Replacing DeSean: The other guys, but mostly, a draft pick

Replacing DeSean: The other guys, but mostly, a draft pick

82 receptions, 1,332 yards receiving, nine touchdowns; that’s what the Philadelphia Eagles must replace in the NFL’s No. 2 offense after the release of DeSean Jackson. Where’s it supposed to come from? Not necessarily from any one player. In this four part series, we examine whose roles will increase as a result of the move. [ Part 1: Jeremy Maclin ] [ Part 2: Darren Sproles ] [ Part 3: Zach Ertz ]

From a sheer production standpoint, it would seem the Eagles have more than enough offensive talent to sustain the loss of Jackson.

A healthy Jeremy Maclin should be able to put up similar numbers or close to Jackson taking over the three-time Pro Bowler’s role in Chip Kelly’s offense. Darren Sproles adds 60-70 receptions, plus brings the added dimension of unpredictability being able to line up in either the backfield or the slot on any given play. Zach Ertz appears to be in line for a breakout season as well, perhaps even pushing 1,000 yards and/or double-digit touchdowns this year.

That being said, there’s no denying the Eagles are suddenly very thin at wide receiver specifically. There’s no clear-cut No. 3 on the roster right now behind Maclin and Riley Cooper, and that’s not even accounting for what will happen if one of those two gets hurt.

Note the use of the word “thin” though, not “devoid.” There are a couple of in-house candidates for that third wideout spot in veterans Arrelious Benn and Brad Smith.

I don’t hold very high hopes for Benn myself, but not for any lack of ability. A second-round pick of the Tampa Bay Bucs in 2010, the 25-year-old has had a hell of a time staying on the field. He missed all of last season—his first as an Eagle—with a torn ACL, and played sparingly in eight games due to injuries in ’12.

Prior to the last two injury-plagued seasons, Benn flashed some potential as a legitimate threat in the aerial attack. The Illinois product posted 55 receptions for 836 yards and five touchdowns in 29 games over his first two seasons, in some constipated offenses I might add.

The Birds were obviously holding out some hope they might be able to develop Benn into something more, trading a sixth-round pick to Tampa last year and quickly signing him to an extension. At 6’2”, 220 pounds with 4.42 speed, the potential is certainly there. If Benn could only stay healthy, he could easily be in the Eagles’ plans for this season.

Philly fans got a small taste of what Smith can bring to the offense in ‘13. Signed away from the Buffalo Bills midway through last season, it was far too late in the year to have a huge role in the offense. Smith contributed on special teams though, while Kelly found ways to utilize Smith’s unique skillset.

Mostly, that meant gadget plays. Formerly a quarterback at the University of Missouri, the veteran wide receiver/running back lined up in the backfield and took snaps out of the shotgun a few times. These plays weren’t greeted with much success, yet it was still another wrinkle defenses have to be concerned about.

Listed as a receiver, Smith actually has more rushing attempts (134) than receptions (103) for his eight-year career. You wonder about there being some duality with his and Sproles’ roles in the offense moving forward. Then again, I’m not sure a team can ever have too many players who can play multiple positions.

Either Benn or Smith or a combination of the two could legitimately fill that No. 3 receiver spot if everything works out just right—especially considering Sproles will see some time there as well and more two-tight end sets are likely in Ertz’s second season.

Obviously, the Eagles aren’t going to leave it at that though.

It’s no secret Philadelphia will take a wide receiver at some point in the upcoming draft, perhaps even as high as the No. 22 pick overall. Contrary to popular opinion, the front office doesn’t necessarily need to address the position in the first round—in this exceptionally deep class, starting-caliber talent could be available as late as the third or fourth.

I mean, after all, even Jackson wasn’t a first-round pick.

General manager Howie Roseman told Reuben Frank for CSNPhilly.com back in February there would be a receiver the team liked available in every round.

Whoever this mystery rookie is, no matter what round he’s taken, the good news is there won’t be as much pressure as some might think to make an immediate contribution in the offense. There is plenty of competition for that WR3 spot, while more Sproles and Ertz will lessen the number of snaps for that role.

Last season, Jason Avant was in the game roughly 75 percent of the time when the Birds were on offense. The frequency with which Kelly uses 11 personnel naturally is going to decrease.

A rookie wide receiver might be pressed into a bigger role in the event something happens to Maclin or Cooper, or if the kid is just that good. His is likely to be mainly a situational spot in this offense for 2014 though, which would be fine.

With so many other talented players seemingly ready to step up and take over some of Jackson’s production in the offense, there doesn’t have to be this overwhelming sense of urgency to develop a new star to replace him from day one. Consider whatever the Eagles get from their No. 3 wide receiver this year a bonus.

Temple QB Phillip Walker provides leadership, offensive spark as Owls beat Charlotte

usa-jahad-thomas-temple-celebrating.jpg
USA Today Images

Temple QB Phillip Walker provides leadership, offensive spark as Owls beat Charlotte

BOX SCORE

Temple quarterback Phillip Walker rolled on the ground in pain after taking a shot late in the first quarter and was immediately forced to the sideline.

With the Owls already trailing and their starting QB’s shoulder dinged up, things certainly weren’t going how the team envisioned opening up its homecoming game at Lincoln Financial Field. 

“It’s a nagging injury that comes and goes,” Walker said.

The pain was able to quickly go away, and then the Owls were able to go off.

Walker returned after a one-play absence to throw a deep touchdown pass and spark 28 unanswered points by Temple during the second quarter of a 48-20 win over Charlotte (see Instant Replay).

The Owls (2-2, 0-0 American Athletic Conference) evened their record with the win before opening up AAC play next week against SMU.

