Eagles Wake-Up Call: WRs Better Be Ready To Block

Even though he’s the wide receivers coach, Bob Bicknell didn’t need a football during a “teach” period at Monday’s practice.

The emphasis during this particular session was on blocking. It’s an aspect of playing the position that is often overlooked, and it’s not something that shows up in the box score or gets guys big pay checks.

But in Chip Kelly’s system, it’s crucial. Last year, Oregon had 43 runs of 20+ yards. That was No. 1 in the nation. In 2011, the number was 40 (third). And in 2010, 39 (fourth). Spread the defense out, run the football, and hit on big plays. Such a plan requires wide receivers to take care of defensive backs on the outside.

“Obviously, with the different type of stuff that we’re doing, there’s different techniques that you have to work on as opposed to the other techniques that are standard in the west coast offense,” said Jeremy Maclin.

The truth is, Maclin and the Eagles wide receivers were poor blockers in 2012. With a likely emphasis on the run game, wide receiver screens and quick passes, that will have to change in 2013.

The team has given itself more options going forward. The Eagles acquired Arrelious Benn from Tampa, and he’s proven to be a good blocker in the past. On a wide receiver screen to Maclin on Monday, Benn shoved cornerback Bradley Fletcher out of bounds, creating space for his teammate.

The Eagles also have a versatile group of tight ends who are capable of lining up in a variety of different places. For example, you might see Zach Ertz and DeSean Jackson on the same side of the field with the tight end blocking for the speedy wide receiver.

“If they ask you to block, then that’s what you have to do,” Maclin said. “There’s some offenses where they don’t ask guys to block. Some of the greatest receivers of all time never had to block. That’s just how it is.”

Every wide receivers coach in the NFL will say blocking is part of being a complete player. Some really mean it, others not so much.

But if the past is any indication, certain aspects of Kelly’s offense simply won’t work if the wide receivers don’t do their jobs as blockers.

WHAT YOU MISSED

A new documentary will reveal some intriguing stories about Jackson. T-Mac has the scoop.

The offense is in the process of picking up a new way of calling plays.

Find out how you can win tickets to the Eagles Academy For Men.

Interesting comments from Jason Kelce about the difference between Kelly and Andy Reid.

WHAT THEY’RE SAYING

Good take on Brandon Graham from Tommy Lawlor over on IgglesBlitz.com:

The biggest thing I look for in a pass rusher is whether the player is explosive. Graham isn’t. He wins with good burst and great leverage. He is very good with the bull rush. There are some plays when he’s able to get his hands in the chest of the blocker and jolt him. Graham can then get by the blocker. Graham uses the rip move very well, which ties in to his use of leverage. Graham tried spin moves in a couple of games and had mixed results.

One of Graham’s best assets is his motor. He doesn’t give up when initially blocked. He will fight to disengage from the blocker and then will chase the ball all over the field. He makes hustle plays.

Albert Breer of NFL.com offers his impressions from Eagles’ OTAs:

Fourth-round draft pick Matt Barkley made his share of rookie mistakes, throwing into coverage and holding the ball too long. But on throws in which he was locked in and had it right, he flashed fantastic accuracy. And in the long run, that’s important, especially in the style of play preferred by head coach Chip Kelly.

COMING UP

Never a dull moment with this team. We’ll have plenty to get you through the day.

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  • Birds are back baby

    lack of blocking ability/desire and the inability to take a hit means DeSean and Macklin won’t be here beyond this year….I also predict Kelley will quickly tire of watching Celek and Avant drop passes in games . Reuben Franks fat friend is no longer the coach….. GO BIRDS!!!!!

    • chloroformdreams

      So much wrong with what you just said, let’s go ahead and ignore the spelling and grammar errors.

      For one, Jason Avant ended the season with ZERO dropped passes:
      http://www.yardbarker.com/nfl/articles/jason_avant_ended_the_2012_season_with_zero_dropped_passes/12716830

      Two: Brent did drop 7, but he also caught A LOT of hospital passes where he got his bell rung. He was hung out to dry more than even a TE should.

      As for Jackson and Maclin being out in a year if they don’t block? Yea, doubtful. Those guys simply weren’t asked to do things the same way before, they’re both professional and will produce. I could understand being concerned that either of them will be the most proficient blockers ever, but out of here in a year? We don’t have draft picks to waste on our strengths because we’d like our probowl caliber receivers to block a little better.

      • birds are back baby

        keep on dreaming about how good Celek and Avant are because they couldn’t start for a playoff team and will thankfully be history soon.

