The Eagles’ Depth Chart At Wide Receiver

NFL: NFC Wildcard Playoff-New Orleans Saints at Philadelphia Eagles

We got a request from a reader yesterday to run through the Eagles’ wide receiver depth chart with the guys currently on the roster.

And since we are a blog of the people, we will oblige.

The Eagles currently have nine wide receivers on their roster (that does not include pass-catchers like TE Zach Ertz and RB Darren Sproles).

Below is a player-by-player look at how each guy figures into the team’s 2014 plans. Keep in mind that this outlook will likely change post-draft. Read more »

Eagles Wake-Up Call: Free-Agent Wide Receiver Options

Arrelious BennThe Eagles are getting thin at wide receiver.

First, Jeremy Maclin goes down for the season with a torn ACL, then on Tuesday Arrelious Benn suffers the exact same fate.

As it stands, DeSean Jackson will be relying on Riley Cooper (assuming he is accepted back into the locker room), Jason Avant and Damaris Johnson to help him carry the load. The rest of the group — Nick Miller, Ifeanyi Momah, Will Murphy, Greg Salas and Russell Shepard — have a total of 31 NFL receptions between them. Salas has 27 of them.

When Maclin got hurt, the plan was to search in-house for answers. But the Eagles are running out of options, and will have to take a harder look at the wide receiver market.

“We went through a whole bunch of lists; got boards up,” said Tom Gamble last week. “You’re checking medical, you’re checking background, you’re doing your tape work, you’re making sure multiple people have seen guys. You kind of have that, you see what’s here, and we’re ready to go.

“Most of the guys that are out there have played at a high level, usually there’s a problem, an issue, a medical, something out there that you have to kind of work through.”

A look at the top 10 receivers on the market, per Adam Caplan, and the possible “issues” that the Eagles are working through with them. (Warning: This list isn’t terribly impressive.)

Brandon Lloyd
Age: 32
Height/Weight: 6-0, 200
Lowdown:  The 10-year vet had 74 catches for 911 yards and four touchdowns in New England last season. There are some character concerns. The Patriots reportedly got tired of his behavior in the locker room and the practice field last season.

Laurent Robinson
Age: 28
Height/Weight: 6-2, 205
Lowdown:  Recently had workouts with the Niners and Saints, per reports. Missed nine games with the Jaguars last season because of concussions. Had 54 grabs and scored 11 touchdowns for Dallas in 2011.

Donald Jones
Age: 25
Height/Weight: 6-0, 205
Lowdown: Released by the Patriots on July 19. Has reportedly worked out for a couple teams since being let go but has yet to sign. Had 41 catches for 443 yards and four scores for the Bills last season.

Randy Moss
Age: 36
Height/Weight: 6-4, 210
Lowdown: Had 28 catches and three touchdowns for the Niners last year. Little reason to believe he’ll end up here.

Deion Branch
Age: 34
Height/Weight: 5-9, 195
Lowdown: Had 16 catches in 10 games for New England last season.

Brandon Stokley
Age: 37
Height/Weight: 6-0, 194
Lowdown: Peyton Manning was pushing for the Broncos to re-sign Stokley back in April, but that didn’t happen. Had 45 grabs and scored five times for Denver last season.

Chad Johnson
Age: 35
Height/Weight: 6-1, 192
Lowdown: Has had some legal troubles of late and hasn’t seen regular-season action since 2011.

Jabar Gaffney
Age: 32
Height/Weight: 6-2, 200
Lowdown: Appeared in just three games for Miami last season. He battled some injuries and was also suspended by the NFL for two games.

Roscoe Parrish
Age: 31
Height/Weight: 5-9, 175
Lowdown: Served as a kick and punt returner for Tampa last season. Had no catches.

Brandon Banks
Age: 25
Height/Weight: 5-7, 155
Lowdown: Spent the last three years in Washington. Has 11 career receptions. Also a kick/punt returner.

WHAT YOU MISSED

Great practice observations from Sheil, as always.

More details on Benn’s injury.

Cary Williams mixed it up with a Patriots receiver, and was promptly benched.

Teammates react to Cooper’s return. The receiver hopes he is here to stay.

Some depth chart analysis, courtesy of Mr. Kapadia.

The regular season will be here soon. Arm yourself with the Eagles Almanac.

WHAT THEY’RE SAYING

Ashley Fox gives her thoughts on Cooper’s return.

