Eagles' McNutt, getting his opportunity, needs a nickname

Eagles rookie Marvin McNutt catches the football during a morning practice. With Riley Cooper sidelined, McNutt is getting a chance. YONG KIM / Staff Photographer
Eagles rookie Marvin McNutt catches the football during a morning practice. With Riley Cooper sidelined, McNutt is getting a chance. YONG KIM / Staff Photographer
Posted: July 31, 2012

BETHLEHEM, Pa. - Marvin McNutt stood on a sideline filled with other seemingly anonymous rookies, remaining the biggest wide receiver in the group even with a slight lean. Fans filled the bleachers behind him, calling for McNutt and shouting that he needs a nickname.

When a sixth-round pick is in consideration for a nickname, it means there's either a rabid fan base or a player who could become relevant. In McNutt's case, it's both.

The attention given to McNutt in training camp was amplified when Riley Cooper fell to the grass in Saturday's practice and broke his left collarbone, an injury that coach Andy Reid said will sideline Cooper for about six weeks. The attention appeared warranted when Reid added that the Eagles will not pursue a free-agent wide receiver - a morsel of information that quelled any chatter of Plaxico Burress' coming to Philadelphia in the near future.

"We're just going to leave it and let some of the young guys get some work in and see what they can do," Reid said.

Enter McNutt, who at 6-foot-3 and 214 pounds, can be the big target in the preseason that the 6-3, 222-pound Cooper has been for the Eagles. Cooper's injury does not cripple the Eagles, because he's the No. 4 wide receiver, and the Eagles seldom play four-receiver sets, plus Cooper is expected to return about the time of the Sept. 9 regular-season opener. But for the next six weeks, the player who can best take on the tasks of Cooper is McNutt.

"It enables me to get out there more and get in the coach's eye more," McNutt said Saturday, adding that he wished the opportunity did not come at the expense of Cooper.

"I think he did well yesterday," Reid said of McNutt's Saturday performance, when the receiver leaped to catch a jump ball and also displayed run-after-the-catch skills on a screen pass. "That was good to see. He's a big, physical kid, and you saw him attack the football and make some big plays."

McNutt was recruited to Iowa as a quarterback, changed positions in 2009, and became the Hawkeyes' all-time leading receiver in only three seasons. The development was aided by wide receivers coach Erik Campbell, who also tutored current Eagles receiver Jason Avant when Avant played at Michigan. McNutt credits Campbell for being instrumental in the transition, but McNutt still is far from complete. He continues to learn technique, and his raw attributes mean he likely hasn't neared his ceiling yet.

"He's big, got really good hands, and that fits well in the West Coast-style offense," Eagles wide receivers coach David Culley said. "He's very solid, he's a good route runner. Doesn't have the great speed that you expect from some of the guys, but his size and his hands, he's a very tough kid."

The speed, though, is the prevailing question. McNutt said he has a longer stride, so his quickness is deceptive. He also said that if you watch his college film, you'll see him break away from opposing cornerbacks. Of course, NFL secondaries are different from Big Ten secondaries.

"You might not have the fastest 40, but football speed is different," said McNutt, who ran the 40-yard dash at the NFL scouting combine in 4.54 seconds.

McNutt also must learn how to play special teams - a spot where Cooper excelled for the Eagles and one that is almost required for any receiver on the roster who is not a starter. Most standout college players come to the NFL without special-teams experience, so McNutt's case is not unusual.

Cooper's injury is an opportunity for other wide receivers, too. Damaris Johnson - who is the smallest wide receiver on the roster at 5-8 and 170 pounds - showed notable quickness on the first two days of hitting. Mardy Gilyard and Ronald Johnson were former draft picks elsewhere who are intriguing prospects. There are 12 total receivers on the roster, and only DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, and Avant have solidified spots as the top three.

"As you go from bottom up, I think the guys down at the bottom, we probably have a little more skill level than we've had in the past," Culley said.

But McNutt is the obvious one to benefit from Cooper's absence because of his size and the fact that the Eagles invested a draft pick in him. He took advantage of the opportunity this weekend, and he will have nearly six more weeks without Cooper to continue showing what he can do.

"Obviously, a lot of things to still learn because I haven't been an NFL receiver for long," McNutt said. "But really, you always learn. You never feel you arrived or are complacent."

Contact Zach Berman at zberman@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @ZBerm.

comments powered by Disqus