How the Eagles Package the Zone Read And Bubble Screen

Back in early June, Chip Kelly sat at the head of a conference table in the NovaCare Complex and spent a full hour answering reporters’ questions about his program, his offensive scheme and his philosophies.

Not surprisingly, the topic of tempo was brought up. And the first-year Eagles’ head coach tried to explain that he didn’t always want to go at a super-fast speed.

“If they didn’t line up right and they have nine guys standing over there and you have a play called that’s going to run into those nine guys, then maybe playing fast wasn’t the smartest thing to do,” Kelly said. “Sometimes you need to let things get settled down and get an opportunity to make sure that you’ve got the right look.

“A lot of things we’re doing, we’re trying to throw it versus the best-located safety. Well, we better make sure we locate the safeties before we snap the football. Do we want to run it at one guy or run away from another guy? You’ve got to make sure some of those things you can see before you start it. It’s just not all driven on let’s see how many plays we can get run.”

While the truth is the Eagles are going to move quickly, Kelly’s response serves as the foundation for much of what he wants to do offensively: spread the field out, look for a numbers advantage and count on the quarterback to make the right decisions.

After the first preseason game, we showed how the Eagles scored two touchdowns on what was essentially the same play, a run-pass option out of a double-stack formation.

Against Carolina, we saw a similar idea executed over and over and over again. It combined the zone read with a bubble screen out of a 3×1 formation (three receivers to one side, one to the other).

The first time we saw this play was on 2nd-and-14 during the Eagles’ first offensive possession. Let’s start with the look:

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The Eagles have Chris Polk in the backfield. Jason Avant, Brent Celek and DeSean Jackson are set up to the right. Riley Cooper is the lone receiver to the left.

Pre-snap, you can see the Eagles have a numbers advantage: three receivers against two defensive backs. The safety to that side of the field is deep, 15 yards off the line of scrimmage.

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You can see the Eagles have the zone read option. If this were a straight running play, Nick Foles would read the unblocked defensive end and either hand the ball off to Polk or keep it himself.

But it’s not a straight running play. It’s a run/pass option. And because he noticed the numbers advantage to the perimeter, he pulls the ball and targets Avant, who has a couple blockers set up in front of him.

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“You’re looking for numbers,” Foles explained. “Anybody can look and say, ‘OK, you’ve got five guys blocking, there’s five guys in the box. It’s a good box.’ If they try and bring something, you’ve gotta do something else because we can’t block everyone, so it just gives you other options away from running the ball right into the extra defenders.”

On the perimeter, it’s essentially three receivers against two defenders. The only unblocked player to that side of the field is the deep safety, and he’s coming from a depth of 16 yards off the line of scrimmage. The truth is Avant is probably the Eagles’ slowest wide receiver. And Jackson gave good effort here, but he is not a great blocker. Still, the play picked up 10 yards, and the offense went from 2nd-and-14 to a manageable 3rd-and-4.

One reason the Eagles are able to play fast and carry out their fakes so well is because the decision is solely in the hands of the quarterback. Polk, who was in the backfield on the above play, didn’t know he wasn’t getting the ball until the last second when Foles pulled it.

“We never know,” Polk said. “There’s just some times where they pull it, we’re still running through the hole because we’re expecting to get it, but you never really know when he’s gonna pull it. You’ve just gotta react and carry out the fake.”

The Eagles ran the same play with Matt Barkley in the third quarter. Here’s the pre-snap look. The key is the Panthers sneak a seventh defender, a defensive back, into the box. The TV camera had a great up-close shot of Barkley looking at the DB right before the ball was snapped.

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That gives the Eagles a 3-on-2 advantage with the bubble screen.

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And this time, they have Damaris Johnson running behind blocks from Clay Harbor and Zach Ertz, essentially two tight ends (even though Harbor is technically practicing at receiver).

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Panthers linebacker A.J. Klein actually makes a nice play here, eventually chasing Johnson down, but not until he’s already picked up 15 yards.

“It’s just an extension of the run game to where we’re getting 10 yards, 15 yards on those bubbles and the defense can’t cover both,” Barkley said. “So it puts them in a bind.”

Again, Johnson just does what he’s supposed to, regardless of Barkley’s decision. Sometimes the quarterback is going to throw it his way. Other times, it’s going to be a run. The offensive line simply blocks for the run. Because it’s going to be a quick throw, failing to hold their blocks and giving up a sack is a non-issue.