        • joethomas215

          Avant is the toughest receiver we got, the Celek, wtf are you bitching about

          • birds are back baby

            tough doesn’t equal talent, Avant is an average receiver at best, you love him because Andy Reid told you he was good. I don’t see it. Celek regularly drops balls that hit him in the hands and misses blocks at key times, do you love him because he gives a punkass first down signal even if the team is losing……open your eyes and learn about football before chirping.

          • joethomas215

            I know plenty, Andy ain’t tell me nothing about watching Avant pull down tough catches and take a hit and hold on, he does the dirty work, show some respect instead of rambling your misguided opinions, Avant is a quality 3 receiver, and he blocks. Fake ass Eagles fan.

      • Elliptical Man

        One: I agree that Avant’s issue isn’t drops. It’s age and a lack of speed. For the role he filled in the Reid regime, his hands were enough.

        Two: With the additions of Casey and Ertz, it looks like Celek’s role will at least be reduced.

        Three: It’s been a while since either Jackson or Maclin played like a Pro Bowler. But hey – if you just want to think happy thoughts about your team’s players, have at it. Both of them are candidates to be gone after this season, if only due to their contract situations.

    • http://www.philthycanuck.com/ Adam

      We don’t exactly need them to throw both safeties over their shoulders while blocking a corner and linebacker with his free hands. Sometimes just getting in the way of the corner or safety will be enough. If you ever watched any Eagles games you would have seen DeSean and Maclin out there blocking… no clue where this perception comes from that they don’t, they just were never asked to do it often and they just could definitely use some work. Chip will coach them up.

      • NineseveN

        Precisely. Not every wideout is going to block like Arelious Benn or some of the other monsters in the league (Stephen Hill, second year Jets wideout is a great example of a complete receiver who can do it all, but blocks better than he runs routes or catches right now), but even smaller wideouts like D.Jax and Maclin can still bump and delay a defender or simply force them into another lane of pursuit if (A) they put the effort into it and (B) the coaches design plays that don’t require them to regularly sustain blocks for a play to fully develop. I’m not too worried about (B) since adjusting to the skillsets of his players is Chip’s thing, so as long as everyone puts in the effort and executes what they’re asked to do, the blocking on this team will be leaps and bounds better than it has been in the recent past and will help this offense move the football.

        • JofreyRice

          Stephen Hill came from the triple option at Georgia Tech, if he didn’t block his ass off, he wasn’t playing. Hopefully, our receivers transition into that kind of thing eventually; I think Kelly will provide the “motivation”.

          However, Hill’s inexperience as a receiver is also directly related to his experience as a yellowjacket, as I’m sure you know. I think people are sleeping on him; drafting him in the first round was probably too high, but I think if he puts in the work in developing his route tree and improving his hand catching, he could be a really good player.

          • NineseveN

            I agree, I loved Hill coming into the draft, though I also agree just that he went a bit high. I think he has tremendous potential based on his physical attributes, which our #1 and #2 wideouts don’t really have; however, our guys are fast, solid playmakers with potential to shine in the right offensive situations. So long as Chip doesn’t treat them like 200lb+ wideouts in terms of blocking assignments, I don’t foresee an issue if they commit completely.

            This is one of the reasons I like the Benn pickup, he has a lot of potential. Time will tell if he was handcuffed due to injuries and the situation of the offense he was in or it he’s just another NFL bust.

      • theycallmerob

        Well said. Most of the time, those guys were too busy running fly routes. Casy and Ertz should help too. And I imagine the RBs will be getting more practice with this as well. Forget complex schemes and silly fads; seeing these basics being emphasized really tickles my pickle.

  • chloroformdreams

    Has there been any word on Avant’s current role? I’ve read almost nothing about him and I fear that he may be on the roster bubble. It wouldn’t be disastrous if Benn and Ertz negated any need for Avant, but he has been a good, reliable Eagle for some time now.

    HELP ME SHEIL!!! I’M SO LOST.

    • Jack Waggoner

      He’s competing along with all the other receivers. His fate is not set in stone. Neither is Riley Cooper’s for that matter.

      • chloroformdreams

        Haha I guess I was asking the unanswerable. I just don’t see Riley Cooper making this roster and that’s in no way a knock on him. There is just incredible depth there and some intriguing potential with some of the less polished guys.

        • Richard Colton

          I think Cooper and Benn are fighting for the same roster spot. I don’t know about “incredible depth” at WR. Maclin and Jackson each have a lot to prove this season. After them, there’s a lot question marks.

