Maclin just needs to be himself in Kelly's offense

Posted: May 31, 2014

The Eagles don't need Jeremy Maclin to be DeSean Jackson.

They don't need him to draw double teams because they have LeSean McCoy in the backfield, and the basic premise of Chip Kelly's offensive scheme is built around math and the alignment of an opposing defense's safeties.

If there are two safeties deep, then the Eagles will most likely hand off to McCoy because they have an advantage in blocking numbers. If there's a single-high safety - and mostly that's what quarterback Nick Foles saw before the snap last season - then he should have two receivers in favorable one-on-one situations on the outside.

Maclin just needs to get open against man-to-man defense and catch the passes thrown his way. Jackson did that often last year, catching 82 passes for 1,332 yards and nine touchdowns on the way to a Pro Bowl nod.

But the idea that he almost always drew the safety over the top and double coverage, thus freeing up the rest of the Eagles' pass catchers, has been overstated, Riley Cooper said.

"No doubt, DeSean was an unbelievable player. He definitely drew a lot of attention," Cooper said Thursday after Eagles practice at the NovaCare Complex. "But the majority of last year we saw a single-high safety with man-to-man on the outside. . . . So no one was covering one side more than the other.

"The biggest reason for both why I had success and DeSean had success . . . [was] Shady in the backfield. He's bringing safeties into the box. If you don't have a safety in the box, we're going to hand it to Shady every single time. So they cannot double-cover anybody in our offense."

Cooper's breakout season after Maclin tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee in training camp can be attributed to many things, but the Eagles won't be able to gauge Jackson's impact until they actually start playing again.

Kelly believes Maclin can provide enough production, and he hasn't been shy about pumping him up. Asked if the 26-year-old Maclin could be his No. 1 receiver, Kelly said: "Doesn't matter. He's the No. 1 guy today."

Last year, the coach emphasized that there wasn't a passing pecking order. But the Eagles want to see how Maclin, who hopes to earn a long-term contract extension during the season, can handle the pressure of being the team's top downfield option.

"I plan to be a big part of this offense," Maclin said. "If we can have the success I think we can have and get to where we want to, the stats will come."

The Eagles aren't holding Maclin back in workouts. He has lined up on the right in Jackson's old spot opposite Cooper.

Thursday was the first opportunity to watch all the new pieces on offense, but rookie receiver Jordan Matthews was excused to attend the NFLPA's rookie symposium in Los Angeles. Cooper said that Matthews had been practicing in the slot with the first team.

Veteran Brad Smith took most of the snaps in the slot on Thursday, but rookie Josh Huff was also sprinkled in. Former slot receiver Jason Avant will be missed in the locker room, but there is the potential for Matthews and others to improve upon Avant's 2013 output (38 catches for 447 yards).

"Matthews - I call him 'Vanderbilt' - he's played really well," Cooper said. "He has a big body [6-foot-3, 212 pounds], good size, and is a playmaker."

It would be optimistic to expect the rookie receivers to make an immediate impact. Kelly's system requires each receiver to know every route on every play because of interchangeable moving parts in his scheme. Jackson admitted last year that it was an adjustment.

The new Redskins receiver injured his hamstring during practice on Thursday. For the most part, Jackson was an afterthought at the NovaCare Complex. The offense didn't seem much different without him. The tempo was fast, the plays similar, only a few faces were new. Maclin has never played in Jackson's shadow, but there's no denying he's now directly in the spotlight.

The Eagles need him to shine. He only needs to be himself. With the addition of pass-catching running back Darren Sproles and the expected jump for tight end Zach Ertz, it should be enough.

"Mac's always been a baller no matter who's been here," Smith said. "He's being himself and that's a credit to a guy understanding that he doesn't have to be something he's not."


jmclane@phillynews.com

@Jeff_McLane

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