“Whatever the quarterback thinks,” Johnson said. “I’m just going out and running the routes. I’m not reading the defense. I’m just trying to be out there. If he throws me the ball, I have to catch it and make a big play.”

Wide receiver Jeff Maehl, whom the Eagles acquired from the Texans last week, ran variations of this play hundreds of times while he was playing for Kelly at Oregon.

“If we’ve got more numbers than them, that’s a no-brainer,” Maehl said. “It’s based on what Coach Kelly wants to do and based on what the quarterback’s seeing.

“We try and put the defense in a situation where they really can’t win. That’s kind of what this offense is all about, just giving us the advantage wherever it may be and taking what the defense gives us.”

The non-screen option is to run the zone-read. In these instances, the quarterback is making two decisions. First, he’s deciding whether to throw the screen. If he’s not going that route, he’s deciding whether to hand the ball off or keep it himself, depending on how the unblocked defender reacts.

Here’s what we saw from Barkley later in the third quarter.

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You can see the Panthers have three defensive backs on the Eagles’ three receivers, so there’s no numbers advantage with the bubble screen.

The Eagles have five offensive linemen against six defenders in the box. But since this is a zone read, they leave the right defensive end unblocked. The threat of Barkley running is meant to occupy or “block” him.

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The play only picked up 3 yards because the linebacker got past right guard Matt Tennant, but you can see how the design works.

“It’s all based upon how the defensive player that we’re reading is playing,” said Jason Kelce. “If the defensive player that we’re reading stays inside the box or goes with the run play, now we’re gonna be minus hats on the run. He’s gonna do something on the perimeter or something else at a different spot. If we have numbers on the run play, we’re gonna take advantage of that.”

Todd Herremans made an interesting comment when asked about what’s impressed him about Kelly so far.

“I think the flow and the way that he calls the game is really good,” Herremans said. “It seems like you’re always setting up the next play, which I think is smart.”

That brings us to one final variation, which we saw in the fourth quarter of last week’s game. Here, the Eagles again have trips to the right side.

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At first glance, it seems like they’re running the same play.

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But there are differences. This is a straight pass play off a fake handoff, not an option play. The offensive linemen are pass-blocking, and there is no unblocked defender for the zone read. However, it still appears to be a bubble screen, something the Panthers’ defense had been seeing all night.

While Harbor and Greg Salas initially set up for the blocks, and Barkley looks at Johnson, this is just a fake. Harbor and Salas sidestep the defenders and take off on vertical routes.

Wish we had the All-22 here, but as you can see, suddenly the Panthers only have one safety against two Eagles receivers going deep.

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Barkley’s pass goes right through Harbor’s hands. Otherwise it’s a big play.

Even though it’s an incompletion, it’s a play on film that other teams will see, making defensive backs think twice before charging the line of scrimmage and attacking the bubble screen.

***

Pat Shurmur has coached in the NFL for 14 years. But the Eagles’ offensive coordinator is now getting an up-close view of how offenses are changing, and he appreciates what the Eagles are trying to accomplish.

“You know, in the old days, the audible systems used to be to get you out of a bad play, not necessarily get you into the best play,” Shurmur explained. “And then there are offenses where you’ve got run/pass options.  You’re just trying to do what’s best. I think all offenses have certain percentage where you want it, or if it presents itself, you throw it. We just package it up a little different, that’s all.”

As we noted last week, there’s a growing buzz among Eagles’ offensive players, who seem to be buying into Kelly’s methods, specifically the run/pass option plays and the tempo.

“It’s a lot of pressure [on a defense] because we feel like no matter what you guys do, we’re gonna make you wrong,” Polk said. “You put too many in the box, we’re gonna throw it out. You stack the outside, the box is always gonna work. So it’s gonna be real interesting to see how people play us, but as of right now, we’ve just gotta make them wrong no matter what they do.”

Added Harbor: “It puts a ton of pressure on them. It really comes down to numbers. If they have too many guys inside, we’re gonna throw it. If they have too many guys outside, we’re gonna run it. Whatever they do, we win.”

***

For more on the “packaged play” concept, be sure to check out Chris Brown’s terrific piece on Grantland.

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Eagles-Panthers Game Review: The Offense

Below is a position-by-position review of how the Eagles’ offense looked against the Panthers, after having reviewed the game.

* Note: Snap counts are courtesy of Pro Football Focus.

QUARTERBACKS

* It was an up-and-down performance for Nick Foles. He played 19 snaps, fumbled twice (recovered both) and threw one interception. On the other hand, he was 6-for-8 for 53 yards. In four preseason drives, Foles has led the offense to a pair of touchdowns, but has turned it over twice. On the first drive, Foles showed good anticipation on this throw to Riley Cooper.