It was risky for Chip Kelly to decide to bring Cooper back, and ultimately, in time, after the inevitable adversity of the regular season hits, it could prove to be foolish. The players can say what they want now, about how they forgive and can move on for the greater good of the team, but wait and see how they feel in October if the team comes off a three-game road trip and is looking at a 1-5 record. Some players can be happy that Cooper caught a “touchdown” pass in a joint practice with the New England Patriots on Tuesday, but what happens if he shrinks in the spotlight of a regular-season game in a starting role he has never been able to earn and has been given only after the man in front him (Jeremy Maclin) went down with an injury?

Then we’ll know. Then the real feelings will come out. That time is bound to come, and then we’ll know for sure how black players really feel about a white teammate calling another black man the N-word when he thought no one except his white friends was looking.

Bill Belichick sings the praises of Kelly. From Reuben Frank.

“I have so much respect for Chip [Kelly] and what he’s done,” Belichick said. “We’ve been friends for a while and I know he does a great job with this football team and the program that he’s run in Oregon.

“He’s a very innovative, creative guy. He’s got a great mind, he’s smart, and I think he’ll take advantage of whatever resources he can. We’ll see what that is. I’m sure he’ll give us plenty of trouble.”

Former Eagles owner Jerry Wolman has died.

COMING UP

Another practice with the Patriots at 12:30. I think today’s the day Kapadia gets up the courage to shake Tom Brady’s hand.

Arrelious Benn Tears His ACL

Wide receiver Arrelious Benn suffered a torn ACL in his left knee during Tuesday’s practice, the Eagles announced.

Benn returned to practice on Sunday after missing much of training camp with knee issues. Chip Kelly praised him following his first practice back, commending him on his knowledge of the playbook and saying that he “flashed” at times.

Talent is not an issue for Benn but injuries have kept him from taking off in the NFL.

He is the third member of the Eagles to suffer a torn ACL this summer, joining Jeremy Maclin and linebacker Jason Phillips.

The 24-year-old played three seasons for the Bucs, compiling 59 catches for 862 yards and five touchdowns in 37 games.

The Eagles have taken a hit at wide receiver this offseason. When Maclin went down, general manager Howie Roseman suggested that the team would look to the skill position players currently on the roster to help fill the void in the short term. Now that they have lost another member of the receiving corps, you wonder if they start looking more outside of the NovaCare walls for help.

The Eagles also announced that they have released receiver Dave Ball. 

Taking Stock Of the Eagles’ WR Situation

DeSean JacksonWith Jeremy Maclin out for the year and Riley Cooper taking an indefinite leave of absence, the Eagles’ WR group has gone from one of the deeper units on the team to a question mark.

The team could add a player or two in the coming weeks, but given that it’s Aug. 4, there aren’t a lot of attractive options out there. Keeping that in mind, let’s take stock of where the current wide receivers on the roster stand.

DeSean Jackson – After a bit of a bumpy start with Chip Kelly in the spring, Jackson looks locked in, constantly beating Eagles’ defensive backs downfield and hauling in bombs from both Michael Vick and Nick Foles during practice sessions.

“I think he’s an explosive player,” Kelly said. “I think he’s very difficult to cover in one‑on‑one situations.  We’re trying to figure out as we get through what his comfort level is, what routes he feels really good with. I think we’re starting to get a feel for him. Quarterback’s getting a feel for him. Our coaching staff is getting a feel for him. I’m excited about what his future holds with us.”

It’s true that Kelly wants his quarterbacks to get rid of the ball quickly, and the Eagles look like they’ll run plenty of bubble screens to the wideouts. But they have not been shy about chucking it downfield either. When Jackson’s at his best, he’s one of the premier vertical threats in the game. That fact is not lost on Kelly.

Damaris Johnson – With Cooper gone, he took the majority of first-team reps opposite Jackson on Friday. In a small sample size (25.4 percent of the offensive snaps, per Pro Football Focus), Johnson caught 19 balls on 28 targets for 256 yards as a rookie.

But would Mr. “Big people beat up little people” really want to play two starting wide receivers that measure in at 5-10 and 5-8, respectively?

“In the ideal world, no,” Kelly said. “I think I would love everybody to be MegaTron [Calvin Johnson]. If we had five of them, that would be a great situation. Again, that’s why I don’t know.  If we get to September 9 and those are our two best guys, we’re going to play with what we have.”

Johnson has had a good camp and seems to have solidified his grasp on a roster spot, but as Jimmy Kempski has detailed over at Philly.com, the size factor is an issue.