“It was big for us just because we needed to get going offensively,” Walker said of his beautiful 51-yard touchdown pass to Adonis Jennings on the first play of the second quarter. “We knew it would happen. It just takes time. A lot of people come with the same energy every game at the beginning of the game. Just let that energy wear off a little bit. Once you get your opportunity, then you take your shots and make your plays as an offense.”

The Owls’ offense made plenty of plays during that big second quarter. 

A couple of possessions after Walker’s TD pass gave Temple back the lead, the Owls got a gift when Charlotte (1-3, 0-0 Conference USA) quarterback Kevin Olsen and running back Kalif Phillips botched a read-option exchange. The fumble was scooped up by TU defensive lineman Praise Martin-Oguike and returned 20 yards to the 49ers’ 13-yard line. On the very next play, Jahad Thomas scampered around the left side for a touchdown.

Temple’s defense then forced a three-and-out to get the ball right back for Walker, who connected with Brodrick Yancy on a 40-yard score to break the game open.

Ryquell Armstead tacked on a one-yard touchdown plunge right before halftime to give the Owls a 31-7 advantage at the break.

In all, the Owls outscored the 49ers 28-0 and outgained them 176-66 during the period.

“Once we got the turnover, we had another opportunity in the red zone to make something happen and we did,” Walker said. “Give us the ball in the red zone, we have to capitalize off of it and we have to be able to make a play.”

“I thought the turnovers and field position started helping hitting the big play,” Temple head coach Matt Rhule said. “I just think we kind of settled down on offense, got into a rhythm. I think you’re seeing that we’re able to get our quarterback into a rhythm and he’s playing pretty well.”

Temple got contributions from several key players on offense to rack up 507 total yards and 26 first downs in the victory. Thomas and Armstead each had a pair of rushing touchdowns. Eight different players caught passes with five reaching at least 40 yards, including sophomore wideout Yancy, who had four receptions for 70 yards and a score.

However, it all starts with Walker as he continued to build on the momentum he found last week against Penn State. Walker completed 15 of 26 attempts for 268 yards, two touchdowns and zero interceptions.

The senior quarterback is starting to hit his stride at the right time with conference play coming up and his teammates are following his lead.

“He likes throwing the ball. The more we catch the ball for him the more it makes him look good, makes others look good and allows us to run the offense the way it can be run,” Yancy said.

“He’s been productive,” Thomas said. “Definitely coming into the season he was talking about his completion percentage. He’s a senior now. He feels more comfortable just getting his feet set. When you don’t have people breathing down your neck all the time you can be comfortable out there, so I’m quite sure that’s the reason why he’s playing so well in the last two games.”

With the defense still showing some warts (429 total yards allowed to Charlotte, including 231 on the ground) and the meat of the schedule coming up with conference play, Temple will be counting on Walker to keep his game at a high level to help the Owls defend their East Division crown.

“Looking forward to it,” Walker said of opening up the AAC portion of the schedule. “There are a lot of great teams in this conference. I think this conference can go either way whether it’s anyone from the West or anyone from the East. There’s a lot of great talent. We just have to bring our A game every week. We’ve got a long stretch here, so we just have to come out here and play our game.”

Phillies' Darin Ruf could be facing quiet goodbye

Phillies' Darin Ruf could be facing quiet goodbye

The final eight games remaining on the Phillies’ 2016 schedule will undoubtedly serve as a farewell to Ryan Howard.

Lost in the background may be the fact this week could quite possibly be the end for the man who was supposed to platoon alongside him this year, as well: Darin Ruf.

Both men have been supplanted by Tommy Joseph, who's hit 21 home runs in just 100 games this year while positioning himself as the Phillies first baseman of the near future.

Ruf will start Saturday night against Mets’ lefthander Sean Gilmartin. The Phillies are not scheduled to face a lefty starter for the rest of the season, so Saturday could be one of the final chances to see Ruf in a Phillies uniform, especially considering manager Pete Mackanin’s stated intent to give Howard more playing time down the stretch.

“It seemed like we never faced a lefty for the first month of the season. So that didn’t help Ruf at the time,” Mackanin said.  “Joseph entered the picture and made an immediate impression.”

Ruf’s departure from the majors set the stage for Joseph’s immediate emergence. At the time of his May 13 demotion to AAA Lehigh Valley – and Joseph’s promotion -- Ruf was had a .158/.206/.193 slash line.
  
Since his Sept. 1 return to the majors after rosters expanded, Ruf has done what he can to make sure his possible final season in a Phillies uniform ends on a high note. On Friday night, he drilled a home run to left center off Mets reliever Josh Smoker in pinch-hit duty, the first time Ruf had gone yard since Oct. 1, 2015.

“It felt good,” Ruf said about ending his home run drought. “You just try to simply things and last night it worked out for me.”

Where Ruf will be next year is a more complicated matter, as the 30-year-old is out of minor league options. Japanese scouts were spotted at the games he played for AAA Lehigh Valley.

With Lehigh Valley, Ruf received an opportunity he’s never truly been able to get with the Phillies due to the longstanding presence of Howard: a chance to play every day and consistently accumulate plate appearances. He hit .294/.356/.529 in 390 trips to the plate for the IronPigs. 

Ruf has never made more than 300 plate appearances in a major league season and would struggle to crack that number if he remains in Philadelphia as a backup to Joseph, who will still be 25 on opening day next year.

“I learned [this year] that you can’t take anything for granted in this game,” Ruf said. “You’ve just got to keep working to get better every day, got to put up numbers no matter where you’re at in order to get to where you want. 

“Hopefully, wherever I’m at next year, I can do that.”