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You can see Cooper has a defensive back all over him when Foles releases the ball. But the throw is put on the money where only Cooper can catch it.

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Later in the quarter, Foles kept the ball on an option play and picked up 6 yards. He also made a smart decision in taking off on the 7-yard touchdown. Through two games, Foles looks capable of running the offense and has made good decisions for the most part. Even the interception in the end zone was more bad execution than bad decision-making.

* There’s no denying that Michael Vick brings a dynamic element to the offense. Through his first four preseason drives, he was 12-for-13 (92.3 percent) for 190 yards (14.6 YPA). Vick also had two rushes for 20 yards and had not been sacked. On the final drive at the end of the first half Thursday night, he was finally sacked and threw an up-for-grabs interception. But there’s no denying that he looks comfortable in Chip Kelly’s offense. Vick is averaging a whopping 13.3 yards per attempt, compared to 7.1 for Foles.

He looked patient, poised and accurate on a 15-yard strike to Jason Avant on 3rd-and-12. And Vick threw a laser to Emil Igwenagu for 15 more. He avoided a rusher, rolled to his left and delivered to Cooper for 22 yards in the second.

Is there room for improvement? Sure. It looked like Vick was late on a throw to DeSean Jackson on a corner route near the sideline. And he still seems to absorb awkward hits every time he takes off and runs. But if this really was an open competition, Vick is the winner through two games.

* I did not review the fourth quarter, but Matt Barkley went 8-for-14 for 72 yards. He made a nice throw to Zach Ertz in between defenders for 21 yards in the third. Overall, though, too many throws that seem to get his receivers crushed. Don’t know if that’s an arm strength issue, a timing issue or something else. But it’s something to keep an eye on in the final two games.

RUNNING BACKS

* If the offensive line stays healthy, LeSean McCoy is going to have a monster year. He looked great, carrying eight times for 47 yards and catching three balls for 16. McCoy has been up-and-down with his blitz pickup in the past, but he looked excellent in that aspect vs. Carolina. Take a look at the first play of the game:

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The defensive back is going to blitz untouched from Foles’ back side. McCoy has to recognize him inching up pre-snap, then carry out the fake handoff and then stone the pass-rusher. Not an easy play, but he executes his blocking assignment flawlessly.

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McCoy did a great job here of finishing the play too, carrying out his block deep into the end zone until the whistle blew.

As a runner, he showed his usual wiggle. On the first series, the Eagles ran the read-option, and even though the defensive end crashed inside, McCoy made him miss and picked up 8. He juked linebacker Luke Kuechly on 3rd-and-4 to pick up 5. And of course, everyone saw the 21-yard highlight where he made most of the Panthers’ defense look silly.

* Chris Polk mixed in with McCoy on the first series and had runs of 5 and 7 yards. Later, he did a great job of running through a Kuechly arm tackle for a 12-yard pickup, but the play was brought back because of a holding call. Polk, of course, had the costly fumble with the team driving. Other than that, he played pretty well, carrying five times for 24 yards.

WIDE RECEIVERS

* It looks like the Eagles are going to be content taking the underneath stuff if defenses guard against the deep ball with DeSean Jackson. On this 12-yard completion in the second, you’ll see the Panthers have only one safety deep, and it’s to the other side of the field.

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That means the corner opposite Jackson is bailing at the line of scrimmage. He can’t afford to get beat deep. Jackson runs a simple comeback route and gets a huge cushion. Easy throw for Vick and a 12-yard pickup.

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Jackson had two catches for 28 yards. And while he’ll never be the best blocking receiver in the game, I thought he gave good effort in that aspect.

* Jason Avant was his reliable self, picking up 10 on a bubble screen in the first, flashing great hands for an 11-yard grab on third down and picking up 15 on a 3rd-and-12. Same ole, same ole. Nothing to see here.

* Good job by Riley Cooper turning into a blocker on Foles’ touchdown run. He also did a nice job of coming back to the ball for a 22-yard catch from Vick in the second.

* If preseason is any indication, the Eagles are going to be massively improved on special teams. Damaris Johnson made a great cut on his 18-yard punt return in the first, making a pair of Panthers defenders look silly. In the third, he picked up 15 on a bubble screen, running behind Zach Ertz and Clay Harbor. And Johnson went up in between defenders for a 7-yard gain in the third. Overall, four catches on five targets for 21 yards.

