Alshon Jeffery is past the injury and the extended caution that kept him sidelined and limited for more than a week earlier this month, but the Eagles’ marquee offseason acquisition is still apparently catching up from the lost time.
One example might have come Thursday when Carson Wentz could not go to his new go-to wide receiver on a third down in the first drive of the Eagles’ preseason win over Buffalo because Jeffery ran the wrong route. On a third-and-12 on the third play of the game, Jeffery was supposed to run a corner route. Instead, he ran an out route, according to wide receivers coach Mike Groh.
“Probably a route that he hadn’t practiced yet,” Groh said. “Certainly, his responsibility to know it, but in a short week, in a non-game plan week, ordinarily, you’re spending four days practicing and game-planning a team and you run every play. That’s one that’s been up, but because of the time he missed, we had it up two different ways, and he got confused.”
They are similar patterns, but the wrong route forced Wentz to look elsewhere. Wentz threw an 11-yard completion to Zach Ertz and the Eagles punted. It was one pass pattern in a preseason game, so it should be kept in perspective. But it stood out because Jeffery has missed time this summer, is adjusting to a new system, and is pivotal to the Eagles offense this season.
“It’s the game of football,” Jeffery said. “Every once in a while, you run the wrong route, make some mistakes on a few plays. But I’ll be all right.”
Jeffery finished with two catches and 23 yards in his preseason debut. He missed the preseason opener because coach Doug Pederson was being cautious while Jeffery recovered from a shoulder injury. He was out or limited for about a week and a half in training camp, but he’s back now taking all his usual first-team work.
“I think he’s behind,” Groh said. “Anytime you miss the amount of time that he did, he’s a little bit behind. Fortunately, we have time to catch up. I thought he got off to a great start.”
The Eagles don’t play a meaningful game until Sept. 10, which is what Pederson kept referring to when Jeffery would sit during full-team drills. Asked if he’s behind, Jeffery said “not at all.”
“But at the same time, missing a few practices here and there getting some timing down,” Jeffery said. “I’ll be all right.”
Jeffery has been unconcerned all summer, and suggested at the time that reporters were worried more about his absences than he was. After practice on Sunday, Jeffery caught passes from Wentz. They worked on routes that Wentz did not throw during team periods. Groh said that Wentz and Jeffery can also work on their timing during special-teams periods because neither player is involved on special teams.
Pederson said Jeffery is “doing fine.” He said Jeffery did work on the side even when he was absent. However, that side work was not with Wentz. Pederson said Jeffery is “right where he needs to be,” and added that “everybody makes mistakes.” That seemed to be a reference to the wrong route.
“I attribute it to we’ve got a lot football in right now. We do have very similar plays,” Pederson said. “We have like plays where routes are very similar, and the fact is everybody is going to make a mistake. What I was encouraged by was Carson getting back to Zach Ertz on the play. We’ve got to do a better job on first and second down so we’re not in third-and-12s and third-and-11s. It’s not one person. Collectively, there was enough to go around to clean up, and fortunately for us we’ve got a couple of weeks to do that.”
Wentz has not been shy about his desire to get work in with Jeffery. He called Jeffery’s arrival in the lineup last week a “long time coming.” When asked after the game if he needs more work Jeffery, Wentz answered: “Do I need it? I don’t think so. Would I love it? Absolutely.”
In practice, Jeffery appears as physically imposing and skilled of a wide receiver as the Eagles have had in years. His size and catch radius makes him a prototypical No. 1 target. His past production validates that standing in the offense. He simply needs to stay healthy and develop the necessary rapport with Wentz.
Neither player has put a timetable on it this summer. The team has cited the work they had in the spring and during the summer break, when Jeffery went to North Dakota to train with Wentz. Groh said the acclimation “may take less time with really good players” because of the natural talent.
Groh coached Jeffery in Chicago and said that Jeffery’s body language is “easy to read and judge” for quarterbacks. So when Wentz understands Jeffery’s body language and where Jeffery likes the ball, “it’ll work out well.” Groh has also noticed how committed Jeffery is this season.
“Best shape I’ve ever seen him at,” Groh said. “As lean as I’ve seen him, as strong and as powerful as I’ve ever seen him. And certainly as quick and fast as I’ve seen him. Obviously, really dedicated himself over the course of the summer.”
Jeffery has three more weeks of practice and likely only one more preseason game remaining to ready himself for the regular season. Running the wrong route can be quickly forgotten when it happens in August. It can be costly if it happens in September.
“For the most part, preseason game, we’re not really game-planning,” Jeffery said. “At a certain time it’s a game week, Groh turns it up, and as players we turn it up. Everything increases.”