It was there, amid the blood and the glass, that Maclin's football career bloomed, and it is here, with the Eagles, that he has blossomed into a fine young receiver with tremendous upside. He is, the Eagles fully expect, only going to get better.
In 2008, the year before the Eagles used their first-round draft pick to select Maclin out of Missouri, the team pursued Randy Moss, then a free agent who ended up re-signing with New England. Now, with Maclin in his second season and DeSean Jackson in his third, the Eagles had zero interest in trying to claim Moss off waivers this week.
That is a testament to Jackson and Maclin. There was no need for a big-play receiver. The Eagles already have two.
"I like the receivers we have right now," coach Andy Reid said Wednesday.
Jackson is the Eagles' No. 1 receiver, but Maclin, all of 22 years old, is 1A. After finishing last season among the NFL's top rookie receivers in receptions (56), yards (773), and touchdowns (4), Maclin is on pace to top the 1,000-yard mark in receiving yards this season. His six touchdown catches have him tied for sixth in the NFL and put him in the neighborhood with San Diego tight end Antonio Gates, who leads the league with nine touchdown catches, and Calvin Johnson, who has eight.
In the last three games alone, Maclin has 18 catches for 296 yards and two touchdowns. With Jackson knocked out in the second quarter against Atlanta three weeks ago, Maclin had a career day with seven catches for 159 yards and two touchdowns, including an 83-yard bomb from Kevin Kolb that traveled some 40 yards in the air before Maclin sprinted the rest of the way untouched for the score.
"He's stepped up," said Michael Vick, the man who will be throwing to Maclin on Sunday against Indianapolis. "That's what he can do. Jeremy can play this game, and he's going to play football for a very long time. I'm excited for his opportunities and what he can do moving forward."
But to hear his teammates tell it, Maclin is more than just flashy stats. He is a diligent blocker on run plays. He goes full speed in practice. He never gives up on plays. And with Jackson out for the last couple of weeks with a concussion, Maclin has become a leader on the offense.
"The best thing I like about Maclin during this period is that in practice he's really not been taking plays off," said fellow wide receiver Jason Avant. "He's been really taking the leadership role and leading by example, and I think it helps on the field. He's been playing good. You guys see the catches. You guys see the yards and touchdowns. But those are not the things. They're great, and they'll help us win, but the things that gain you respect in the locker room is when you can do the same thing in the run game, and he's been doing that.
"So it's been really impressive. He's played over the last four or five games the best I've ever seen him play, and it's not just because he's made big plays. It's because he's more well-rounded as a player."
Maclin should benefit by the return of Jackson, who is practicing with the Eagles but has not said whether he will play Sunday. Against Tennessee before the bye week, Reid and offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg moved Maclin around more than they have all season. He constantly was shadowed by an extra Titans defender and consequently did not break free for a gain longer than 17 yards.
"That's some things you kind of expect when your counterpart goes down," Maclin said. "But I think having him back will definitely keep the defense honest."
It should help. Jackson's presence creates opportunities for Maclin and vice versa. They are the 1-2 punch the Eagles rarely have had at the receiver position during the Reid era.
And neither player is content. Maclin certainly wants more from the game he started playing with a bloody hand and a baby face.
"I'm just trying to get better every week," he said. "That's my goal, whether it be the numbers-wise, whether it be doing the little things, like blocking. I'm just trying to get better every week."
Contact staff writer Ashley Fox
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