TIGHT ENDS

* Zach Ertz only had two balls thrown his way, but he made nice grabs on both of them. One was a sliding 15-yard catch on the first possession. The other was a 21-yard pickup from Barkley in the third.

* Brent Celek only had one catch for 6 yards, but he and Allen Barbre did a good job with their double-team on Polk’s 5-yard run in the first.

* In case you missed it, we posted a No-22 breakdown of how the Eagles used 4-TE packages to their advantage.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN

* The Eagles’ five starters played the entire first half together (40 snaps) and looked great. Let’s start with the rookie. Lane Johnson had two issues in pass protection. On one, Vick got away from the defensive end and made a nice play. On the other, Johnson gave up a sack. Other than those two plays, though, he was really good. Johnson showed his athleticism getting to the linebacker on McCoy’s 8-yard run. He was good in protection on Foles’ 15-yard completion to Ertz and picked up a blitzing cornerback on Vick’s first throw.

McCoy’s 21-yard run probably presented a learning moment for Johnson. After initially executing his assignment, he sees McCoy on the other side of the field, probably figures his work is done and decides he can get ready for the next play.

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But after breaking a couple ankles, McCoy reverses field, and Johnson realizes he better kick it into high gear and help out his running back.

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Granted, McCoy’s already going down, but Johnson finally finds someone to hit, about 28 yards downfield.

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Gotta like that (eventual) hustle.

* We criticized Todd Herremans in this space last week, but he was probably the Eagles’ best offensive lineman vs. Carolina. Good job pulling on Polk’s 7-yard run. Really nice job getting to the linebacker on McCoy’s 7-yard red-zone run in the first. Pulled again and got to the linebacker on McCoy’s 21-yard run. I also thought the holding call against him was bogus.

* The Allen Barbre pickup is looking like a good one. He showed a lot of improvement this week. I didn’t see Barbre give up a hurry all night long. He showed good athleticism on the double-team with Celek on Polk’s 5-yard run in the first. And did a good job again on McCoy’s 7-yard run. Barbre had an issue with the defensive end on a McCoy run that got stuffed at the line, but overall, he played well. He looks like a competent, versatile backup lineman through two preseason games.

* Jason Kelce and Evan Mathis each had a couple issues, but played well overall. Kelce got to Kuechly on McCoy’s 8-yard run in the first. And he did a great job on the linebacker on Polk’s 12-yard run. In the first, he nearly got pushed back into McCoy on a red-zone run. Mathis might have let his defender through too early on a screen that was blown up in the first. He also had some trouble on the play where McCoy was stopped for no gain. Good blocks by Mathis on Polk’s 7-yard run and 12-yard run.

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Eagles-Patriots Game Review: The Offense

Lane JohnsonWe went over a couple specific offensive concepts on Saturday, and you can click here for a breakdown of the defense.

But below is a position-by-position look at how the offense performed, after having reviewed the game.

QUARTERBACKS

* Michael Vick was sharp on the Eagles’ first two possessions, completing four of five passes for 94 yards and a touchdown. He showed great patience in the pocket, finding Jason Avant for 22 yards over the middle on the first possession, a big-time throw with three defenders closing in. And his 47-yard bomb to DeSean Jackson was a beauty. It’s worth noting that pass came against a blitz from New England. The ball traveled 48 yards in the air and landed right in Jackson’s hands. Later, Vick delivered a strike to Riley Cooper on a rollout to his right. The Eagles slowed things down to start the game, and I don’t recall seeing Vick run a true zone read. But don’t be surprised if we see him go no-huddle next week vs. Carolina.

Nick Foles played well also, although the style of play was different when he was in the game. The Eagles pushed tempo and went with a more controlled attack. While Vick chucked it down the field, none of Foles’ six attempts traveled more than 10 yards from the line of scrimmage. He showed good command in the no-huddle though and completed five of six passes for 43 yards. The Patriots brought a five-man blitz on third down in the second, and Foles got rid of the ball quickly, finding Bryce Brown for 8 yards and a first down. He also did a great job with the play-fake before rolling to his left and finding Avant for a gain of 12. Foles will get the start Thursday vs. Carolina.

* Up-and down performance for Matt Barkley. He underthrew Russell Shepard deep on his first pass attempt and made too many throws that left receivers vulnerable to big hits. There were at least two throws that could have been picked off. Barkley made the right decision on a zone read. The DE crashed inside, and he took off for 8 yards. He seemed to settle down later in the game, finding Clay Harbor for a couple of big gains and leading the Eagles on a touchdown drive.