          • Septhinox

            I don’t think anyone it’s fighting for a “spot”. Kelly will take the best. If that includes Cooper and Benn, so be it.

          • Richard Colton

            Neither one gives you anything as a return man. They essentially Play the same position at WR and ST. Same build. Similar game. It’s hard to see how they both make the team.

          • Septhinox

            Cooper plays STs, I’m not sure avant does. Correct me if I’m wrong.

          • Elliptical Man

            Avant made one of the key blocks on DeSean’s punt return in the Miracle at the New Meadowlands.

          • BrettConnolly

            Avant does, remember that play Marvin McNutt got blocked into the punter because he was spelling Avant?

          • http://www.philthycanuck.com/ Adam

            His one career highlight with the Eagles

            http://big.assets.huffingtonpost.com/eaglespunt.gif

          • Jack Waggoner

            Ultimately it comes down to who are the best guys you want to go to war with. I would definitely go to war with DJax on my side. Maclin, that’s another story.

    • http://www.philthycanuck.com/ Adam

      I think after Maclin and DeSean, it’s truly wide open. No one is safe.

      • Token

        Id like to believe the whole “best players will play” thing will happen. But thats not always how it works in the NFL. Theres other factors involved. The Vick situation kind of shows you Kelly isnt following that notion.

        • http://www.philthycanuck.com/ Adam

          What? Do you actually see anybody past Maclin and DeSean that is clear cut above anyone else?

          And if Vick is splitting reps at 1QB with Foles then what exactly shows that he isn’t following that notion?

      • chloroformdreams

        I tend to agree, if we didn’t pick up Benn I’d think about adding Avant to that list.

    • http://twitter.com/Lez215 Dutch

      Speed kills, Avant days may be numbered because he doesn’t have the speed and Avant can’t get separation out of his cuts.

      • xlGmanlx

        and he had some key drops the past two years. You lose nothing really in production from cutting the avants/coopers/D.T’s of this team to try and get longer and hope you can coach them up.

        • Nick

          He was the only receiver in the league with 0 drops last year and he blocks like a boss. I hope they find room in the roster for him, He’s made so many fantastic catches over the years (and yeah, one or two key drops in 2010/2011) and he blocks so well that I think just his consistency could be an asset. MAN HANDS.

          • http://twitter.com/Lez215 Dutch

            In the end, his blocking in Chips scheme will eventually secure a place for him on this roster. He has soft hands, and lingering in the play when all else fails he is capable of taking down 50 receptions a year. You may not get much after the catch but he is an out when a QB needs one.

          • chloroformdreams

            Just as I was thinking, originally I was worried about his speed and YAC ability but the things that he’s great at are things that Chip values highly (as should all coaches). For all we know, maybe he began some intense speed training once CK was hired.

          • xlGmanlx

            0 was also the amount of TD’s he caught…1 each the 2 years before. Wish him well and cut him now so he can find another team. It would appear he has reached his ceiling, time to move on.

        • http://twitter.com/Lez215 Dutch

          Careful, Avant isn’t speedy, he’s not going to beat many defense out of the slot, but he has excellent hands, and is one of the leagues best blockers at his position.

          Avant gets open late in the play when coverage break down and he for the most part produces when all else fails.

          Blocking and Avant’s hands are enough to secure a place on the roster for his services.

          • xlGmanlx

            pass:

            10 TD’S,259 REC CAREER 1.4/37 AVG, his blocking isn’t that good. Plus a $2.7M cap space for a blocker?

  • Jack Waggoner

    There’s sustained blocking, which I don’t expect from most receivers, and there’s the type of blocking where you’re just trying to turn a guy around to give your running back an extra second or two.

    • chloroformdreams

      Truth, I have seen DJAX inexplicably turn a cb’s shoulders once or twice but I don’t expect it to be consistent or all that effective when he’s expected to be a blocker on a bubble screen, or crackback, or stretch.

      • Jack Waggoner

        Sometimes that little forced change of direction is all the RB needs. And that’s the type of blocking even a little guy can do.

  • Myke Lowery

    “Some of the greatest receivers of all time never had to block. That’s just how it is.” – guess you better start blocking then

    • Septhinox

      Considering that he couldn’t even sniff there jock straps, he better learn to block.

    • http://twitter.com/Lez215 Dutch

      That passage is pretty much the noose tightening around the throat of Maclin.
      Maclin is a better flag football player, his next stop may be the Arena League. He gives nothing in physicality.

    • Justin

      That comment from him really made me raise my brows. It came off like he was complaining that he wasn’t being considered by Kelly one of the greatest receivers, or offended that he’d actually have to block.

