There has been a lot of WR talk in recent days. This got started when Eagles assistants met with the media and that meant they could finally talk to WR coach Bob Bicknell. The hot topic wasn’t Josh Huff, the progress or Ifeanyi Momah or Jeff Maehl’s offseason training regimen. Everyone wanted to talk about DeSean.
“I feel like I had a great relationship with DeSean,” Bicknell said. “I really enjoyed being around him. I feel like we went through a really good year together. We moved on, and I don’t really think that much about it. But when it comes down to it, the kid did everything I asked him to do. He wasn’t late. He wasn’t disrespectful. He did the things we wanted him to do. We decided to move on, and that’s that.”
There is no doubt that things got contentious between Bicknell and DeSean at times. We all saw the sideline spat in the Vikings game. That said, football is an emotional game. Players yell at each other from time to time. DeSean has had shouting matches with players. Some of this stuff is forgotten by the time everyone is in the locker room. Other times, feelings linger.
I have no idea if Bicknell genuinely liked DeSean or just said that. I don’t know if DeSean was a Bicknell fan. We can only speculate and since DeSean is now gone, that would pretty much be a waste of time.
Bicknell now has a group of WRs with no divas among them. Jeremy Maclin is a former college star and successful pro receiver, but he’s a very high character guy from everything I’ve heard over the years. More than personality, the Eagles want bigger, more physical receivers.
“We made a decision to move on, and really from that point on, you say how are we going in the future?” Bicknell said. “You’re not sure what players you’re going to get and what you’re going to do, but for us, we’re a team that likes having bigger receivers. …We’re big in the run game with blocking, those kind of things. It was a decision to move on, and we moved with guys we were able to get.”
This is where Bicknell could have a challenge with Maclin. 2012 wasn’t a good year for Maclin as a blocker or RAC guy. He wasn’t Todd Pinkston by any stretch, but Mac was way too finesse. That won’t cut it in Chip Kelly’s system. I think we’ll see a very different version of Mac this year. Kelly won’t put up with non-blockers. If Mac wants to stay on the field, he’s going to have to start playing up to his size and doing the dirty work. My guess is that Kelly and Bicknell bring out the best in Maclin.
* * * * *
There currently are 13 wide receivers on the Eagles’ roster. Twelve are at least 5-11, including seven who are 6-2 or taller. Ten of the 13 weigh 200-plus pounds.
As Kelly is fond of saying, big people beat up little people.
Everybody, including the Eagles, is following the Seattle Seahawks’ lead and getting big, physical corners who can play press coverage and jam receivers at the line.
Offenses are responding by stocking up on big, physical wideouts who can get off that press coverage.
“If you’re a receiver, you’ve got to be able to deal with the bump-and-run and you’ve got to be able to catch the football,” offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur said yesterday as the Eagles made their assistant coaches available to the media for the first time since last season. “Sometimes, it helps being a bigger receiver to fight through the physical nature of the bump-and-run.”
Kelly has repeatedly mentioned how much man-to-man coverage the Eagles saw last season. While they finished second in the league in total offense and ninth in scoring, and while Jackson managed to elude press coverage enough to catch a career-high 82 passes for a career-high 1,332 yards and nine touchdowns, he failed to gain more than 60 receiving yards in five of the Eagles’ last six games, and was effectively silenced in the playoffs by the Saints’ bigger, stronger corner, Keenan Lewis, who held Jackson without a catch for nearly three quarters before leaving the game with a concussion. Jackson finished with three catches for 53 yards.
“We saw more of that [press coverage] than other people,” Kelly said in March. “Having guys who can get open against man coverage is a key deal. That’s the one thing we know as a group going in. One-on-one coverage is a big deal for us. It’s a big deal in this league.”
It really is going to be interesting to see how this group does this year. The Eagles lost their most dynamic receiver. There is no doubt that the receiving corps is going to be different. Is it possible they will be better?
Before you accuse me of being an all-time idiot, you have to consider the importance of fit and overall performance. Blocking has to be factored in since Kelly preaches the importance of that. DeSean was an average blocker. He gave good effort last year, but he was still only 5-10, 175. There were times when bigger DBs got the best of him. Bigger WRs might sustain blocks better, which could lead to even more big plays in the run game.
Kelly has his big receivers. Let’s see how they do.
(And for those who point out the Eagles don’t have any truly big guys, please understand that 6-5, 230 WRs with even decent ability are incredibly hard to find. Guys that are 6-3, 215 and 6-3, 220 are big WRs.)
* * * * *
I’ve done everything since April 21st, when we were able to get out here as a team,” Maclin said. “I’ve been getting better each and every day, and I’m really happy with my progress.”
And it’s not just Maclin talking. Quarterback Nick Foles said he thinks Maclin is “better” than before the injury, explaining that Maclin has more strength. Coach Chip Kelly has played Maclin without restrictions and has not seen any limitations.
“He’s been cleared to do everything and has not missed anything,” Kelly said.
And now for the big challenge.
“As far as all the routes, I’m doing them all,” Maclin said. “We’ve had plays where I’ve had to stretch out and dig a little bit, and I’ve made those plays. I think the next step is just getting tackled.”
Mac’s injury was non-contact, but there is still something about a guy coming off injury and having to deal with getting hit. How is he going to handle the first tackle? How is he going to handle the first time a DB attacks his legs? It just takes time to get used to that stuff.