RUNNING BACKS

* The coaches decided to start Chris Polk since he played well in camp. He carried four times for 7 yards, and none of his attempts picked up more than 4 yards. Polk is the Eagles’ best blocking back, and that showed on the 47-yard touchdown to Jackson. He did an excellent job picking up blitzing linebacker Jerod Mayo.

Chris Polk

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You can see Vick has a clean pocket to deliver.

* I thought Bryce Brown really played well. Five carries for 22 yards and two catches for 19 yards. Brown hasn’t flashed good hands at practice, but he got matched up against a linebacker and had a nice 8-yard catch and run on 3rd-and-5. He picked up 11 on another reception. There were a couple occasions where it looked like he might have missed his blocking assignments. One was when Foles faced an unblocked defender and scrambled for 11 yards. Brown also had the 8-yard touchdown run.

* Felix Jones did not look good. Eight carries for 31 yards. He also had a drop, and it looked like he missed a blitz pickup assignment.

* Matthew Tucker only had 33 yards on 10 carries, but he caught the 2-point conversion. Has a chance to stick if Jones doesn’t improve.

WIDE RECEIVERS

* Not much to add that hasn’t already been mentioned on DeSean Jackson. Vick said he went deep because the Patriots had a single high safety. I’m curious about what his route would have been had the coverage been different.

* Great job by Jason Avant not only going up for the 22-yard catch in between three defenders, but also getting down quickly and avoiding a big hit.

* Riley Cooper got the start opposite Jackson and came down with a 19-yard grab in the second.

* Russell Shepard led the team with six targets, but didn’t get much of a chance to make plays. He had just one grab for 4 yards. Nice effort on the deep ball from Barkley that was underthrown.

* Ifeanyi Momah simply does not look like he’s ready. Poor job as a blocker when Barkley took off on the zone read in the second. Momah then had a false start on the very next play. He got laid out down the right sideline in the third. And Momah was shoved out of bounds by the defender on the next play. Practice squad seems likely for 2013.

* Very nice 62-yard punt return by Damaris Johnson.

* I probably haven’t shown Greg Salas enough love up to this point. I thought Kelly said it best after the game: Salas just keeps showing up. Great individual effort on the touchdown in the fourth. Salas got no blocking on the quick screen, but avoided three defenders and scampered into the end zone. He also made a sensational 35-yard grab on the final drive. He’s got a chance to stick.

TIGHT ENDS

* Per Pro Football Focus, 14 of Zach Ertz’s 22 snaps were pass plays. And Ertz went out into his route on 13 of those 14. He was in the slot on the first two plays from scrimmage. Two catches for 10 yards on three targets. Did not look good as a blocker. Ertz was slow to get to Brandon Spikes on an early Polk run.

Did you see Brent Celek in the backfield on the Eagles’ first play? He fumbled after making a grab in the second. At this point, looks like a much better blocker than Ertz.

* Still not sure if there’s a spot here for Clay Harbor, but he made a couple nice grabs – a 22-yarder and a 20-yarder from Barkley in the second half.

OFFENSIVE LINE

* Really liked what I saw from Lane Johnson as a run-blocker. This was the second play of the game. Johnson is matched up with outside linebacker Rob Ninkovich.

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Couldn’t get a good shot of Johnson taking Ninkovich to the ground, but that’s exactly what he did. And afterwards, Johnson used Ninkovich to prop himself up.

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Later, he showed off his great athleticism, starting off on a double-team with Celek, before peeling off and looking for a defensive back to hit downfield. Johnson had some issues in pass protection, but an encouraging start for the rookie.

* Given his resume, there’s probably no need to panic, but Todd Herremans did not play well. He whiffed on his block, pulling to the left side on a Polk run that picked up just 1 yard. And Herremans got beaten badly by Tommy Kelly on the Foles sack/fumble. The bright spot for Herremans was his block on Brown’s TD run.

* As for the rest of the starters, Jason Kelce looked good, especially on Brown’s TD run. Evan Mathis was solid as usual. And Allen Barbre was up and down. No one’s going to confuse him for Jason Peters, and he had some issues in pass protection, but was OK overall.

* In terms of the backups, Danny Watkins had a few good moments. He did a nice job on Barkley’s deep attempt to Sheppard. And later, he switched off his man against a stunt on a Barkley incompletion. Watkins was called for holding in the third. Matt Kopa had issues. And Julian Vandervelde played center with the second team. He got overpowered at times and was called for holding, but otherwise was OK. Looked better than he did last preseason.