Jason Avant – You know what you’re getting with Avant. Reliable, tough, great hands. But his skills translate as a slot receiver only. Avant’s not posing much of a threat to opposing cornerbacks on the outside. A few weeks ago, I thought he could be a surprise cut. But that seems highly unlikely now.

Arrelious Benn – As the old saying goes, you can’t make the club in the tub.

When the Eagles acquired Benn from the Bucs, he said: “If I’m being honest with you, I don’t like my career. I’ve got to stay healthy. I haven’t stayed healthy. I’ve had a problem with injuries. When I was healthy and out there, I made plays. I was consistent. But the big thing for me is to stay healthy. It’s no secret for me, I know that. I’m going to be honest with myself. Just come in here and do what I’ve got to do.”

Benn has battled a knee injury during the first week of camp and has missed practice time. The truth is, if healthy, he’s got a great opportunity to resurrect what has been a disappointing career. He has size and is a good blocker. On the surface, Benn would be a nice complement to Jackson on the outside. But given how much Kelly values practice time, he faces an uphill battle if he can’t stay healthy.

No option is off the table right now with Benn. He could be starting Week 1. He could be off the team.

Russell Shepard – I had him as my deep sleeper even before camp started, and Shepard has not disappointed this summer. He’s shown great hands, consistency and the ability to line up in a variety of places. Shepard’s performance in the preseason will go a long way in determining his standing on the roster, but based on what we’ve seen so far, Kelly is going to have a really difficult time cutting him.

Ifeanyi Momah – Standing on the sidelines, I overhear a lot of fan conversations during camp practices. And the one guy whose name constantly comes up is Momah.

At 6-7, 239, with 4.40 speed, he’s got the attention of the Eagles’ faithful.

The key with Momah is finding a way to capitalize on those measurables. He hasn’t played in a game in nearly two years, and the speed, specifically, has not shown up on the practice field. I can’t remember having seen Momah run past defenders during any team drills.

Having said that, he had probably his best practice on Friday, making a nice adjustment on a deep ball for a touchdown near the end of practice.

Momah would add an element (size) the other receivers on the roster don’t possess. But he’ll have to prove to the coaches over the next several weeks that he’s worthy of a roster spot.

***

Dave Ball, Nick Miller, Greg Salas and Will Murphy are the other receivers in camp, but they are all longshots to make the roster.

Follow Sheil Kapadia on Twitter and e-mail him at skapadia@phillymag.com.
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The Eagles’ Candidates To Replace Maclin

Riley CooperThe Eagles were dealt their first big blow of the summer, losing Jeremy Maclin for the season with a torn ACL injury Saturday.

Entering the final year of his deal, Maclin was committed to proving his worth on the field this offseason.

“I think Jeremy Maclin has emerged as one of the hardest-working guys on our team,” Michael Vick said last month at Maclin’s football camp in West Deptford, N.J. “You watch him in the weight room, he goes in there and he’s just a different person there. So I think that’ll translate over to the field.”

Instead, Maclin faces surgery and a grueling rehab regimen away from his teammates in the months ahead.

In the past three seasons, Maclin has averaged 67 catches, 893 yards and seven touchdowns. So how will the Eagles replace that production in 2013? Here’s a look at their current options on the roster.

Riley Cooper -  He’s shown flashes of ability, but Cooper (6-3, 222) got a chance for extended playing time last season and didn’t put up great numbers. In the seven games where he played at least 70 percent of the Eagles’ offensive snaps (per Pro Football Focus), Cooper managed a total of 19 catches for 206 yards (29.4 per game) and two touchdowns.

Then again, he was operating in an offense that was a complete mess. Cooper has a few things going for him. Most notably, his size and his ability as a blocker, something Chip Kelly values. Cooper is unlikely to match Maclin’s production, but he’s probably the favorite right now to replace him as a starter.

Damaris Johnson – If Kelly is looking for a yards-after-the-catch guy, Johnson is the best option. He played 25.4 percent of the offensive snaps last year, finishing with 19 catches for 256 yards. But Johnson made the most of his limited action, averaging 5.5 yards after the catch, tops on the team, per PFF. He did not drop a ball and forced five missed tackles.

Johnson might be better suited for a slot role, but last year, 16 of his 19 receptions came while playing on the outside. At 5-8, he’s not going to be as physical a blocker as Cooper, and playing Johnson alongside 5-10 DeSean Jackson would give the Eagles one of the smallest pairs of receivers in the NFL.

