Eagles Wake-Up Call: Huff’s Learning Curve
Familiarity hasn’t totally worked to Josh Huff‘s advantage in the early going.
A common belief was that Huff, having played under Chip Kelly at Oregon, would be able to acclimate quickly given his intimate knowledge of the offensive system. The rookie had similar thoughts.
“He walked in here thinking, ‘Hey, I know this offense.’ He’ll be the first one to tell you there are a lot of things that have changed and been added from what he did at Oregon, which he just really had to do,” said Pat Shurmur. “We see a lot more defense. We see a lot more man coverage in the NFL than they did in college. So we’ve got a lot of the traditional things in the passing game that you would run at this level.
“So, that kind of shocked him I think initially that this isn’t exactly what we did at Oregon, but he settled in.”
Huff acknowledged that he was caught off guard and had to “re-tool and rebuild” his system. He would hear a play call and his mind would go back to Oregon’s offense so he would run the route that matched the concept from college. It took some time to work through that.
That’s one hurdle. The work load is the other. According to Shurmur, Huff has been given the most to learn out of all the young receivers.
Why is that?
“Actually, I have no idea,” said Huff, drawing laughs. “I guess just because I’m so versatile. I can do so many things very well and they figured I can be mixed and matched on the outside and the inside. They can use my strengths very well and hide some of my weaknesses.”
His roommate, Jordan Matthews, offered his take.
“The fact that he did play at Oregon so he knew Coach Kelly’s expectations. Those things I had to learn,” said Matthews. “They knew he was already able to adapt to come here and play so he had a lot more on his plate early on. You see him in the slot and now you see him work some on the outside, too. You can’t say enough about his will power, his fortitude and his work ethic out there. He’s pushing it and he’s getting better each day so we’re just going to continue to compete with each other.”
Huff was deployed in a variety of ways while with the Ducks. He came out of the backfield:
He was an effective blocker:
They used him in the quick screen game:
And as a downfield threat:
He lined up inside and out. (Slot receiver was his primary position.) He ran the ball here and there and was prominently featured on special teams, including as a returner.
The plan is to tap into that versatility once again on the pro level.
“I’ve kind of taken Josh under my wing a little bit,” said Jeremy Maclin. “He’s a guy that can definitely make plays with the ball in his hands. I think he’s a guy that is going to be used where they ask him to do that: put him in special situations to help him go out there and use his playmaking ability.”
Huff has had an up and down camp. Tuesday was no different. The 22-year-old dropped a short pass from Mark Sanchez early in practice. Brandon Boykin came up with an interception while covering the rookie a bit later. At the end of the session, Huff made a pretty diving catch in the left corner of the end zone.
Asked about the biggest adjustment going from college to the pros, Huff mentioned the physicality of the defensive backs at this level.
As Shurmur mentioned, the looks a receiver gets in the NFL are often different than on the collegiate level. It wasn’t out of the ordinary for Huff to get free release while with Oregon:
Space is harder to come by now.
The competition is stiffer, the playbook is different than what he was anticipating and more is being asked of Huff than any other young receiver on this roster, but the third-round pick says he is up for the challenge.
“I see myself as a thoroughbred receiver that can do multiple things,” said the 5-11, 206-pound Huff, who has been working primarily with the second team during team drills. “At this moment they want me to learn each and every position for the receiver and that’s what I’m dedicating most of my time to. I’m not really worried about the ones, twos, threes, I’m just trying to worry about how can I get better and how can I make my team better.”
Friday will be his first taste of NFL game action. Known to play with an edge, Huff anticipates that he will shine brighter once the hitting commences.
“Most definitely. I like to be physical, take on tackles, break tackles. In practice that’s hard to do because we are a team and you want everyone to be healthy,” he said. “I definitely think I’ll stand out in a game more than I do practice.”
WHAT YOU MISSED
Jordan Matthews wants Brandon Boykin, a Pope’s blessing and Sheil’s practice observations.
LeSean McCoy is very high on Matthews, and more in my camp notes.
“Can [Chip Kelly] stay a step ahead of NFL defensive coordinators?” What they’re saying.
Expect more base looks on defense, but how does that impact Boykin?
Sheil breaks down the first (unofficial) depth chart of the season.
WHAT THEY’RE SAYING
The Eagles have depth issues at wide receiver, writes John Gonzalez of CSNPhilly.com:
It is early August. The Eagles won’t play a meaningful game for another month. But August will bleed into September before you know it. The roster will be trimmed to 53 men. The games will count. And Nick Foles will throw passes to … which wideouts, exactly?
During this last week or so of Eagles training camp, we’ve learned — or relearned — that the team’s depth at wide receiver gets awfully thin awfully quick. When Maclin went down with a brief scare on Monday, it was natural to flashback to last training camp when he tore his ACL and missed the season. Maclin says he’s fine. Maybe you believe it and maybe you don’t, but at least he was marginally active on Tuesday. Cooper and Maehl were not. They have ankle injuries (Cooper is still in a walking boot). Earlier this week, Chip Kelly said Cooper will be back soon but declined to elaborate.
The wide receiver competition is currently less about talent than it is about attrition and health. Stand upright long enough and you’ll get some playing time. For some of Tuesday’s practice, Arrelious Benn, Brad Smith and Ifeanyi Momah ran with the first team. Your defending NFC East champs, everyone.
Arrelious Benn could be the last receiver to make the team, notes Zach Berman of the Inquirer:
When the Eagles traded for Arrelious Benn in March 2013, they were cautiously optimistic. Benn is a big, talented receiver with run-after-the-catch ability – ideal for Chip Kelly’s offense. But Benn had not been able to stay healthy in his career, which started as a high second-round pick. Benn lived up to that reputation when he tore his anterior cruciate ligament during training camp last season.
The Eagles kept Benn and wanted to see him this season, because they never actually saw him last year. His injury occurred even before the first preseason game. Benn stayed in Philadelphia rehabbing, so he was a part of the team last year. Kelly appreciated that. Jeremy Maclin and Jason Phillips were the same way.
Benn needs to thrive in the preseason to make the roster, but he has a shot. The Eagles could keep six wide receivers, with four spots all but set in stone: Maclin, Cooper, Jordan Matthews, and Josh Huff. Brad Smith has been taking first-team snaps and is likely to make the roster, too. So Benn would need to beat out holdover Jeff Maehl, and a group of other young receivers vying for the roster.
Kelly will speak with the media prior to the team’s 11:35 walk-through.
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Josh Paunil contributed to this post.