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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.

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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.

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Which Eagles Will Make the Second-Year Leap?

Hang around enough NFL coaches and players in the offseason, and you’re sure to hear about the second-year leap.

The theory goes like this: Rookies need time to adjust to several different factors. The structure and rules associated with a college program are gone. They are on their own, away from friends and family. And they are earning (legal) paychecks.

Add in the speed and talent associated with the pro game, and it’s clear life in the NFL requires an adjustment period.

That’s why the offseason from Year 1 to Year 2 is considered crucial. Initial questions have been answered, and expectations have been set. Second-year players can focus more on just on-field improvement.

“It’s already easier,” said linebacker Mychal Kendricks during mini-camps. “It’s crazy, knowing the formations and knowing the count without even having to look.

“Everything slows down the second year. It’s crazy, I can’t explain it.”

We’ve spent plenty of time talking about the Eagles’ new additions, and Tim covered the rookies a couple days ago. But below is a look at the second-year players and where they stand going into camp.

Fletcher Cox – Everything we saw from him as a rookie suggests he has the potential to go to multiple Pro Bowls. Cox was the Eagles’ best defensive lineman against the run and showed improvement as a pass-rusher, finishing with 5.5 sacks and 24 hurries (according to team stats). When the Eagles drafted him, they liked that Cox had the versatility to play in a 4-3 or a 3-4. He’s the Eagles’ best defensive player and one of the guys they will build around.

Nick Foles – With six starts under his belt, Foles has already accomplished more than most quarterbacks taken after the second round. He had turnover issues (five interceptions, eight fumbles) and struggled to get the ball downfield (6.4 YPA), but at the very least, he looked competent. Foles now finds himself in a new scheme, and Chip Kelly is serious about letting the QB competition play out on the practice field. Foles will have a chance to steal the starting job this summer.

Mychal Kendricks – His athleticism translated well from college to the NFL last season. Kendricks faced some issues getting off of blocks but showed signs that he can be a playmaker against the run. Where his real strength lies, though, is coverage. Kendricks is expected to play alongside DeMeco Ryans as an inside linebacker in the Eagles’ new 3-4 scheme. Look for him to have to deal less with blockers in his face. Kendricks rushed the passer quite a bit in college, and Billy Davis will seek to find ways to take advantage of that versatility.

Brandon Boykin – Given how often teams use three and four wide receivers, Boykin is a valuable piece as the Eagles’ nickel corner. Even as the defense was crumbling around him, Boykin was tremendous during the second half of last season. In the Eagles’ final seven games, he allowed just five completions on 12 targets, per Pro Football Focus  (hat tip to Derek Sarley of Iggles Blog). There’s been some talk of Boykin moving to the outside, but the guess here is that he’ll continue to fill the nickel role.

Bryce Brown – Fumbling issues aside, the Eagles look like they may have gotten a steal with Brown in the seventh round. As a rookie, he ran for 564 yards and averaged 4.9 yards per carry, showing a rare combination of size and speed. Evan Silva of Rotoworld had a good breakdown of Brown and concluded that he bounced too many runs to the outside. Given his lack of college experience (and college coaching), Brown might be poised to make the biggest leap of any player on this list.

Cedric Thornton - He played 37.7 percent of the defensive snaps last year and has the size (6-4, 309) that Kelly covets. Thornton figures to play the 5-technique DE spot in the Eagles’ 3-4. He lined up as a starter for most of the spring, but will have to hold on to that spot this summer.

** Note: As a reader pointed out, Thornton is actually a third-year pro, although he didn’t play a defensive snap in 2011.

Vinny Curry – His role remains a mystery. Curry had a tough time getting on the field as a rookie and now finds himself being asked to play up front in a 3-4. During the spring, Curry ran exclusively with the second team. He’ll need to show the coaches he can be effective in his new role if Curry wants to get more playing time in his second season.

Damaris Johnson – He played 25.4 percent of the Eagles’ offensive snaps and finished with 19 catches for 256 yards. But there is reason to believe Johnson could be a nice fit for Kelly’s offense, considering he averaged a team-best 5.5 yards after the catch in 2012, according to Pro Football Focus. Johnson also showed improvement as the team’s primary punt returner. Beyond DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin, no wide receiver is guaranteed a spot. But Johnson has a good chance of sticking.

Dennis Kelly - He was up and down in 10 games as a rookie, gaining experience at both guard and tackle. At times, Kelly showed promise. In other instances, he looked like Demetress Bell. But the new coaching staff seems to like him. Kelly filled in with the starters this spring before Lane Johnson made the jump. Given the team’s lack of offensive line depth, Kelly will likely earn a spot as a swing tackle.