Arrelious Benn - The Eagles acquired him from the Bucs this offseason, so Kelly clearly likes Benn’s skill set (All-22 breakdown here). Benn can line up in multiple places, has good size (6-2, 220) and is probably the best blocking wide receiver on the team. But he has not been productive (59 catches) in his first three seasons. Benn has battled injuries in the past and already was dealing with a left knee issue on the first day of camp. If he can stay healthy in the coming weeks, though, he’ll have a chance to compete for playing time.

Ifeanyi Momah – He’s a longshot, but Kelly’s plan is to let the competition play out on the field, so there’s no sense in counting anyone out at this point. The 6-7 wide receiver out of Boston College has a rare blend of size and speed. It’s been nearly two years since he’s played in a real game though. Having him step in and and be a starter right away is probably asking too much. We’ll have a better sense of how Momah’s progressing a few weeks from now.

Zach Ertz/Brent Celek/James Casey – Most observers (present company included) expect the Eagles to use plenty of two tight-end sets. But that doesn’t solve the problem of losing Maclin. Sure, Ertz, Celek and Casey can line up outside on occasion, but that’s not going to happen every play. Even in two tight-end sets, you need two wide receivers on the field. Kelly will mix and match personnel depending on the game-plan and the opponent, but the Eagles still need to find an outside receiver who can line up opposite Jackson.

The others – Jason Avant is a reliable veteran, but he’s a slot receiver and doesn’t pose a threat on the outside. Undrafted free agent Russell Shepard seems best-suited for a slot role too. The other wide receivers on the Eagles’ roster are Greg Salas, Will Murphy, Dave Ball and B.J. Cunningham. They are all longshots to make the roster at this point.

Follow Sheil Kapadia on Twitter and e-mail him at skapadia@phillymag.com.
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Applying ‘Smart Football’ Concepts To the Eagles

While on vacation, I was able to comb back over The Essential Smart Football by Chris B. Brown.

Many of you are familiar with Brown from his Web site and his work on Grantland. If you haven’t checked out the book yet, I highly recommend doing so in the next couple months leading up to the season.

Brown has written extensively on Chip Kelly in the past, so it should come as no surprise that many of the concepts he tackles in his book apply to the 2013 Eagles. Below are some thoughts on four specific concepts that stood out to me.

1. Dick LeBeau, Dom Capers and the zone blitz

When asked this spring which NFL coaches have influenced him the most, Eagles defensive coordinator Billy Davis recalled his first job in the league.

“I would say that Cowher/Capers, and Lebeau was there with us,” he answered.

Davis was a 26-year-old defensive quality control coach on the Pittsburgh Steelers’ staff back in 1992. He was answering to guys like Dick LeBeau, Dom Capers and Bill Cowher, who were bringing the zone blitz to the NFL as a way to combat quick, efficient passing offenses.

The basic idea was to line up in a 3-4, rush five and drop six, with the key being disguising where the pressure came from.

Writes Brown:

To LeBeau, this was the perfect remedy: depending on the coverage you put behind the blitz, you actually were playing a very conservative defense, but the offense thought you were being aggressive, and, depending on how intelligently you deployed your five rushers, you were being aggressive, albeit in a very controlled sense. Controlled chaos, indeed.

The fire zone blitz, which employs three-deep coverage, is in the Eagles’ playbook, although it will be up to Davis to add his own wrinkles to it.

2. Option routes for wide receivers

During teach periods in the spring, wide receivers coach Bob Bicknell would yell out different coverages, and players would be asked to respond with the route they would run.

“Depending on the defense, if the defender’s way back, if we can beat ‘em on the go, then that’s the point,” said DeSean Jackson. “But if not, we’re able to still within the route have the option to stop if the cornerback is bailing for his life to not get beat deep. So it’s really a win for the receiver. Going out there, it’s like you have a double route. So if he’s playing on this route, then I can go to something else.”

In his book, Brown explains how run-and-shoot concepts still are employed by NFL offenses, using Victor Cruz and others as examples:

Drew Brees’s best pass play is four verticals, where the receivers can adjust on the fly – a ‘shoot’ staple; the Patriots use a plethora of option routes, where receivers are given freedom to get open and break in any direction they want; and even Peyton Manning’s great Colts offenses frequently asked receivers to read routes on the fly.

Arrelious Benn explained that pretty much every team has option routes built in. But when I asked him how prevalent they are under Kelly, he said, “The majority of plays. I mean, basically it’s built into our offense and it’s just what we do.”

3. The one-word no-huddle

This one should come as no surprise. As has been reported, Kelly met with Bill Belichick multiple times before the Patriots incorporated this concept.

“We have some plays that are just one word, and certain letters in the word kind of tells you what you have,” said LeSean McCoy last month. “I don’t think it’s that hard. I picked it up pretty fast.”

