The Eagles have a formidable group of wide receivers. You just wouldn't know by watching them this summer.
The Eagles' top two receivers have yet to play in the preseason.
Alshon Jeffery hasn't practiced since the Super Bowl while recovering from offseason rotator cuff surgery, and his availability for the season opener remains in question. Nelson Agholor has been sidelined with a lower-body injury that might keep him out until Week 1.
At various times throughout training camp and the preseason, the Eagles also have missed Mike Wallace, Mack Hollins, Shelton Gibson, and Markus Wheaton – their other top wide receivers. Others have had absences, too.
Injuries are a reality of summer for all 32 teams, but in Philadelphia the ailments have been concentrated on the wide receivers more than any other position. As a result, it has been impossible to watch the Eagles this summer and truly know the capabilities of the passing game after the wideouts excelled in last season's high-powered attack.
"You're just missing the timing, you're missing the rhythm, and you're missing big-play capabilities potentially in these games," coach Doug Pederson said. "Even though starters don't play a whole lot in the first couple games, it's just still valuable reps. Something we got to work through. Get our twos and even some of the threes ready to go in case we need them."
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So much attention is being paid to whether quarterback Carson Wentz will be ready for Week 1 – and now, whether Nick Foles will be ready, too, after suffering a shoulder strain Thursday. But even if Wentz is back, he'll have had little time this summer with his top targets.
When Pederson mentioned rhythm and timing, those aren't merely buzzwords. They matter with a quarterback and his receivers, and they are something that both Wentz and Foles have needed to compensate for this summer.
"I wouldn't say a concern," Wentz said. "Obviously, you'd love to get reps with those guys, with Alshon, him still working back from his injury, and now Nelly just banged up. The more work, the better, but I think we've developed a chemistry all of last offseason, all of last season, and a little bit just constantly watching film together, I think we'll be fine. I'm not too worried about it. But we'd love to get more reps."
Offensive coordinator Mike Groh, the former wide receivers coach, said those returning players will rely on the "investment that we made last year" and the time they were afforded during six extra weeks of practice and preparation and three more games, a reference to the Super Bowl run. Even though the first-team offense won't have that "bank of training camp," there's more than enough experience to draw upon.
Foles said that Jeffery and Agholor understand their quarterbacks, and that in practices, the time is spent bringing new players such as Wallace, Wheaton,, and Kamar Aiken up to speed. Agholor and Jeffery are at practice and in communication on the sideline.
"That helps us [so] when those guys get healthy, we'll be on the same page," Foles said. "Obviously, they'll have to get their legs under them and running routes and playing games on the field. But when it comes to our mental space, we understand each other as players."
Pederson has been purposefully vague with timetables for his injured players this summer. Jeffery, who played all of last season with a torn rotator cuff, was not expected to be a training-camp contributor. He has been on the physically unable to perform list and can be activated at any time. But if the Eagles put him on the PUP list to begin the season to save a roster spot, Jeffery would need to miss at least six weeks. Considering Jeffery's importance to the offense, that would make sense only if the Eagles didn't expect him to recover until October.
"We're monitoring his progress," Pederson said. "It's day to day. We're happy with where he's at, and we'll continue to do that."
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As for Agholor, Pederson said the Eagles will "give him that rest again and get him ready for Week 1." The coach reiterated that returning for the season opener is the timetable for Agholor, which would likely mean Agholor does not play in the preseason.
Agholor said that his return is Pederson's call and that he will do what is required to return. But he echoed Foles' emphasis on communication between the quarterback and receivers to compensate for the lost practice time. He also mentioned how they can catch passes from the quarterbacks on the side or in walk-throughs.
"All you want to do is see the ball come out of hands," Agholor said. "Obviously, game speed is different. But relationships make up for game speed."
The absences would seem to affect newcomers such as Wallace and Wheaton more than returning players, and they could even have an effect on younger players such as Hollins who would have benefited from first-team work while Jeffery is absent.
Wallace returned last week after missing a week of training camp and showed why he's a key part of the offense this season. Wentz said Wallace's speed is "at a different gear," and it's been apparent that Wallace's performance improved during last week's practices as he's enjoyed more work with the quarterbacks. He can learn his spot in the offense independent of having Jeffery and Agholor on the field with him, although coverages will undoubtedly be different when the Eagles are at full strength.
The injuries to the wide receivers have given other players chances to prove themselves, too. Shelton Gibson has likely solidified a roster spot with a strong showing this summer, one year after struggling as a rookie during the preseason.