Chris Polk – In this offense, the third running back figures to have added importance. If LeSean McCoy or Brown goes down, the Eagles will need a backup who can play significant snaps. Polk will challenge for that role, along with Felix Jones and undrafted free agent Matthew Tucker. Polk didn’t play a single offensive snap in 2012, but has dropped weight and is motivated to get on the field. He’ll have to earn a roster spot this summer.

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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.

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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.

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DeSean: Punt Return Is Going To Be a Big Factor

When the Eagles moved to the special teams portion of practice today, a couple interesting names were back to field punts.

Jeremy Maclin and DeSean Jackson joined Damaris Johnson as returners.

Jackson returned one punt last year for -3 yards. And in 2011, he struggled, averaging just 6.7 yards per return. But earlier in his career, Jackson was a weapon on special teams. He found the end zone four times on returns from 2008 to 2010

“Punt return is going to be a big factor,” Jackson said. “Kind of bring my niche back out there and help that punt return team. Not only that, just go out there and make plays, get that electrifying unit back, to be able to go out there and score touchdowns at any given time.”

Johnson handled punt return duties for the Eagles last year and improved as the season went on. Overall, he averaged 11.2 yards and a touchdown.

Jackson, though, sounded like he’s on the same page as Chip Kelly in terms of wanting another shot back there.

“He wanted me to be back there and me wanting to be back there myself,” Jackson said, when asked if he approached Kelly with the idea. “I think last year, being able to have Damaris come in here and take on that role helped me out a lot. But at the end of the day too, I still missed a lot of those opportunities where I was able to do things in the past where if it was a 20-yard run, 50-yard run, whatever… if it was a touchdown. I mean those were things that helped the offense out, and you really don’t realize it, but they help out a lot.”

According to Football Outsiders, the Eagles started drives on average at their own 25.19 yards line, 27th in the league. Part of that had to do with turnovers on offense, but clearly there’s room for improvement in the return game.

Maclin, meanwhile, has only returned 13 punts in his NFL career and did not do it at all last season. He’s averaged 5.8 yards per return, and his long is 27 yards.

“We’ll look at Mac back there,” Kelly said. “Again, it’s May, so we’re going to take a look at him and Damaris and DeSean and Nick Miller. Russell Shepard is a guy that’s returned punts before, one of the rookies out there. So we’ll get a bunch of those guys because you never know in a game, all of a sudden, two guys are hurt.

“When you’ve only got a 46-man roster, someone has got to go back there, and hopefully it’s someone that’s fielded punts before. He’s [Maclin] got some experience at it, but we’ll take a look at him. Does that mean he’s going to be our starting punt returner? I have absolutely no idea right now.”

INTRODUCING MARK BARKLEY

Before he spoke to reporters, running back LeSean McCoy jokingly mentioned a question he expected to be asked.

“So, uh, how did Mark Barkley look today?”

But McCoy wasn’t joking about Barkley’s first name. A reporter corrected him, and he said he legitimately thought the fourth-round pick’s name was Mark.

“Oh, is it Matt? I called him that [Mark] all day, he said nothing about it,” McCoy explained.

Update: Maybe McCoy was just messing around? Didn’t seem like it, but…

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Offseason Primer: Eagles Wide Receivers

In the next couple of weeks, we’ll take a position-by-position, player-by-player look at the Eagles’ roster. Today, we start with wide receivers.

YEAR IN REVIEW

DeSean Jackson – It’s amazing to me how polarizing Jackson has become among the fan base. We can’t write about the Eagles’ speedy receiver in this space without preparing for a heated debate in the comments section.

Here are the numbers from 2012: 45 catches, 700 yards, two touchdowns. On the surface, those are unimpressive. But we need to dig a little deeper. Jackson’s production is based on getting behind the defense and keying the vertical passing game. That becomes difficult when you have an offensive line that can’t pass-protect and quarterbacks who struggle to get the ball downfield.

If you want visual proof, check out the All-22 breakdowns from the season.

If you want numbers, here they are. Nick Foles ranked 24th in deep-ball accuracy, per Pro Football Focus. Just 35.7 percent of his passes that traveled 20+ yards were on-target. Michael Vick was even worse, ranking 26th at 35 percent.

Still, in nine games with Vick at QB, Jackson averaged 76.2 yards per game. That translates to a 1,219-yard season over 16 games. Shaky hands had been an issue for him in the past, but Jackson didn’t drop a single catchable ball in 2012, according to STATS.com.

