Inside Slant | Notes, Quotes | Strategy and Personnel |
Eagles look improved at wide receiver
With the notable exception of Jordan Matthews, the Philadelphia Eagles got precious little production from their wide-receiver corps last season.
Wideouts not named Matthews accounted for just five touchdown catches, 53 receiving first downs and 20 third-down receptions.
Upgrading that unit was a high offseason priority. The Eagles signed the top wide receiver on the free-agent market, Alshon Jeffery, to a one-year, $9.5 million deal, as well as Torrey Smith, who caught 30 touchdown passes in four seasons with the Baltimore Ravens before falling off the face of the earth in San Francisco the last two years.
They also used two of their eight April draft picks on wideouts, selecting 6-foot-4 Mack Hollins in the fourth round and Shelton Gibson in the fifth round.
The improvement in the wide receivers was evident this spring. Not just the newcomers like Jeffery, who is going to be a key to improvement in the red zone this season. But even some of the returning wideouts, most nobably 2015 first-round pick Nelson Agholor, picked up their game.
"Every one of those receivers this spring I've seen get better," said quarterback Carson Wentz. "There's some real competition at that position and it's making everybody better; making the whole team better."
Wentz used the spring to establish some chemistry with his new receivers, particularly Jeffery and Smith. Ironically, Matthews only participated in one of the team's 13 spring practices, including the mandatory three-day minicamp. He's dealing with tendinitis in his knee. He said Thursday (June 15) that it's not serious and that he expects to be ready to go for the start of training camp.
The Eagles are hoping the offseason additions at wide receiver will help improve an offense that finished 24th in the red zone and 20th in third-down percentage. They also added a needed short-yardage weapon in 250-pound running back LeGarrette Blount.
Eagles receivers had a lot fewer drops this spring than they did last year, which could be a good omen.
"The drops were obviously down," head coach Doug Pederson said. "But the one thing that's been a little more impressive are the contested catches when the defenders kind of ... those bang-bang plays. We've been able to catch a few more of those, which is good to see. Because we're going to have to do that this season."
With Matthews sidelined, Agholor got a lot of spring work in the slot and looked very good. He spent his first two seasons playing almost exclusively on the outside.
"It's been him just going out there and just attacking the day," Pederson said. "(Wide receivers coach) Mike Groh has done a great job with him, just preparing him. I think the additions of Torrey and Alshon also has helped. He doesn't have that pressure of every day having to perform (at a high level)."
The Eagles are pretty well set at wide receiver. Jeffery, Smith, Matthews, Agholor and Hollins figure to be their top five wideouts. If they keep six, which isn't a certainty since they have some versatile running backs that can line up anywhere in the formation, it could be Gibson or the enigmatic Dorial Green-Beckham.
But there are going to be some other very interesting position battles in training camp. Cornerback is going to be a wide-open battle. It's anybody's guess right now who will be the team's three starting cornerbacks. As many as eight players have legitimate shots to win one of those jobs.
Left guard also will be interesting. Four players will be vying for the starting job - Allen Barbre, Isaac Seumalo, Stefen Wisniewski and Chance Warmack. The rest of the line returns intact, led by one of the best tackle tandems in the league - 35-year-old nine-time Pro Bowler Jason Peters and right tackle Lane Johnson.
"Schematically, we threw a lot of stuff, a lot of information, at our guys offensively, defensively and special teams-wise this spring," Pederson said. "This is the time of year to look at new things. We've done that.
"I feel comfortable with where our guys are. We came away (from spring workouts) with relatively minimal injuries and feel good about going into camp. But we're still a work in progress. We're not where we want to be, and we have to continue to work."