John Smallwood: Eagles finally have depth at wide receiver

Jeremy Maclin and Dimitri Patterson get into a shoving match before Maclin was injured during the afternoon practice.
Jeremy Maclin and Dimitri Patterson get into a shoving match before Maclin was injured during the afternoon practice.
Posted: August 04, 2010

BETHLEHEM - Even back in the day when the Eagles receiving corps was low-lighted by the likes of Torrance Small and Charles Johnson, James Thrash and Todd Pinkston, there wasn't a lot of intrigue during training camp.

You didn't always like them, but you still had a good idea of whom the Eagles' Opening Day receivers were going to be.

Every now and then an unknown quantity like Greg Lewis or Hank Baskett played his way onto the roster, but for the most part you could pick out who would be catching balls for the Birds on the first day of training camp.

Things look like they are going to be a little different this time around.

Barring serious injury or a complete loss of talent, DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin and Jason Avant will be the first three starters in the era of quarterback Kevin Kolb.

And considering that trio combined for 159 catches, 2,516 yards and 16 touchdowns last season, that's to be expected.

And it should also be noted that Jackson has missed the last several practices with a back injury, and yesterday Maclin was carted off the field after hyperextending his left knee.

Still, after those three it's a wide-open competition among Baskett, who is back after spending last season with Indianapolis; fifth-round rookie Riley Cooper out of the University of Florida; and 7-year veteran Kelley Washington, who was added to the roster a few days ago after playing last season in Baltimore.

Toss in free agent Chad Hall, who has done caught everything thrown his way since he signed with the Eagles after fulfilling his commitment to the Air Force, as a dark horse and this might be the most intriguing wide-receiver battle of Andy

Reid's 12 training camps.

You figure the Eagles are going to keep five receivers, possibly six. That means at least one is not going to make this team, possibly two.

It's early, but it's hard to figure who's going to be in and who's not.

"Listen, it looks like there's a lot of competition there," Reid said. "I like that.

"I always tell the guys in our first meeting, 'Try to make my job and [general manager Howie Roseman's] job as tough as you possibly can. Everybody can't make the team. Make it as tough as you possibly can on us to make those decisions.'

"That position, there's going to be some tough decisions to make."

What's most intriguing about the battle among Baskett, Cooper and Washington is that they actually could fill a role that the Eagles have been lacking. All are at least 6-3, and with Jackson, Maclin and Avant being 6-foot or shorter, a big target could be an effective addition to the Eagles' arsenal.

The touch pass was not an strength of Donovan McNabb, and the fade pass into the end zone simply didn't exist for the Birds.

But Kolb is a much better touch passer and a big target other than tight end Brent Celek might help clean up some of the Eagles' red-zone deficiencies.

"We've got a lot of power forwards in there," Reid said. "Big guys that can go get the ball."

Again, it's early, but I think one of the jobs is Cooper's to lose. The guy has a freakish combination of size, speed and hands.

He led Florida receivers with 961 yards and nine touchdowns his senior season and has done nothing but turn heads since the first rookie camp.

"I feel like I'm doing all right, but I've got to stay in that playbook because there is a lot to learn," Cooper said. "They're sticking me in a bunch of different positions, so I'm still getting acclimated."

Washington is the most proven commodity, with 107 career receptions and 11 touchdowns in 69 NFL games. He's had to fight for a position his entire career.

"I just want to show them that I can contribute to the team in some way," Washington said. "Being a big target for the quarterback and making plays is what it boils down to."

If there is an edge for familiarity, it would go to Baskett. He first made the Eagles as an undrafted free agent in 2006 and has 72 of his 76 career catches and all six of his TDs as an Eagle.

"There's a little more competition this year, so I've got to make plays and make the decision hard on the coaches," Baskett said. "You don't want to give them any kind of reason to say, 'We should go with the other guy because this guy didn't do that.' ''

What could really determine this battle is what these guys can do as special-teams players. That's where Hall, who is only 5-8 but jet-quick, comes into the mix. He's been getting a lot of reps as a punt returner.

"In the past, we've had the Hank Basketts and Jason Avants make the team because of special teams," Reid said. "I know Kelley Washington is a good special-teams player. I've got to see about the other ones. I think Riley Cooper has a chance to be a solid special-teams player, but I've got to see that."

Training camp has just started, but the competition at wide receiver is already hot.

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