He missed the final five games after suffering a rib injury. But it’s worth noting that Jackson missed just three games in his first four seasons due to injury.

The shortcomings have been well-documented. Jackson is never going to be a serious red-zone threat. And he’s not going to be someone who makes tough, contested catches over the middle. But he has elite speed and is only 26-years-old. Jackson sounds legitimately excited to play for Chip Kelly and is without question a key part of this offense going forward.

Jeremy Maclin – His 2012 numbers were right around his career averages: 69 catches for 857 yards and seven touchdowns. With Jackson on the field, Maclin averaged 50.4 yards per game. Without him, Maclin averaged 70.6. Fans sometime rip on him for constantly begging referees for flags, but it’s worth noting that his tactics often worked. Maclin led the NFL, drawing 134 yards worth of pass interference penalties, according to Football Outsiders. And while he sometimes gets the injury-prone label, Maclin has missed five games in four seasons – not an egregious amount.

Maclin does several things well. He had 12 catches of 20+ yards last season to lead the team, and also had eight red-zone grabs (three touchdowns). Over the last three seasons, Maclin’s found the end zone 22 times. However, he doesn’t have one specific skill that stands out as being special, and is probably not the ideal complement to Jackson. Maclin’s strength is not making tough, contested catches over the middle of the field.

Scheduled to be a free agent after the 2013 season, Maclin is only 24-years-old. The Eagles have three options in the coming months: extend him, trade him or let him play the deal out.

Jason Avant – At this point, you know what you’re getting with Avant. A tough, veteran slot receiver with great hands. Only Wes Welker (88), Randall Cobb (63) and Victor Cruz (58) had more catches in the slot than Avant (51) last season, per PFF. He’ll make “wow” plays on occasion and is reliable, even though he doesn’t have the speed or size to be a consistent playmaker. With Jackson and Maclin on the outside, the Eagles need someone to do the dirty work in between the numbers. And Avant’s been that guy.

Riley Cooper – After Jackson went down, he got a chance for increased playing time. Cooper played at least 70 percent of the snaps in each of the Eagles’ final seven games, but averaged just 29.4 yards per contest. On the season, he averaged just 10.8 yards catch, although as I mentioned above, the Eagles’ vertical passing game never got going because of shaky offensive line and quarterback play. Going forward, Cooper is probably best suited for the No. 4 WR/special-teams role. If the personnel on the roster remains the same, he could be used in special red-zone packages as well.

Damaris Johnson – He had 19 catches for 256 yards on 30 targets. Johnson showed flashes of being able to make defenders miss, averaging 5.5 yards after the catch (tops on the team). He also improved in the second half of the season as the team’s primary punt returner. Johnson will be competing for a roster spot, but could be a guy Kelly likes.

LOOKING AHEAD

Like with everything else, the key question this offseason is: What does Kelly want? And how will he best utilize his personnel?

For example, roles will change. Kelly’s gone on record as saying his wide receivers won’t play if they don’t block. As we’ve pointed out here in the past, Eagles wide receivers did a terrible job of blocking in the run game last season. That will have to change.

It’s almost a guarantee that Jackson will be used differently. What’s the plan when teams play their safeties deep against the Eagles? Kelly’s past indicates he’ll run the ball. And Jackson should see plenty of looks on WR screens. He could see touches out of the backfield as well.

The Maclin situation is an intriguing one. The guess here is that the Eagles let him play out his contract – at least to start 2013. But a trade or even an extension are possible.

I’d be surprised if the Eagles made a splash at wide receiver in free agency, although there are some intriguing names at the top of the list, like Mike Wallace, Dwayne Bowe, Greg Jennings and Wes Welker. Wallace does a lot of the same things Jackson does, although a receiver like Bowe would give the Eagles some size. In the end, those players are going to demand high price tags, and I think the Eagles have too many holes to address elsewhere. Rotoworld has a comprehensive list of all the wide receiver free agents.

If the Eagles don’t think Maclin figures into their long-term plans, they could address wide receiver in the draft. They could also consider upgrading from Avant in the slot, especially if Kelly wants someone with more speed. Some have asked about Maclin as a potential option in the slot. Per PFF, he actually played 31.6 percent of his snaps in the slot last season. But again, making contested catches in traffic is not his strong suit.

Overall, I wouldn’t expect dramatic changes to this group of wide receivers, although there’s always the chance that Kelly and Howie Roseman surprise us.

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