Leading up to training camp on July 25, we’ll have a position-by-position preview of the Eagles’ roster. We have already covered the defensive line, quarterbacks, outside linebackers, running backs, inside linebackers and cornerbacks. Now it’s on to the wide receivers. Read more »
Chip Kelly likes to say that the Eagles only have a seating chart, not a depth chart, this time of year.
Luckily, here at Birds 24/7, we don’t have to abide by the same rules. So now that we’ve seen all of the spring practices and have our eyes on the start of training camp (July 25), here’s our stab at what the offensive depth chart looks like (we’ll do the defense tomorrow). I tried to make this as useful as possible, so there are explanations below. Read more »
James Brady was around for the first Ifeanyi Momah transformation.
The two have been friends since they were teenagers. They went to different high schools in Long Island but the quarterback and receiver regularly trained together. As kids with little cash and big goals, they used to jump from gym to gym around the neighborhood, taking advantage of the free introductory memberships until it was time to find the next deal.
When they weren’t playing on the same night Brady would go and check out Momah’s games, and remembers the gigantic jump he took once he injected some swagger into that large frame.
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 »
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.
Because the Eagles practiced with a limited roster the first two days, they had to resort to some unconventional teaching methods.
For example, with only five offensive linemen, assistant coach Jeff Stoutland set up trash cans to simulate the defense.
Here’s (iPhone-quality) video of what I mean:
When setting the protection, Jason Kelce’s job is to identify the MIKE linebacker. During one drill, Stoutland was ready to move on to the next rep, but tight ends coach Ted Williams stopped him. Kelce had yelled out ’45′ as the MIKE, but it was supposed to be ’51.’ Stoutland hadn’t caught the mistake, but Williams did.
It’s an example of how players at all levels can gain something each time they practice – something Chip Kelly emphasizes. Kelce was one of the few veterans in attendance, and by far the most experienced, but he was able to pick something up on that rep.
Stoutland, meanwhile, spent a few minutes on a key point: Guys who don’t know what the hell they’re doing try to block everybody.
His message to the linemen? Once you engage the defender, stay on him. Don’t just start freelancing because you see someone else going unblocked. That means you don’t know your assignment and don’t trust your teammates.
THE JUGS MACHINE
I want a shot at trying this before camp is over:
That’s Ifeanyi Momah making the catches. During another drill, the assistants set up the Jugs machine so that receivers would have to reach back. It looked like they were trying to simulate a crossing pattern where the ball is thrown behind the receiver.
Wide receivers coach Bob Bicknell emphasized minimized movement. In other words, receivers were supposed to reach back to catch the ball, but immediately tuck it in front of them so they could pick up yards after the catch.
AZZINARO ASKS FOR PERMISSION
Given that there are so few players in attendance, there is plenty of open space on the practice fields.
Defensive line coach Jerry Azzinaro was moving his group over from one drill to the next, near where Bicknell and the wide receivers were going over blocking.
“Got enough room, Bick?” Azzinaro joked. “Want to make sure you can hit your [bleepin'] 9-iron over here.”
Below is a shot of Azzinaro and the defensive line:
This is one of the few professions where that is a relevant line of questioning.
Wide receiver Ifeanyi Momah said technically the answer is last week, when he was home with his brothers (He is the youngest of four children.). But not since 2011 has he taken a hit with the pads on. September 3, 2011 to be exact — Boston College’s opener against Northwestern . The 6-7, 240-pound wideout went off for eight catches and 171 yards in that game, but the senior tore the ACL in his left knee along the way and was done for the year.
Still working back from the injury, he was not drafted or signed by an NFL team last season. But he drew interest this offseason after running a 4.40-40 (He reportedly ran a 4.39 privately for the Eagles) and was scooped up by Howie Roseman and Chip Kelly back in March. The Greenlawn, New York native did not stand out this spring during OTAs and minicamp, though the long layoff probably had something to do with it.
“Having that time off, it takes a little while to get things going. You gotta knock the rust off,” said Momah. “Especially being a receiver, the cuts and breaks, it takes a little while. So I made sure that was one of my main focuses throughout minicamps and OTAs and even during this off time I have been working on different routes and cutting and things like that.”
Momah spent the down time training in Miami with Kelley Washington, who he identified as his receivers coach. (Washington had a brief stint with the Eagles in 2010 but did not make the 53-man roster.) The focus seemed to be on tightening routes and sharpening angles. Fortunately for Momah, none of the focus was on his health.
“Right now I feel good,” he said. “I went home and made sure I was ready to go before I started training. I went out to Florida and didn’t feel anything weird on any part of my body, so I feel healthy and ready to go.”
It won’t be easy to make the roster. Assuming the Eagles keep five or six receivers, Momah will likely be battling for one of the final spots with players like Arrelious Benn, Riley Cooper and Russell Shepard.
When it was suggested to him that he is the rawest of receivers on the roster, Momah responded with an “Oh yeah,” but added, “I don’t want to say it’s a big challenge, it’s definitely something to focus on. It’s going to be something that is a challenge but I’ve played football my whole life, it’s kind of easy for to get back into it. I’m excited. I think I’m ready to go.”
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