Much of the NFL offseason chatter focuses on teams trying to fix weaknesses that held them back the previous year. So our Eagles coverage has mostly concentrated on topics like turnovers, linebacker and safety play and getting over the sting of a disappointing 2011.
But this offseason has also provided a chance for one of the Eagles' strengths to get even better. At wide receiver, where the team already boasted a deep talent pool, the Eagles will have the added benefit of having a healthy and more muscled Jeremy Maclin and a happy DeSean Jackson heading into training camp. They have added another big body with the 6-3 Marvin McNutt, a sixth round pick, and even undrafted receivers Damaris Johnson and Ron Johnson have opened some eyes early on.
"I wish the season started tomorrow, that’s how ready I am," Maclin said Thursday. He missed most of last season's preparations with a mysterious illness. With a full, healthy offseason this time around he has bulked up to 205 pounds, from 198, and says it's all good weight, and hasn't lost a step.
"He just has a body type to be able to carry some more," said wide receivers coach David Culley. "It doesn’t affect him down the field at all."
Maclin had a minor setback Thursday, tweaking his ankle in practice and needing some examination from the training staff, but he didn't appear to miss any snaps and said he'll be fine. Jackson had a couple of drops in traffic -- something to keep an eye on -- but overall has been far more at ease than in years past.
"Guys really don’t have that much to worry about except for go out there and do your job, as they should do anyway," Maclin said. "When you have happy players guys definitely want to go out there and play and give it all."
Jason Avant is locked in as the third receiver, and there could be a battle brewing for the fourth and fifth receiver spots. Riley Cooper is in his first full offseason and Culley said he expects a big leap from him; McNutt, with his long, loping strides could also provide the size that the team lacks at the top of their receiver group. Meanwhile Chad Hall continues to battle for a spot and the diminutive Damaris Johnson, from Tulsa, has opened eyes with his speed and quickness. Ron Johnson was on the practice squad for 15 games last year and was promoted to the active roster the final week of the season, and Maclin praised him, too.
"Guys have had an opportunity to show their ability," Maclin said. "Both Johnsons have taken full advantage of that."
We'll have more on the receiver battle tomorrow in the Inquirer and here on Philly.com.
Other practice notes:
-- Cullen Jenkins is back, but Fletcher Cox continues to get plenty of defensive tackle work with Mike Patterson still sidelined after brain surgery.
-- The Eagles defense continues throwing a variety of blitzes at the offense. That will be a new wrinkle to watch from the pass rush.
-- Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie have each played on each side of the field, showing the kind of flexibility that the Asomugha-Asante Samuel tandem lacked last year.
-- At backup running back, Bryce Brown has gotten more looks than Chris Polk so far. Polk had a drop today in practice, which is something running backs can't do in this offense.
-- Jason Avant burned DRC deep on a double move, but Rodgers-Cromartie has overall looked great in coverage. At one point today he matched up with DeSean Jackson, putting probably the two fastest men on the field one-on-one. DRC jammed Jackson at the line then ran with him deep. The pass sailed incomplete. DRC later picked off Mike Vick.
-- The Eagles often praise Mike Kafka's intelligence, but he seems to throw a lot of interceptions in practice. He had another one today.
-- Trent Edwards, though, is getting few chances. In fact, he didn't have a single snap today in 7 on 7s or 11 on 11s. That's not a good sign for his chances of actually competing for the backup job.
-- Special teams ace Colt Anderson has been doing some cutting and running on the side of practices. He has said he hopes to be back by the start of the season after tearing an ACL in December.
-- Lots of long hair on the Eagles O-line. They could probably pass for an 80s band. Jason Kelce, with his bushy beard, could be a roadie.