The Eagles' other rookie receiver

ASSOCIATED PRESS Third-round receiver Josh Huff's forte is breaking tackles.
ASSOCIATED PRESS Third-round receiver Josh Huff's forte is breaking tackles.
Posted: August 07, 2014

IT HASN'T been flattering for Josh Huff, working in the shadow of Jordan Matthews.

Matthews did it again yesterday - captivated reporters, first with his steady work on the field, then with his explanation of how he had sought out a matchup with nickel corner Brandon Boykin in a one-on-one drill, to get a feel for how Boykin worked.

"Every hurdle we've given him as he prepares himself for the season, he's done a great job of jumping over," offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur said yesterday, when asked about Matthews. "He just continues to get better and better every day."

Later, LeSean McCoy opined that Matthews, who took first-team reps yesterday, with Riley Cooper, Jeremy Maclin and Jeff Maehl sitting out, will turn out to be the best of the touted 2014 wideout draft class.

The second-round rookie from Vanderbilt, 6-3, 212, is hard to miss at Eagles camp. Much easier to miss is the wide receiver the Birds took with their very next draft pick, third-rounder Huff, a Chip Kelly favorite from Oregon.

Huff hasn't been bad, but as was often said in predraft assessments, nothing about him immediately wows you. At 5-11, 206, he doesn't have Matthews' formidable reach or loping grace. Huff ran a very ordinary 4.51-second 40 at the NFL Scouting Combine. Yesterday Huff couldn't come up with a low-but-catchable pass at the goal line, then couldn't get separation on his next rep, as Curtis Marsh batted the ball away. Another time, a Mark Sanchez pass intended for Huff was picked off by Boykin.

Huff is powerfully built, having begun his college career as a running back, after playing quarterback in high school in Houston. Boykin this week called Huff "a very strong, athletic guy." At Oregon, Huff specialized in adding yards after the catch, breaking tackles. There aren't any tackles to break at Eagles training camp.

Huff's first real chance to make a memorable impression might come Friday night in Chicago, when the Eagles open their preseason against the Bears.

"I like to be physical, take on tacklers, break tackles . . . I feel like I would definitely stand out more in a game," Huff said yesterday.

Shurmur, talking about what he hopes to see Friday from his young receivers as a group, said something particularly applicable to Huff, and to Matthews: that the games are different.

"When you put the shiny pants on and the lights are bright, what you want to see them do is, when the ball comes their way, can they actually make a play? . . . Sometimes guys will be out here on the practice field doing excellent jobs, and then, when the lights are bright, not so good," Shurmur said.

Matthews and Huff are close, were roommates in the spring.

"When it comes to this whole football thing, a lot of times it gets so big, people make such a huge deal about it, but me and Josh are able to joke about it, laugh about it. We're always able to take that pressure off each other. We're out here, we're having fun. That's the main thing," Matthews said. "You can't say enough about his willpower, his fortitude and his work ethic out there."

Coaches have not been harsh in their assessments, noting that they've moved Huff around much more than Matthews, who has mainly played the slot. One of Huff's biggest assets is his versatility, so he has worked a lot at all three wide-receiver positions. On the depth chart the Eagles released Monday, he was third string at one of the outside spots, behind veterans Maclin and Arrelious Benn.

"I see myself as a thoroughbred receiver that can do multiple things," Huff said. "At this moment, they want me to learn each and every position. I'm not really worried about the ones, twos and threes, I'm just trying to worry about, 'How can I get better? How can I make the team better?' "

Asked about Huff yesterday, 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."

Kelly, asked recently what he liked about Huff when he was recruiting him for Oregon, said Huff "was just so productive with the ball in his hands, and a highly competitive kid." Kelly added that "there's a physicality to Josh to go along with the ability to make people miss."

Maclin has taken on the task of mentoring Huff.

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

Maclin said his main message so far has been that "everything doesn't need to happen right now . . . The great ones get better each and every day throughout their career."

Asked what made him gravitate toward Maclin, Huff said: "I just love the way he carries himself. He never gets rattled, never lets small mistakes hinder the rest of practice for him . . . He's done an excellent job on me so far, on how to carry yourself and what to look for, how to get open on certain routes."

Shurmur said last week that he thought Huff had been surprised to find the Eagles' offense different from Kelly's offense at Oregon. Huff said the biggest difference is in terminology.

"As a rookie, [there are] definitely going to be mistakes, whether you know the system or not," he said. "It's just how quick can you get over that mistake, and how much are you willing to sacrifice so you won't make that same mistake twice? That's the big thing on this level."

Huff said his toughest adjustment has been "adjusting to the holding downfield, the physicality of the DBs."


On Twitter: @LesBowen

Blog: ph.ly/Eagletarian

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