Sproles was able to pull it in, then make something happen with his feet. 

“I saw Carson scrambling this way,” head coach Doug Pederson said. “Darren was literally right in front of me and when I saw him wheel, my first reaction was to find the sideline to see if he stepped out to be quite honest.  He hadn’t, and Carson just — it was like in slow motion — floated that ball up the sideline and Darren did the rest from there. It was a tremendous play from those two individuals. I guess the last thing I did is I always look back to make sure there are no flags on the ground on those long plays.”

There were no flags. Touchdown. Game. 

Let’s take a closer look at the play: 

Wentz is in shotgun with Sproles in the backfield with him. The Eagles come out with three-wide on the far side of the field and a lot of space on the near side. 

Stephon Tuitt, who actually had a pretty good game against the Eagles, takes this route to the quarterback. When he gets to left guard Allen Barbre, Barbre either didn’t see him or didn’t react quickly enough. 

While Sproles is still running his short out, Wentz feels the pressure and is able to step up through the hole created by Lane Johnson and Brandon Brooks. As soon as he makes it through, Wentz still has his eyes downfield. 

Now Wentz is through the hole and sees Sproles finishing his out-route. This is when Wentz, on the run, motions to Sproles to take off. This is something we’ve seen Wentz do a few times during his three weeks as Eagles quarterback. 

Wentz was left with a tough decision here. He could have run for 10, maybe even 15 yards. It was wide open, but he decided to try to make a play with his arm instead. 

“I always want to be a thrower first,” he said. “Even when a play breaks down, I’m always looking [to throw] because that’s where the big plays are happening. If I scramble I might get 5, 10, 15, 20 yards, but I’m not that fast. I always want to get it to the guys that can make plays. We always want to make plays when they’re there, and that’s what happened.”

With the line of scrimmage at the 27, Wentz has enough awareness to run horizontally to make sure he didn’t cross. And as soon as Pittsburgh safety Mike Mitchell takes that first step toward him, Wentz sees how much room Sproles has to work with. 

Ryan Shazier, who was covering Sproles on the play, froze and then started to step toward Wentz too. He said he thought the quarterback crossed the line of scrimmage, but Wentz was aware enough to stay behind.  

Once Sproles catches the ball in open space, he begins to do Sproles things. Defensive back Sean Davis took a bad angle on him and once he gets close, the veteran turns it inside. Davis said he was trying to buy time for the rest of his defense to get there and stop Sproles. It didn’t work. 

“Man, it’s Sproles!” receiver Nelson Agholor said. “Did you think he was going to get tackled?”

While he’s blocking downfield, Dorial Green-Beckham actually trips himself up and does a somersault. But it didn’t matter — Sproles didn’t need a great block. He pretty much did it himself. 

“Anytime that you can put it in the hands of [Sproles] something special can happen on any play, and he did the rest of it,” Wentz said. 

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Travis Konecny leaves impression with vets in Flyers' preseason win

Travis Konecny leaves impression with vets in Flyers' preseason win

ALLENTOWN, Pa. — Michael Raffl had just finished playing alongside Travis Konecny, the 19-year-old kid that has Flyers fans abuzz about the now and future.

Yet for Raffl, he wasn’t thinking forward. Instead, he was looking back.

“Yeah, well, I couldn’t do that when I was 19, that’s for sure,” the 27-year-old said smiling, eyes wide open. “No, it’s impressive, he’s a really, really good hockey player.”

Konecny had that resounding affect Wednesday night at the PPL Center, recording a goal and an assist while leading the Flyers to a 2-0 preseason win over the Devils (see 10 observations).

He dazzled with speed and shiftiness.

He showed off vision and smarts.

When he touched the puck, he had everyone’s attention.

Paired with Raffl and Brayden Schenn in a game featuring mostly prospects, the 2015 first-round pick made the molding of Ron Hextall’s roster that much more difficult. With the general manager looking on, the highly touted winger started fast before making his imprint during a span of just four minutes and 34 seconds in the second period.

First, he redirected a blast by Andrew MacDonald to hand the Flyers a 1-0 lead. Not long after, he deceived the defense to find Raffl right in front on a backdoor pass for a 2-0 advantage.

“We had a cycle play going and he had a nice fake up top there and I was just going to the net,” Raffl said. “Somehow I was all by myself and he saw me, put a perfect pass on my tape and I just went around the goalie and put it in.”

Following his first goal, Konecny nearly tacked on another less than a minute later when he appeared to hit the crossbar on a shot. He also flirted with a few more assists.

“I think I just played relaxed,” Konecny said. “I came into the game tonight trying not to do too much and just keep things simple. The main thing for me was getting pucks out of the zone, so I think I did that well tonight and hopefully I can keep building on it.”

Relieving pucks from the zone isn’t a problem when you possess the speed and skill of Konecny, who racked up 101 points last season at the junior level.

At just 19, that’s where he’ll have to return if he doesn’t crack the Flyers’ roster.

With cuts already made and more coming, that sometimes is on Konecny’s mind.

“It weighs on you a little bit. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t thinking about it and it’s definitely the time I need to step up and make sure I’m playing good hockey,” Konecny said. “And just earning another day — that’s just the way I’m looking at it. Every day I wake up and just work hard and move forward from there.

“I think everyone comes into camp and tries to give them (management) a reason not to send you back and make it hard on them.”

Wednesday night didn’t hurt his chances.

“He played a good hockey game,” Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol said. “Had an impact offensively. He did a pretty good job. There’s some youthful mistakes in there, but overall, he had a real good night tonight playing with Raf and Schenner.”

Placing Konecny with two capable NHL forwards offered the Canadian an opportunity to prove what he could do if he was in fact on the big club.

“We played well together,” Konecny said. “I think from the start we just had a lot of communication, we talked in the room, in warmups, we all knew what we were going to do throughout the game and in certain scenarios.”

If anything, Konecny left an impression on Raffl.

“He’s a very smart player,” Raffl said. “Once he has the puck, he makes smart decisions with it. It was very easy to play with him out there. He plays a mature game and I really enjoyed it.”

Time will tell if more is in store come Oct. 14.

Loose pucks
Anthony Stolarz and Alex Lyon combined for the shutout. Stolarz started and made 11 saves over 29:23, while Lyon played 30:37 and stopped seven shots. “I like both of our guys tonight,” Hakstol said. “Stolie did a good job, he made a difference in this game in the first 10 minutes, those two or three really good saves there. Then Alex came in halfway through, which isn’t an easy thing to do and was ready to go and did his job.” … Schenn, MacDonald and defensive prospect Robert Hagg finished with an assist apiece. … With the roster currently standing at 49, the Flyers expect to make 15 cuts on Thursday. … Defenseman Nick Schultz is out four to seven days with a lower-body injury suffered in Tuesday night’s preseason game. ... The Flyers are off Thursday before likely practicing Friday ahead of Saturday's preseason game at 7 p.m. against the Bruins at the Wells Fargo Center.