Jeremy Maclin agreed.

“It’s a lot easier than people think it is,” Maclin said. “It’s just different. Guys haven’t seen it before. It’s just like learning a regular playbook. It’s just different terminology, the way they communicate is different. So it’s not really that it’s that difficult, it’s just foreign to a lot of people.”

Brown devotes one chapter to Tom Brady and the Patriots’ no-huddle:

Modern defenses want to match offenses in terms of strength and speed via personnel substitutions. They also want to confuse offenses with movement and disguise. The up-tempo no-huddle stymies those defensive options. The defense doesn’t have time to substitute, and it’s also forced to show its hand: it can’t disguise or shift because the quarterback can snap the ball and take advantage of obvious, structural weaknesses. And when the defense is forced to reveal itself, Tom Brady can change into a better play.

The Eagles of course don’t have Brady running the show, but whoever ends up winning the quarterback competition will be expected to make good, quick decisions and take advantage of the vulnerabilities of the defense.

4. The hybrid offensive weapon

Kelly has made it clear that this is what he’s looking for. He’s a big fan of tight ends because of their versatility and the matchup problems they can present to the defense. The Eagles signed James Casey early in free agency and spent a second-round pick on Stanford’s Zach Ertz.

Brown writes about hybrid offensive weapons and the Patriots’ past use of two tight ends:

And this is just one example of what has become a necessity for NFL offenses as defenses have gotten, well, weirder; you must have players who can dictate terms back to the defense by presenting odd matchup problems.

Unpredictability is the key. Is a play a run or a pass? Which direction is it going? How will it work? These hybrid weapons give offenses options in ways that even great players with more specific skills and roles cannot. They simplify defenses by making them uncertain.

Of course, it’s easy to say a guy can line up all over the formation. But the key is how effective he is in those different roles. That’s what Kelly and his staff will have to determine this summer and during the first part of the season.

Follow Sheil Kapadia on Twitter and e-mail him at skapadia@phillymag.com.
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Twitter Mailbag: Wide Receiver Edition

Every Thursday we select a few of your Twitter questions and provide the long-form answers they deserve. For a chance to have your question published on Birds 24/7, send it to @Tim_McManus.

Eagles fans seem to have wide receivers on the brain on this fine June day. So let us talk wide receivers.

From @EaglesJake: who has a better chance to make the final roster: Avant or Cooper?

Tough one, but I would say Jason Avant. 

I think both have skill sets that are appealing to Chip Kelly. Maybe they aren’t explosive receivers but they’re willing to get their hands dirty, whether that means blocking downfield or contributing on special teams. That will work in their favor with this coach. I’ve noticed Kelly and Riley Cooper interacting a good bit during practice; there seems to be a solid rapport there.

What separates Avant is his leadership. He has long been regarded as one of the top character guys on the team. I would imagine a new coach would want his young guys exposed to a veteran like Avant, who can set a good example of how to approach the game. We have already seen him take Russell Shepard under his wing.

“Anything I can do to help [younger players], whether that’s catching JUGS or showing them things in the film room, correcting ‘em on the field, just life examples, all those kinds of things.”

Kelly is trying to establish a certain culture, and I think Avant can help him in that respect.

From @brookman_doug: does it seem like DJax is just messing around constantly?

DeSean Jackson can’t be painted with a single brush. He is a complex character and a pretty fascinating study. If you are just going off Instagram or Twitter, then you’ll probably associate Jackson with Jaccpot and Vegas and frivolous spending. If you see him in the locker room during the season, you may be greeted with a scowl and a cold shoulder. If you watch the documentary, you will see a kid that has been rigorously training for this job since he was in Pop Warner, and realize that his family pushed him really hard.

If you saw him at the screening of his brother’s movie a couple weeks back, you would notice that his scowl was nowhere to be found, and that his rebel image gave way to that of a considerate, thoughtful family man. You would have witnessed him throwing his arm around Tom Seagraves, who is in the middle of a battle with pancreatic cancer, while offering him words of encouragement.

So no, I don’t think Jackson messes around constantly. I think he messes around, sometimes too much. I think he is the rebel, and the family man; the kid who loves the game and the kid who feels burdened by it. He has all sorts of sides to him.

From @AdamSmith1814: what eagles reciever has the best looking hands/finger nails on the depth chart.

Avant has the best hands. Will Murphy wins the cuticle battle, without question.

From @KhandymanSports: Among the wide receivers lower on the depth chart (Momah, Shepard, Benn) who do you see making the team and where do they fit?

