Tuesday, September 2, 2014
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Sorting out the wideouts will be interesting

At the conclusion of the Eagles' Academy for Men Sunday, at the indoor NovaCare field, participants' parting gifts included a posterized version of that amazing, reach-back onehanded catch Jason Avant made on the sideline Dec. 9 at Tampa Bay in the Birds' only post-September win.

Sorting out the wideouts will be interesting

Eagles wide receiver Jeremy Maclin. (Ron Cortes/Staff Photographer)
Eagles wide receiver Jeremy Maclin. (Ron Cortes/Staff Photographer)

At the conclusion of the Eagles' Academy for Men Sunday, at the indoor NovaCare field, participants' parting gifts included a posterized version of that amazing, reach-back onehanded catch Jason Avant made on the sideline Dec. 9 at Tampa Bay in the Birds' only post-September win.

Interesting choice, in that new coach Chip Kelly has had Avant practicing some in the defensive backfield, which could be a signal that the surehanded 30-year-old slot receiver's spot could be in jeopardy. We know that Avant has been a good solider for 7 years, tough, smart, dedicated; if everyone on last year's Eagles had approached his job with Jason Avant's selfless professionalism, Andy Reid probably would still be the coach.

But Andy Reid is not the coach, and we're still trying to figure out exactly what the new coach values, at wide receiver and elsewhere.

Riley Cooper, one of the few bright spots of the 2012 stretch run, was asked about that Sunday, after shepherding fans through various drills on a cool, misty May afternoon.

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Cooper, who seemed primed to take a big step forward this time a year ago, broke his collarbone early in training camp and ended up missing the first five games of the season. DeSean Jackson's injury gave Cooper a chance to start the final five games, and the 2010 fifth-rounder from Florida snagged 13 of his 23 receptions during that stretch, scored two of his three touchdowns. Now he's hoping the new staff watched the tape and saw that he responded to being given more than the handful of snaps he averaged during the rest of his three-year NFL career.

"You go out and play hard and you show 'em what you've got, and if they don't like it, they're gonna tell you," Cooper said. He said he has seen no evidence that the new staff wants a different kind of athlete at wideout, that his skillset will be less valued, even though one of the offseason acquisitions was former Tampa Bay second-rounder Aurelious Benn, 6-1, 215, a guy who might represent competition for Cooper and for Avant.

So far so good, said Cooper, who swears he has not been asked to double as a nose tackle, kicker or quarterback.

"It's kinda musical chairs" for the wideouts in the new offense so far, Cooper said. "Everyone has to know what everyone (else) is doing, because if we finish a play, and you're on the right side and you're normally the left receiver, you just flip (in the hurryup, no-huddle approach), and that other guy goes to the left side. Right now, I'm majority on the outside" instead of working the slot.

Cooper said the routes in Kelly's system are "pretty similar" to the West Coast routes they ran under Reid.

As for Avant, Cooper said his read is that "they're just seeing kind of what everyone's got. I guess if he had to go in a game, God fobid if there'd be injuries or something, can he play nickel or whatever? It's good to see what everyone's strengths are, 'cause you never know, there could be a diamond in the rough."

Avant was an emergency quarterback during the Reid regime.

***

In an interview with 97.5 FM over the weekend, Michael Vick called his critics "ignorant," because "you don't last 12 years in the NFL not being able to read the defense."

My reaction to that would depend on the specific criticism, and the critic. I don't think Vick is among the NFL's best at figuring out what the opposing defense is up to. Some of his interceptions attest to the fact that even if he's reading, he's not always seeing. But I also think "can't read defenses" is a reflexive criticism that often seems to be leveled at black quarterbacks. In the comments under stories, and in some of the emails/Tweets I get, laments about Vick's inability to read defenses are followed by unfavorable comparisons to white quarterbacks. Once in a while, somebody won't even try to disguise it -- "I wish the Eagles had a white quarterback."

Those critics are ignorant, and Vick certainly is allowed to call them that.

But if you're ignorant if you think Vick turns the ball over way too much, and has done so throughout his career except for that golden string of games in 2010, then I guess I, too, am ignorant.

Elsewhere in the interview, Vick seemed to suggest Chip Kellly has cured Vick's fumbling woes by teaching him a new way to hold the football. OK, I know Chip's a genius and all, but really? Seriously?

***

I wouldn't be too worried yet if I was Jason Avant, being asked to practice a little at slot corner, for two reasons: 1. If jobs are awarded through competition, no wideout is going to outcompete Avant, and  2. I'm not so sure Avant can't help out as a slot corner. He'll study and work and give every rep his all. Come to think of it, maybe Todd Bowles could have used Avant back there down the stretch in 2012.

I would be worried if I were Clay Harbor, asked to take reps at outside linebacker. Mainly because after adding James Casey and Zach Ertz, the Eagles are really well stocked at tight end, and when Chip Kelly talked about his talent at that position lately, he failed to include Harbor. Chip did that a few months ago with his running backs, omitting Dion Lewis. A couple weeks later, Lewis was an ex-Eagle.

Les Bowen Daily News Staff Writer
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