Rich Hofmann: It's learn and earn for new Eagles Maclin, McCoy

LeSean McCoy has skills, but must learn intricacies of things like blitz pickup.
LeSean McCoy has skills, but must learn intricacies of things like blitz pickup.
Posted: July 21, 2009

THE QUESTION is not if Jeremy Maclin and Shady McCoy are good enough. The question is if they are smart enough.

We are a few days out now from an Eagles training camp full of questions and possibilities, especially for an offense with so many high draft choices on the roster, with Maclin and McCoy in the lead. We were sort of in the same place last year when DeSean Jackson arrived. We watched Jackson blossom immediately. We learned to love his swagger. We identified most with his swagger (and with his speed).

But it started with football intelligence. Without that, the rest was meaningless. Few people seem to want to recognize that, though. Even Jackson sometimes attributes the whole thing to attitude.

After a practice last month, he said, "I came in last year, even though I wasn't a veteran, with the mentality of wanting to help this team out and wanting to make some great things happen for this team." But that was not it. Because they all have the attitude, when you really think about it. And they all have the requisite skills - certainly the highly drafted players do.

But the difference between Jackson getting on the field last year and contributing and not contributing was book work and video work. He got an opportunity, yes, because Kevin Curtis got hurt and the team needed him - but that need would have been unfulfilled if Jackson had not been smart enough to handle an ever-increasing load of packages the Eagles threw at him.

At this point, you probably think it's funny, talking about intelligence after Jackson did one of the dumbest things anybody ever did on a football field when he prematurely celebrated that touchdown against the Dallas Cowboys. But knowing where to line up, knowing what routes to run, knowing what adjustments to make on the routes based upon what the defense presents - it is a load for a kid. And just because Jackson figured it out does not mean Maclin and McCoy will be able to figure it out.

There is no guarantee. There is no cause and effect. It will be the story of the summer - especially with McCoy and the question of picking up blitzes - but most of it will play out in air-conditioned meeting rooms and not on the baking practice fields at Lehigh.

None of us really knows if Jackson is book smart or Wonderlic smart or any of that. But the guy knows his business and he impressed people from the beginning that way. It was during training camp last summer when he began using an available, though uncommon, resource to try to improve: his defensive teammates.

It caught the attention of Andy Reid immediately. "Normally," the head coach said, "[young receivers] are just concentrating on themselves and learning the offense." But not Jackson. Reid watched him quizzing the Eagles' cornerbacks on whether or not he had any tendencies that were giving anything away, a first step here or a lean there that might tip a certain route he was running. Jackson also asked them how they might play a certain route so that he might devise a counter move of his own.

This was not typical rookie behavior. Maybe it was because Jackson was so confident that he was able to ask questions without fear of betraying weakness. Whatever the reason, he amassed the knowledge it took to play big minutes right out of the chute in an offense that was and is a mass of complications.

But because it can be done, as Jackson proved, does not mean it will be done again. Maclin has more of an adjustment than Jackson did because of the offense he played in at Missouri. (He also hasn't signed a deal yet, which isn't a concern until it is a concern; he does need to be here from the start.) McCoy is a different matter because of the blitz-pickup issues. That single question might be one of the keys to this season - and that really is not an overstatement, not if Brian Westbrook suffers any kind of an injury (and maybe even if he doesn't).

These are not small hurdles, and they are not questions that Andy Reid will ever answer out loud. There will be only one way to tell what the coach really thinks, and to tell what kind of promise these rookies really have. One way: by counting the snaps, starting in September. *

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