Receiver Huff has plenty on his plate at camp

Posted: August 07, 2014

Josh Huff was drafted just one round after Jordan Matthews, and yet he has been lost in his fellow rookie wide receiver's shadow at this Eagles training camp.

While the coaches have earmarked Matthews for a starting spot in the slot, and narrowed his playbook load, Huff has been asked to learn every receiver role.

"I can't get caught up in all that," Huff said Tuesday. "That's where the coaches want him at and he's doing very well there. . . . On my end, what I can do is learn from his mistakes on the inside while managing my mistakes on the outside."

Both are far from finished products. On Tuesday, Matthews received a tutorial from cornerback Brandon Boykin on how to not use his hands, and he was scolded by his position coach for waving his hand for the ball too often.

Huff dropped a pass, had a fast, short one go through his hands, and was outmuscled by Boykin for a 50-50 ball.

Matthews has made far more catches this camp - partly because of playing in the slot - and has generated more buzz, from the media to his teammates to his coaches. Running back LeSean McCoy has heaped praise upon Matthews, saying Tuesday that he was one of the best in what some are calling the deepest receiving draft class ever.

Eagles offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur said of Matthews: "Every hurdle we've given him . . . he's done a great job of jumping over."

Asked about Huff, Shurmur said, "He's getting better. Grinding through camp like the rest of the guys. . . . Of the young players, he's probably had the most to learn."

Huff said he had no idea why the Eagles placed so much on his plate, but the obvious guess is because they aren't quite sure yet what he's best at and where he fits in. Ideally, the former Oregon player would redshirt a season.

But third-round draft picks aren't normally afforded a full year on the inactive roster, and, to be fair, it's premature to judge Huff without seeing him when there is tackling and the football is live.

Huff is a robust 5-foot-11, 206 pounds. His body shape is more of a running back's and that is often how he plays - physical, breaking tackles and picking up yards after the catch. He is a candidate to return kicks.

"I like to be physical, take on tackles, break tackles," Huff said. "In practice, it's hard to do that."

But will that skill set transfer to the NFL, where the players are bigger and faster? Huff conceded that the biggest adjustment so far has been the physicality of defensive backs and the amount of contact they make downfield.

Veteran receiver Jeremy Maclin has taken Huff under his wing.

"He's a guy that will definitely make plays with the ball in his hands," Maclin said, adding: "Has a lot to learn, obviously, being a rookie. Jordan has a lot learn as well."

With Maclin, Riley Cooper and Jeff Maehl sidelined with injuries during team drills, Matthews had his first extended action with the first-team offense on Tuesday. He's been tearing up the second team, but he predictably had a tougher time against the likes of safety Malcolm Jenkins and Boykin.

Matthews asked to face Boykin during one-on-one drills. The cornerback won the first battle, but the 6-3 Matthews beat the 5-9 Boykin inside the next time, perhaps with the benefit of a push-off.

"With the changes that the referees are making this year, a lot of times he pushes off at the end of the play," Boykin said, "so he's got to learn how to use his body as leverage instead of using his hands."

Matthews will adapt to how referees call games. The positive is that he isn't afraid of the contact.

"I'm continuing to work on not using my hands as much when it comes to releasing," Matthews said. "But at the same time I've got to keep that physical aspect to my game because I feel like that's what makes me me."

Matthews doesn't have elite speed. He has struggled at times getting separation at the top of his routes. That doesn't mean he hasn't thought he was open.

He raised his arm or clapped several times with Nick Foles at quarterback. Receivers coach Bob Bicknell barked at Matthews at one point: "Stop throwing your hands up."

Matthews knows quarterbacks abhor that kind of behavior. He said he's trying to stop.

"When I was at Vanderbilt . . . when I got open, I'm like, 'Hey, I'm here,' " Matthews said. "I don't need that here. . . . There are so many other guys getting open. I know Nick is going to make the right decision all the time."

jmclane@phillynews.com

@Jeff_McLane

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