Philadelphia Eagles Training Camp Preview: Receivers and Tight Ends


May 20, 2013; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson (10) carries the ball during organized team activities at the NovaCare Complex. Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Chip Kelly has made it known he likes size and speed in his players. Andy Reid seemed to hover more towards the speed aspect. Can Chip find a balance between the two attributes with the talent he’s inherited from the old regime, and the guys he’s brought in? In this installment of our training camp preview we take a look at the receivers and tight ends and where they might fit in the fold.

Receivers and Tight Ends

Receivers: Jason Avant, Arrelious Benn, Riley Cooper, BJ Cunningham, DeSean Jackson, Demaris Johnson, Jeremy Maclin, Nick Miller, Ifeanyi Momah, Will Murphy, Greg Salas, Russell Shephard

Tight Ends: Brent Celek, Zach Ertz, James Casey, Derrick Carrier, Clay Harbour, Will Shaw

53 Man Roster Predictions (WR): DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, Demarius Johnson, Jason Avant, Arrelious Benn, Ifeanyi Momah

53 Man Roster Predictions (TE): Brent Celek, Zach Ertz, James Casey (TE/H-Back), Clay Harbour

Opening Day Starter Predictions: DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, Brent Celek (TE)

We won’t delve much into the play of the receivers and tight ends in 2012. Between the offensive line injuries and erratic quarterback play, there wasn’t much chance for anyone to have a great season last year.

DeSean Jackson had a quiet, yet productive season and was on pace for career highs in yards and receptions before being shut down in Week 12 with fractured ribs. Jason Avant and Jeremy Maclin performed as well as they could in relief, and rookie Demaris Johnson showed some glimpses of being an effective receiver and return man.

Celek did alright, but no other tight end on the roster did anything noticeable. The offense last year was built around getting the deep ball to Jackson, and this just never panned out. The line couldn’t hold up long enough for plays to develop, and defenses were able to effectively shut us down because of this.

Jan 1, 2013; Pasadena, CA, USA; Stanford Cardinal tight end Zach Ertz (86) catches a pass over Wisconsin Badgers defensive back Dezmen Southward (12) in the first half during the 2013 Rose Bowl game at the Rose Bowl. Mandatory Credit: Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

This year will be like night and day. The offense will not be so one dimensional and the key to it’s success will the ability of the receivers and tight ends to create mismatches in the secondary. Kelly will use versatile players like H-back James Casey  and second-round pick Zach Ertz, who can line up in the slot and in line, to create these mismatches.

You’ll see lots of double-tight end, maybe even triple sets. If defenses key up on these guys running short and intermediate stuff, it opens up the deep ball to Jackson and Maclin. If they sell out to cover the deep ball, the short stuff and running game opens up. If you have guys you can fulfill multiple roles and threats, the no huddle offense becomes that much more dangerous as the defense is unable to make substitutions to stop certain personnel groups.

Due to the emphasis on the position, I expect the Eagles to carry 4 tight ends on their 53-man roster. You can lock in Celek, Ertz, and Casey. The fourth spot, which will most likely go to a guy who can fill the H-back role, is pretty wide open. There’s a chance this guy isn’t even on the roster yet. Right now it would be down to Carrier, Harbor and Igwenagu, with Harbor being the favorite.

Key things to watch in training camp for the tight ends are the development of Zach Ertz and the role Casey will play in the offense. Ertz missed quite a bit of minicamp due to the NFL rule prohibiting his participation until he graduated.

Ertz draws some similarities to former teammate Coby Fleener. Fleener struggled adjusting to the NFL his rookie season, but some would attribute to how the Colts used him. He was used mainly as a blocker and in the short passing game, when his strengths lie in top end speed and beating guys deep. Chip will look to use Ertz outside to utilize his size and speed. His blocking and route running need work and will be developed this season. It will be key for Ertz to start off strong in camp to show that his missed time in minicamps did not hinder him too much.

Casey was signed from Houston and is expected to be fulfill a joker-type role on offense. He’s got size, strength and good burst speed. Fans in Houston felt that Casey was underutilized. Casey averaged over 11-yards-per-catch in his three-year career with the Texans. he will be back in a spread option offense where he had great success at Rice. It will be interesting to see how Chip plans to use him in this offense.

For Maclin and Jackson, there isn’t a whole lot I need to see from them in camp as far as their

Dec 2, 2012; Arlington, TX, USA; Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Jeremy Maclin (18) runs with the ball after making a reception during the game against the Dallas Cowboys at Cowboys Stadium. The Cowboys beat the Eagles 38-33. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

ability goes. Mainly we will be watching  how Chip uses them in his scheme. They will be required to block more than they are used to. Although they do not have much size, both have shown that they can be at least serviceable blockers (basically, they can get in the way of a corner).

The receiver battle in camp will be extremely interesting. Outside of Maclin and Jackson, it’s wide open. Kelly requires his receivers to be capable blockers in the run game. It also seems as though he prefers size, but if a guy is fast enough he can make due.

Avant has had a long tenure as the slot receiver in Philly, but with his lack of speed and versatility, he is not safe. He will have to rely on his sure hands and his ability to get open, coupled with his locker-room presence, to find a home on the roster. Benn was brought in from Tampa Bay after three disappointing seasons. He will need to show that he can use his size and speed to be effective in this offense.

Two guys I’m really going to be looking at this training camp are Demaris Johnson and Ifeanyi Momah. Johnson had a decent year filling in for Maclin and Jackson last year, and looked promising on special teams as a punter returner. Like Jackson, he’s a guy you want to get the ball to in space and watch him make people miss. Will Johnson mainly be used as a back up to Jackson and on special teams, or will Kelly game plan to get him the ball in certain situations, or will the similarities in his and Jackson’s game render him not as useful in Kelly’s eyes?

Ifeanyi Momah is a massive kid at 6’7, 240lbs. But here’s the kicker: He’s fast. Like, really fast. He ran a 4.40 at the NFL combine. That’s a hard feat to accomplish, but unheard of for someone his size. He his first few years in college were mediocre at best. He came out huge in the first game of his senior season with eght catches for 157 yards before tearing his ACL.

If Momah can show that he is healthy and can use his size and speed effectively the Eagles may have found their big red-zone-threat wide receiver. It may not be this year, but if the Eagles see even a glimpse of potential in Momah they will keep him on the 53-man roster and not risk losing him on the practice squad.

Don’t sleep on guys Riley Cooper or Russell Shepherd. Cooper finally showed some potential last year and has size that Chip Kelly likes. Shepherd is a play-maker and a guy that you can line up anywhere. As I’ve stated before, with Chip’s win the day attitude all spots are essentially open. May the best man win!