Out of those three, I would guess Arrelious Benn has the best chance of making the roster. As Sheil points out, he could distinguish himself as the best blocking receiver of the bunch. He is 24, has some versatility to his game and can be a contributor on special teams. Assuming he stays healthy, he might fit the bill for Kelly.

Shepard is interesting. I wonder if he can develop fast enough to claim a roster spot. I haven’t been wowed by Ifeanyi Momah yet, but who knows? Maybe he impresses at camp. It will be fun watching this group compete this summer.

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Eagles Wake-Up Call: Benn Adjusts To New Surroundings

Chip Kelly has made it clear that the coaches can only go so far with their evaluations in the spring.

“We have an understanding of their athletic ability and how they run, change direction and things like that,” Kelly said. “But there are still a lot of things to be evaluated when you put the pads on. It’s still a physical game. A lot of guys look great in shorts and T‑shirts, then they disappear when you put the pads on. So we have an evaluation in terms of athletic ability, how fast some guys are, their ability to change direction and things like that. But until we get the pads on, we can’t tell.”

And that’s just fine with Arrelious Benn.

The Eagles acquired the 6-2, 220-pound wide receiver for his physicality and versatility. After three disappointing seasons in Tampa, the 24-year-old now has an opportunity to follow through on the potential he showed at the high school and college levels.

“[I'm] in a great place, as far as retaining the offense and getting down all the little things I need to do,” Benn said. “There’s still some things I need to clean up and get better with, dealing with a new system, but overall, I feel pretty good.”

Like the rest of the Eagles’ wide receivers, Benn lined up in a variety of spots this spring. Once training camp starts and the pads come on, chance are he’ll distinguish himself as the best blocking wide receiver on the roster (All-22 breakdown here).

“I know every position because you could be lined up anywhere,” Benn said. “It’s not just on the outside or the inside, you could be anywhere.”

Benn has several other factors going for him too. Kelly gave Howie Roseman specific traits he was looking for at each position. And the personnel staff obviously identified those traits in Benn. While he didn’t live up to expectations in Tampa, Benn still averaged 6.6 yards after the catch in 2011, which ranked 11th in the league according to Pro Football Focus.

After dealing with injuries during his first three seasons, he feels fortunate to have a fresh start with Kelly.

“He’s a guy that genuinely cares about players,” Benn said. “He cares about how we are, how we train, the type of food we put in our bodies and basically, just wants everybody to be great no matter who you are.

“I’m blessed to be playing here. I’m blessed to be playing for him and this organization.”

WHAT YOU MISSED

Matt Barkley signed his rookie deal Thursday.

T-Mac addresses the “team unity” question in his Twitter Mailbag.

The Eagles released some details for fans who want to attend training camp.

According to a report, Texas A&M’s Kevin Sumlin was on the Eagles’ radar when they were looking for a new head coach.

McManus catches up with Evan Mathis.

WHAT THEY’RE SAYING

Geoff Mosher of CSNPhilly.com offers five Eagles observations:

The lack of pads makes it next to impossible to judge the development of the offensive line and running game, but noticeable was the number of quick screens and hitch passes that the offense worked on at practice. Perhaps this is Kelly’s remedy for the two-deep defenses the Eagles have seen ad nauseam since DeSean Jackson’s prolific 2009 season. Hit ’em with the short stuff, force ’em to bring the safeties in, then hit ’em deep. Should be a big season for Jackson and Jeremy Maclin if the offense functions the way Kelly envisions it. Oh, and by the way, the two-tight end formation talk wasn’t hyperbole. There were plenty of two-tight end formations at camp.

Tommy Lawlor takes a look at special teams in his column for PhiladelphiaEagles.com:

Too often, I would see Eagles blockers being shoved backward on returns when I would go back and study the tape. I would then watch a punt or kickoff and see players getting blocked. This is simply unacceptable. You can’t demand that your kickers be perfect or returners be fast, but you can sure as heck expect the blocking/coverage units to be tough and physical. That is the foundation of all special teams.

Fipp must find players who want to run downfield and kick some butt. What I saw last year simply can’t happen again. Players must understand that special teams are not optional. This is a critical part of the game. You play well or else we’ll find someone who will.

COMING UP

We’ll look at three things we’ve learned about the Eagles’ defense this spring.

Follow Sheil Kapadia on Twitter and e-mail him at skapadia@phillymag.com.
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Projected Depth Chart: Eagles’ Offense

We went over the defense yesterday.

