1. Even though he knew the ball wasn’t coming his way, Jeremy Maclin had no interest in taking the play off.
The call was an end around to DeSean Jackson, but Maclin’s job was to block cornerback Curtis Marsh and keep him away from the ball-carrier. He forcefully handled Marsh, shoving him towards the right sideline. When the whistle finally blew, Maclin had pinned Marsh to the ground.
“It’s part of being a complete receiver,” Maclin said. “There’s more to playing receiver than catching footballs. That’s what people have to realize.”
Even though he’s only listed at 6 feet, Maclin is the Eagles’ best red-zone receiver. He had eight catches and four touchdowns in the red zone last year. And in 2010, Maclin had 11 catches and seven touchdowns inside the opponents’ 20. What’s the key?
“Execution,” Maclin said. “Be precise in everything you do. In the red zone, everything happens a little faster, so timing is key.”
Maclin set career highs last year, averaging 66.1 yards per game and tallying a catch rate (receptions per targets) of 65 percent. He was targeted 97 times. If he can stay healthy for 16 games, that number will increase, and Maclin could be headed for his first 1,000-yard season as a pro.
2. It’s not easy to get a short answer out of Marty Mornhinweg, but I managed to do just that yesterday. Mornhinweg, who tends to offer up glowing scouting reports whenever a player’s name is mentioned, might have been caught off-guard when I pointed out that DeSean Jackson had only two red-zone catches last year and asked him if there’s a way to get the speedy receiver more involved inside the opponents’ 20.
“Yeah,” Mornhinweg said. “And that was a little bit of a unique year there with the numbers and so forth. I’ll try to get him the football just a little bit more down there.”
It didn’t sound like he even believed what he was saying.
The truth is last year wasn’t really an anomaly. Jackson had four red-zone catches and one red-zone score in 2010; and three and two in 2009. His game is based on playing outside the numbers and making big plays downfield. I’m not expecting Jackson to suddenly be a red-zone threat, but it’ll be interesting to see if the Eagles change personnel groups and take him off the field since he’s not much of a factor down there.
3. We’ll cover all kinds of different angles with this team in the coming weeks, but the truth is, the Eagles’ success will be based in large part on the play of Michael Vick and the ability of Juan Castillo.
Castillo still gets fired up, but perhaps is a little less demonstrative than last year (when he head-butted linebacker Keenan Clayton on the practice fields. Clayton was wearing a helmet. Castillo was not).
I asked a couple people – Cullen Jenkins and Jim Washburn – what’s different about Castillo this offseason. Here are their answers.
Jenkins: “He seems a lot more confident. I guess, just being around it, a lot more confident in us because he knows us now. I guess for me too, just coming in and going through a normal camp and just being in here with him. Last year I was just trying to get to know him so everything just seems a lot more natural now.”
Washburn: “Not much. Just trying to figure out… it’s a learning process for all of us. Any time a new group comes together, you gotta get together and figure out each other’s styles, what’s best, how to eliminate some stuff. It was a difficult transition for all of us, especially with the lockout. He learned from mistakes, and we all certainly had enough mistakes to learn from. He’s got a lot better grasp on everything, as we all do.”
4. As I mentioned earlier, Jenkins has been getting some reps at defensive end with Jason Babin out. We didn’t see him outside much last year, although Jenkins played defensive end while in a 3-4 with the Packers.
“I just gotta get back used to it,” he said. “My hand work is a little off, especially on the left side. When I did play D-End in the past, I was used to being on the right side, so when I’m on the left side, I gotta get used to the hands, vertical steps and all that stuff.”
The Eagles have also worked quite a bit on a look we saw last year where the defensive ends stand up in the middle of the line a couple yards behind the line of scrimmage and get a running start to attack the quarterback. The defensive tackles shift out to the ends and line up in their normal stances.
Washburn said he’s just doing that to show teams a different look they’ll have to game-plan for. But it’s unlikely the Eagles would spend so much time practicing something they don’t plan on using. It might not happen a lot, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see that look a few times when the Birds open the season in Cleveland.
5. Washburn’s line accounted for 46 of the Eagles’ 50 sacks last season. And with the additions of Fletcher Cox and Vinny Curry, along with the return of a healthy Brandon Graham, the unit has even more talent in 2012.
“I’ll be crushed, hell I’ll quit if we ain’t a whole lot better,” Washburn said. “They need to fire my ass if we ain’t better. We should be a lot better.
“I looked at the first games, all the plays we screwed up on last year, especially the run, and golly, I looked at Atlanta and St. Louis, and it’s painful to watch our technique,” he added. “They didn’t know what I wanted, and I just didn’t do a good job of getting it across. We didn’t have time, it was sort of a mess. No excuse, it’s just life. Other teams were in the same situation, but they know what we want now.”
As I mentioned in Sunday’s post, Washburn and the coaching staff are going to have a lot of decisions to make when they trim the roster down to 53. The defensive line is clearly the deepest part of the roster.
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