The Future is now for Eagles offensive rookies
By Chris Murray
For the Chris Murray Report
PHILADELPHIA–Back in 1975, the Dallas Cowboys had 12 rookies—which included Randy White and Thomas “Hollywood” Henderson that not only made the team, but helped take it to the Super Bowl that year.
Flashing forward to the here and now of 2009, the Eagles have on paper arguably the best draft class in the NFL coming into all the minicamps, OTAs (organized team activities) and ultimately training camp.
The Birds are hoping players like rookie wide receiver Jeremy Maclin, the team’s No. 1 draft choice, and second-round draft choice running back LeSean McCoy will develop fast enough to put them into the Super Bowl in 2009 after they fell short last season.
“We’re going to take it all the way through training camp and see how they do,” said Eagles head coach Andy Reid in a press conference after the team’s first day of mini-camp. “If I feel like they’re ready to play, we’ll put them in there. My time line is that you get ready right (to start) now. We’re going to throw a lot of things at them and we’re going to see if they can digest it.”
Maclin’s selection at the wide receiver spot might be like manna from heaven for Eagles fans as well as quarterback Donovan McNabb who have been clamoring for a big play receiver for years. But the reality for Maclin is that he has to digest all the complicated schemes of the Eagles version of the West Coast while learning how to read defenses. That’s something easier said done for most rookies who come into the NFL though not impossible.
“It’s a kind of hard to draft somebody and expect them just to come and start,” said Eagles second-year wide receiver DeSean Jackson, who led the Eagles in receptions as a rookie last year with 62 receptions for 912 yards and two touchdowns while starting in all 16 games. “They still have to prove themselves as NFL players. If all that happens and it falls right, they can definitely do it.”
The 6-foot, 200-pound Maclin comes to Philly with a boat load of accolades from his final season at Missouri. He set a school record for receptions with 102 catches for 1,260 yards and 13 touchdowns. As a receiver, punt and kickoff returner, Maclin led the nation in all-purpose yards with a school-record 2,833.
While the Eagles will no doubt utilize his skills as a return specialist, Reid made it very clear that Maclin is here to give McNabb another weapon in the passing game.
“I didn’t pick him up as a returner,” Reid said on the day he drafted Maclin. “I picked him as a receiver.
“As a receiver he was the most productive receiver in the country, all around I’m saying when you add special teams in there. You look at his hands, his ability to catch football, he didn’t drop footballs. You look at his ability getting in and out of breaks. They have a vertical game that they’ve worked on and then quick hitch routes that they do in their offense. He has the ability to stop and start which is important and the ability to get in and out of breaks, which I think is important as well.”
Meanwhile, Maclin said he feels no pressure to come in and live up to all the billing, but also recognizes that a starting slot on the Birds offense will not be given to him by simply showing up.
“I’ m not going to come here from day one and expect everything to fall into my lap,” Maclin said. “I want to work for everything that I achieve. It’s the kind of situation I want to be in. I want to be a guy that the team can rely on. I definitely think that time will come for me.
“I’m always on toes and always expecting things to happen. It takes a lot for me to be intimidated.”
Another rookie with an opportunity to move into a starting position for the Eagles is second-round draft choice running back and former University of Pittsburgh star LeSean McCoy.
As a runner, the 5-10,204-pound McCoy gained 1,488 yards runs in his final year at Pitt and he also caught 32 passes for 305 yards in the Panthers version of the West Coast offense. What will get McCoy time on the field will be his ability to pass block in an Eagles offense that looks to throw the ball first.
“He’ll need to work on that,”Reid said. “He’ll work on that when he gets in. They asked him to cut block more than what we cut block. That’s part of their scheme. We’ll ask him to stand up and probably have 12 good shots of that on film which we can evaluate, not as much as some of the other guys.”
McCoy said for him it’s just a matter of getting down the basic skills and mechanics. For him a good starting point is simply having the desire to do it. A lot of running backs coming out of college are not too enamored with having to block. It ‘s more of a necessary evil.
“I have the heart to do it, I have the passion to do it,” McCoy said “I think me technique is off as far as being able to block people. It’s something that I wasn’t required to do as much, but I’m willing to do it. I’m willing to stick my nose in there and get it done.”
At the tight end position, the Eagles drafted Cornelius Ingram out of Florida who promises to be able to do something that L.J. Smith wasn’t able to do during his tenure here—stretch the field and make catches from the tight end position.
Playing in Florida’s spread offense for three years, Ingram caught 64 passes for 888 yards and eight touchdowns. He missed his senior season because of an ACL injury. Ingram said he’s ready to get back on the field and play football again.
“I just want to show everybody that I’m healthy,” said Ingram, who played quarterback in hig high school. “I don’t want to have to make all these make spectacular plays. I’m just going to relax and soak it all in.”
The Birds are hoping Ingram can make the grade as a blocking tight end as well. He will be competing against Brett Celek, who played well in the second half of last season and during the Birds run to the NFC title game.
“I’m not going to tell you that he is heavy in the tail there where he is going to be knocking guys five yards off the ball but he looked like he was adequate at it,” Reid said. “I think what you get with him is a very athletic receiving tight end who can pull the zone on the line of scrimmage.”
Ingram said he players like himself, Maclin and McCoy know the expectations for them to come in and contribute will be intense, but they are good enough to come in and start at some point this season.
“I hope so, eventually at the end of the day that’s everybody’s purpose,” Ingram said. “I’m just trying to come in and pick up things right away. I know I have a lot to learn and a long way to go, but I don’t mind asking questions and being around other guys and seeing how they do things.”