Here is the projected depth chart for the Eagles’ offense, based on what we saw during spring practices. Explanations below.

 
First Team
Second Team
Third Team
QBMichael Vick/Nick FolesMichael Vick/Nick FolesMatt Barkley
RBLeSean McCoyBryce BrownChris Polk
LTJason PetersDennis KellyEd Wang
LGEvan MathisDanny WatkinsNate Menkin
CJason KelceDallas ReynoldsMatt Tennant
RGTodd HerremansAllen BarbreMatt Kopa
RTLane JohnsonDennis KellyMatt Tobin
TEBrent CelekZach ErtzJames Casey
WRDeSean JacksonDamaris JohnsonGreg Salas
WRJeremy MaclinRiley CooperIfeanyi Momah
WRJason AvantArrelious BennRussell Shepard

Quarterback: You can view it as a cop-out, but really this is the most accurate way to rank them. Vick and Foles split first-team reps at every practice I attended. I know some people charted overall reps, but that can be a bit deceiving. For example, if a quarterback throws a 50-yard touchdown on the first play of a drill, he generally comes off. That’s only one rep, but it’s a successful one. The same thing happens if the quarterback throws an interception.

Expect Vick and Foles to continue the back-and-forth well into the preseason. Chip Kelly wants to see how each guy responds when faced with the possibility of getting crushed by an opposing defensive player. He has plenty of tape to go off of, but Kelly needs to see how each quarterback handles the new concepts he and his coaching staff have implemented.

Barkley appears to be a clear No. 3 at this point, but I’m not ready to rule anything out.

Kelly has said consistently that the competition will play itself out on the field, and the best performer will be named the starter. His track record at Oregon suggests that’s one of his core beliefs and not just lip service.

Settle in. I wouldn’t expect a winner to be announced until close to that Week 1 matchup against the Redskins.

Running back: McCoy and Brown both figure to see plenty of action in this offense.

Behind them, Polk, Felix Jones and undrafted free agent Matthew Tucker will be competing for roster spots. Polk has dropped weight from a year ago and seemed to be ahead of the other two during spring practices.

Jones provides versatility and could have a leg up if he can be effective as a returner and stay healthy.

Since the Eagles don’t have a fullback on the roster, they could potentially keep four running backs.

Wide receiver: This was a tough one. You’ll notice that the depth chart I’m using features “11″ personnel, or one running back, one tight end and three wide receivers.

Avant is a difficult player to evaluate in this scheme. He doesn’t have exceptional size or speed, but he catches anything near him and is the toughest receiver on the roster. Avant is also someone who can set an example for younger players. He’s already taken Sheppard under his wing this offseason.

Benn is not exclusively a slot receiver, even though I put him behind Avant. He was a disappointment in Tampa, but has a versatile skill set. Benn’s chance to prove himself will come in the summer when the pads are on. He’s probably the best blocker among this group.

Cooper and Johnson return from last year’s squad and will have to earn spots. Johnson improved throughout the course of his rookie season and showed the ability to make plays after the catch. He’s also in the mix as a return man. Cooper didn’t do much when given the opportunity to start last year, but he has good measurables and is only 25.

Sheppard looked good during the spring, and Momah’s size (6-foot-7) is intriguing.

This is a crowded position with players with different skill sets. We’ll find out a lot about what Kelly is looking for from his wide receivers after the roster is trimmed down to 53.

Tight end: The depth chart here is a bit misleading. By all accounts, the Eagles are expected to use a lot of two tight-end sets under Kelly. I still think Celek will play the most snaps this season, but he could be on the field with Ertz or Casey quite a bit.

Ertz missed spring practices because of the NCAA graduation rule. And Casey spent several practices on the bike, following arthroscopic knee surgery .

Left tackle/right tackle: Peters has drawn glowing reviews from coaches and teammates, and Johnson has taken over as the starting right tackle.

Kelly looks to be the favorite to be the first backup at both spots (which is why he’s listed twice). He doesn’t appear to have a lot of competition.

Left guard/right guard: Mathis missed time with an ankle injury, but returned last week. Herremans makes the switch to right guard from right tackle.

In terms of depth, Barbre and Watkins are vying for the first backup guard spot.

Center: Kelly has praised Kelce for being in the building rehabbing all offseason. The third-year center is coming off of ACL surgery, but participated in team drills for the first time last week. He’s expected to be fully cleared by training camp.

The backup spot is up for grabs. Reynolds and Tennant are both in the mix.