      • Myke Lowery

        his interview on Jim Rome today also seemed he wasn’t buying in

  • Mostel

    And the WRs had better be ready to play QB if we run JV / gimmick / fad / flavor of the month read-option because QBs will be going down to injury early and often.

  • JofreyRice

    Interesting take from Lawlor. I haven’t been Graham’s biggest champion, but physical shortcomings aside, he’s been very productive in his opportunities. Trent Cole has a better track record and Barwin has better athletic ability, but neither of them produced as much havoc in the backfield in 2012, in terms of run defense or passrush.

    I’m curious to see if he’ll be given a shot to beat either one of those guys out for a starting OLB spot. Cole’s not guaranteed anything beyond this season, but I suspect he will probably be the favorite to win the Predator ROLB position because of his paycheck. I think out of the two round peg square hole projects, Graham, as a young player, projects better to playing the Predator position, long term.

    They just paid Barwin, who was terrible from the LOLB position last year. Considering how woefully unproductive Barwin’s been, maybe Davis has a more multiple role in mind for the LOLB position, and likes Barwin’s athletic skill set? I haven’t seen Barwin try and man cover TE’s, but I’m assuming he’d be a lot better at it than Graham. In just about every other facet of the game, I prefer Graham.

    • http://www.philthycanuck.com/ Adam

      Check out the article.. Tommy isn’t exactly as high on Graham as that quote makes it seem. He believes he looked great on the stat sheet but that he’s not passing the eye test with flying colors. The fact that he’s starting 2013 as a back up (even though it’s only May) tells you that his tape last year didn’t blow the coaching staff away.

      • JofreyRice

        I don’t disagree that Graham’s not overwhelming from a physical standpoint, or athletically–I hated the pick at the time precisely because he was another undersized “fastball”.

        I would offer though, that he does more than just post #’s on a stat sheet. His play affected games, in a big way. He really looked good against Andre Smith, who may be a better run blocker than pass blocker, but is not terrible in that aspect. He beat up on Doug Free & Tyler Polumbus–Ok, no big accomplishment there. I thought he had a big effect on the Detroit game, against Gosder Cherilous, who got paid this year, and I thought he was good in the Atlanta game–both of those contests in limited snaps. I don’t know he’s going to beat the NFL’s franchise LT’s, but he seems to win the battles he’s supposed to win.

        I’m really just hoping the best players see the field, rather than just the guys that fit Davis’ or Kelly’s archetype. I don’t know that I’m putting Graham even in someone like Lamarr Woodley’s league, but I think Graham was a better football player, week-to-week in 2012 than either Cole or Barwin.

        • http://twitter.com/Lez215 Dutch

          Impressive post.

    • eaglepete

      by Philly fan standards Ingram from the Chargers would already be a bust haha. I think Graham has a lot of upside still but may never live up to where he was picked, still time though.

      • http://twitter.com/Lez215 Dutch

        Graham and Curry both got caught in the Eagles political infighting, which hampered their development and kept both off the field.

    • Jack Waggoner

      One of the hardest things to find for the 4-3 Under is the SAM that can do everything well from pass rushing to covering tight ends. It’s a highly demanding position and those who are thrust in that role are bound to look ineffective because there just aren’t that many guys out there that can do all of these things.

  • JofreyRice

    I wonder if Jeremy has watched AJ Green, Andre Johnson, Roddy White, Demaryius Thomas, Reggie Wayne or little Steve Smith run block in 2012? All those guys helped their offenses by blocking on plays where they weren’t catching the ball. At one point, I thought Maclin brought a fire and competitiveness to the offense, but he’s been soft for the past couple of years. I’m really hoping the regime change brings out the best in him.

    • http://twitter.com/Lez215 Dutch

      Maclin could just watch and monitor Avant. Avant is ranked as one of the better blocking receivers in the league several years running.

      If not for Chip’s desire for speed at the skill positions, Avant could be a big asset to a ground attack dominate offensive scheme.

  • DunedinEagle

    Maclin and Jackson getting physical and blocking?????? When hell freezes ova Chippa! Curious to see how this all shakes out.

  • TJ111

    Kelly’s rule for Oregon receivers: No Block, No Rock!

  • Dr. Rick

    Blocking by receivers is an integral part of the larger Kelly strategy. JM will either embrace downfield blocking or he will not be playing, it is as simple as that. He is a good receiver so I hope he embraces blocking.

    There is so much upside to WRs blocking (protects lanes) with no downside. If he blocks for others they will at some point be blocking for him.

    Come on, Jeremy, stay on that block!