Eagles Notebook: Assessing Eagles' receiving depth

Posted: July 30, 2013

WHEN EAGLES general manager Howie Roseman looked for examples of skill-position depth to cite for reporters yesterday, as Roseman assessed the effect of losing wideout Jeremy Maclin to an ACL tear, Roseman spoke first of his running backs and tight ends.

For Chip Kelly's Eagles, losing, say James Casey might be a bigger blow than Saturday's loss of Maclin, the team's leading receiver last season. (There's no question losing LeSean McCoy would be a bigger blow.) What we know of Kelly's offense suggests a lot of action for the TEs and the RBs.

"We have a lot of faith in our skill-position group as a whole, and that's kind of how we look at it. We're not only looking at just the wide receiver group, we look at the running backs, we look at the tight ends, those are the guys we have high hopes and expectations for," Roseman said. "Obviously, at the tight end group we brought in some guys - talking about James Casey and Zach Ertz, drafting him [in the second round] as well. Some of our younger guys that are on the roster that we felt could make a little bit of a jump in this offense.

"The running back position, we always talk about the jump from first to second year at running back, so you have Bryce [Brown], and Chris [Polk] and then bringing in Felix [Jones as a free agent]," Roseman said. "We went out and got a couple of receivers, after the draft, but guys we thought were draft-worthy, talking about [Russell] Shepard and Mo [Ifeyani Momah]. Damaris Johnson, a guy that we had here last year who we think has a role."

Still, the Eagles have lost a steady starter whose 258 catches are the most by any receiver in his first 4 years in franchise history. They did not factor losing Maclin into their draft or free-agency strategies; in fact, Maclin, taken 19th overall in 2009, is the last wideout drafted by the team in the first four rounds.

Options outside the current roster are limited. The team is hardly going to run out and sign the fossilized remains of Chad Ochocinco or Terrell Owens; there is no one on the free-agent market who comes close to Maclin's relatively young age and skillset. The Eagles will be watching other teams' cut lists, but again, there won't be any Maclins released.

"We feel for Jeremy," tight end Brent Celek said after yesterday's first public workout of training camp, which the team said drew about 30,000 fans to Lincoln Financial Field. "He's part of this team, and will be for the rest of the season. We need him to pick us up, and we need to do the same for him . . . I think everybody's got to elevate their play when you lose a guy like that, because it's hard to replace a guy like that."

Ertz's athleticism has stood out in the early days of training camp.

"I think there are a lot of interchangeable parts" in Kelly's offense, Ertz said. "Unfortunately I think we lost a great player in Jeremy . . . I think the next person needs to step up and I think the tight ends want that role, but I think the receivers want it, too."

Maclin's absence puts a tighter focus on DeSean Jackson as the explosive, vertical threat - is Jackson still going to return punts, as he has said is the plan, now that Maclin's gone? It also opens up opportunity for Riley Cooper, a different type of receiver at 6-3, 222, but one who really progressed toward the end of last season and is said to have had a good offseason.

When Kelly spoke with reporters Friday, he praised Jackson's conditioning, and then said something interesting: "The sky's the limit for him, and he could be a real special player in this league, but he's got to make that decision that he wants to be."

Jackson was asked about that assessment.

"I love criticism, honestly," Jackson said Saturday. "Any time, for a coach to challenge me, expect the best out of me, but still, say, leave it up to me, as a player, that's what you want. Basically, do what I need to do to be great. I feel like I've done some great things the last couple of years, a little struggle getting injured and having the contract year, but if you look past, 3 years before that, off the chart numbers and things like that. I'm just trying to get back to that . . . I think I'm in a great position to do that and help this team any way possible."

Birdseed

Guard Todd Herremans left yesterday's practice with what Herremans indicated was a minor knee "tweak." Nose tackle Antonio Dixon left with a hamstring pull . . . Corner Cary Williams (hamstring) and wideout Arrelious Benn (knee) rode exercise bikes . . . Wideout B.J. Cunningham (foot) is in a walking cast and is using crutches . . . After all the talk about putting on pads for the first time under Chip Kelly, there was no tackling to the ground and not all that much contact. Jason Peters again looked dominant in drills against the defensive line. DeSean Jackson and Greg Salas made standout catches.

DN Members-only: Download our exclusive ebook on what we can learn from Chip Kelly’s first training camp as Eagles coach.


On Twitter: @LesBowen

Blog: ph.ly/Eagletarian

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