Follow Sheil Kapadia on Twitter and e-mail him at skapadia@phillymag.com.
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Eagles Depth Chart Outlook: Wide Receiver

This is the seventh in a series. Click here for the earlier depth chart posts.

It’s a period of change for the Eagles’ wide receivers: new coaches, new scheme, new routes and uncertainty at quarterback.

Chip Kelly’s offense will require them to block, not only in the run game, but for each other on screens and quick throws. They’ll face a new mental challenge as well, with an increase in option routes that call for the receivers to adjust based on the coverage.

Several familiar names return, including DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, Jason Avant, Damaris Johnson and Riley Cooper.

New faces such as Arrelious Benn and Ifeanyi Momah have entered the fray. Benn was acquired in a trade with the Bucs, and Momah is a 6-foot-6 target who signed on as an undrafted free agent out of Boston College.

Others on the roster include: Russell Shepard, B.J. Cunningham, Will Murphy, Nick Miller and Greg Salas.

Here’s a look at all the wide receivers:

 
Height
Weight
Age
Years/Starts
Jason Avant6-0212307/38
Arrelious Benn6-2220243/24
Riley Cooper6-3222253/10
B.J. Cunningham6-2215231/0
DeSean Jackson5-10175265/70
Damaris Johnson5-8175231/1
Jeremy Maclin6-0198254/57
Nick Miller5-9180260/0
Ifeanyi Momah6-6229230/0
Will Murphy6-2193230/0
Greg Salas6-1209242/0
Russell Shepard6-1195220/0

Pencil ‘em in: Jackson, Maclin.

I’ve only got two in this group.

In his first three years in the league, Jackson scored seven non-receiving touchdowns on carries and punt returns. In the last two years, that number has been zero.

Early indications are that he’s going to get more of a chance to do those things and will be moved around the formation. But Jackson’s greatest skill is still his ability to stretch the defense on vertical routes. He hasn’t been effective on wide receiver screens in the past, but he’ll certainly get a chance to pick up yards after the catch on those in this offense.

Maclin is in a contract year. Chances are he’ll go into Week 1 without a new deal. Maclin has flashed his ability on several occasions in his first four seasons, but he has yet to put everything together. He’s averaged over 67 catches per season since 2010 and will get a chance to make plays with the ball in his hands in this offense.

Fighting for spots: Avant, Benn, Cooper, Johnson, Momah, Cunningham, Murphy, Miller, Salas, Shepard.

As you can see, plenty of competition with this group. But there are favorites.

Benn has an excellent chance to stick. He was added after the Eagles hired Kelly and brings a diverse skill set (All-22 breakdown here) with the ability to block and play special teams. A former second-round pick, Benn was a disappointment in Tampa, but seems like an ideal candidate to provide depth to this unit.

On Monday, Avant was the last player off the field. After practice, he spent extra time feeding the JUGS machine for Shepard, an undrafted free agent. By all accounts, he’s as good a teammate as there is in that locker room.

But Avant is 30 and is no lock to make the squad. He’s been a reliable slot receiver with great hands, but does not offer much in the speed or size categories. Avant has gotten some looks on defense from the coaching staff. Kelly will have to decide whether he’s a valuable veteran or whether the team is better served giving a younger guy a shot.

Johnson averaged 5.5 yards after the catch last year, according to Pro Football Focus. That was tops on the team. It was a small sample size (19 catches), but he was productive in spurts and also improved as a punt returner. Johnson is far from a lock, but he has a decent chance of sticking around.

Because of Jackson’s injury, Cooper got a chance to prove himself last year. He played more than 70 percent of the offensive snaps in the final seven games, according to Pro Football Focus, but did not impress, totaling 206 yards on 19 catches (29.4 yards per game). But Cooper has a good size/speed profile and can play special times. He’ll be very much in the competition for a roster spot.

Perhaps the most intriguing player in this group is Momah. We wrote about him last week. He’s the biggest target among Eagles wide receivers and has been at the NovaCare Complex honing his craft for the last month. With his size and speed, Momah could be a nice option to create matchup problems and line up in different spots across the formation. But he’ll have to prove himself worthy of a roster spot this summer.

Cunningham, Shepard, Salas, Murphy and Miller are longshots. Among those names, Shepard, an undrafted free agent out of LSU, has the best chance of making an impression.

The guess is Kelly will keep five or six receivers. That could mean choosing three or four from the following group: Avant, Benn, Cooper, Johnson and Momah.

In other words, spots will be up for grabs during training camp.

Follow Sheil Kapadia on Twitter and e-mail him at skapadia@phillymag.com.
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