Suddenly, Eagles receiving corps rather thin
SOMEBODY ASKED Chip Kelly if he thought he had enough depth at the wide-receiver position.
“On Aug. 2?’’ he said. “Yeah.’’
Translation: On Sept. 2? Hell no.
It’s amazing the devastation a few injuries and a racial slur can have on your passing game.
Sixty-five-catch-a-year Jeremy Maclin is out for the season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee. Injury-prone Arrelious Benn, who was acquired in a March trade with Tampa, is injured yet again, twisting his knee in the Eagles’ first full-squad training camp practice. Who knows when he’ll be back, or whether he’ll be able to stay healthy.
And yesterday, the team announced that Riley Cooper, who was the leading candidate to replace Maclin in the starting lineup, was taking an indefinite leave of absence to get counseling after getting caught on video using the N-word at a Kenny Chesney concert.
Of the nine wideouts who took the field at NovaCare yesterday, seven were undrafted free agents -- Damaris Johnson, Russell Shepard, Nick Miller Greg Salas, Ifeanyi Momah, Will Murphy and Dave Ball.
Shepard, Momah and Murphy are rookies. The other four -- Johnson, Miller, Salas and Ball -- have a combined 50 NFL catches.
“This is the NFL, man,’’ DeSean Jackson said. “We get paid to go out there and get the job done, regardless of whether we’re down three [receivers] or four or whatever the case may be. Whoever steps in has to step up and get the job done. It just presents another opportunity for the young guys or whoever else.’’
Kelly insisted that Cooper eventually will be back. He’s just not exactly sure. “His status with us is not in question,’’ he said.
At the moment, there’s been no indication that the Eagles are interested in bringing in a veteran receiver. And you can’t really blame them.
Brandon Lloyd? He turned 32 last month and has more baggage than a full flight to Maui.
Laurent Robinson? He was a free-agent bust in Jacksonville after catching 54 passes (11 TDs) for the Cowboys 2 years ago.
Donald Jones? Eighty-two catches and a 10.8 yards-per-catch average in three seasons with the Bills.
Thirty-six-year-old Randy Moss? Just what a rebuilding team with a new coach needs.
Thirty-four-year-old Deion Branch? Uh, no.
With Cooper gone, slot receiver Jason Avant had to move to the outside in two- and three-wide receiver sets yesterday. In three-wide sets, Avant and Jackson lined up on the outside and Damaris Johnson lined up in the slot.
Avant is one of the league’s better slot receivers. He’s a physical pass catcher with excellent hands. Didn’t have any drops last year and has just seven the last three seasons.
He’s caught 50-plus passes in each of the last three seasons working inside. But he really doesn’t have the speed to play outside.
“I have to get used to it,’’ he said. “I really haven’t been consistently out there since college. It’s going to be a lot harder in college. It’s going to be a lot harder in practice than it is in the game because they get away with a lot of holding and stuff in practice.
“I’m comfortable on the football field overall. But being acclimated out there [on the outside] is a little bit different and I’m learning.’’
Johnson showed promise last season, catching 19 passes as a rookie. But he’s 5-8. Putting him and the 5-9-and-change Jackson on the field together isn’t ideal, particularly in an offense that is going to be asking its wideouts to block a lot.
And if 5-11 Michael Vick ends up winning the quarterback battle, he’s going to have a helluva time finding these two little guys on all of those crosses and slants.
Asked if he would be comfortable using Jackson and Johnson together a lot, Kelly gave a less-than-enthusiastic endorsement to the possibility.
“It depends on what’s available,’’ he said. “Do you have the full complement of people available when you’re playing in your opening game? Or do you have three or four injuries and those are your two best guys?
“In an ideal world? No. I would love everybody to be Megatron [Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson]. If we had five of them, that would be a great situation.
“But if we get to Sept. 9 and those are our two best guys, then those are our two best guys. We’re going to play with what we have.’’
Even before Maclin went down and Cooper went stupid, Kelly’s offense was going to be tight-end- and running-back-centric. Now? Three tight end sets could be the rule rather than the exception.
But they have to get some reasonable production on the outside from their wideouts.
“The young guys, they’re picking it up,’’ Avant said. “I like the fact that Shep [Russell Shepard] stays out here [after practice] and tries to get better at his craft. That’s the best thing about it. When you have a young guy who’s willing to work and doesn’t think it’s like college and you don’t have to do the extra things.’’
What Kelly and the Eagles really need is for DeSean Jackson to again become the difference-maker he was in 2008 and 2009.
“He’s an explosive player,’’ Kelly said. “He’s very difficult to cover in one-on-one situations. We’re trying to figure out as we go through what his comfort level is. What routes he feels real good with. I think we’re starting to get a feel for him. The quarterbacks are getting a feel for him. I’m excited what his future holds for us.’’