After examining all remaining positions on the Eagles offense ahead of the start of OTA’s on Tuesday, it’s time to take a look at arguably the most exciting position on the offense heading into 2017, wide receiver. After a complete overhaul, the Eagles are stacked with talent outside…but beyond Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith, there is still much to be decided.
The battle for WR2 gets underway:
The addition of Torrey Smith certainly adds a level of explosiveness to the Eagles offense, but there is one man that should not be counted out…one man who will be extremely reliquent to give up his spot, Nelson Agholor. The USC standout underwhelmed in his second season and had some hurdles of his own to overcome. With both wideouts seeking a shot at redemption in 2017, the battle for the second outside spot is set to get underway on Tuesday…and with Mike Groh’s tutelage, many eyes will be fixed on who gains the upper hand early on in the proceedings.
However the battle goes far beyond the two receivers who have fallen from grace. Rookies Shelton Gibson and Mack Hollins will both be vying for their spot in rotation, and it might be that the Eagles actually have a committee effort at the position. Both newcomers were proven deep threats at the collegiate level, and with Hollins doing more than turning heads during the recent rookie minicamp, it’s incredibly likely that the duo will throw the Cat among the Pigeons.
Doug Pederson wanted competition at every position, and that’s exactly what he’s got at wide receiver. With four favorites battling over one starting spot, OTA’s cannot afford to be taken lightly by anybody. Especially those outside of the aforementioned, including Dorial Green-Beckham, who could well see his own spot on the rotation being vacated.
Can rookies set the tone?
A direct link to the first point, is the impact that the new rookie wideouts will have. Shelton Gibson and Mack Hollins certainly headline the group, but undrafted rookie and former quarterback Greg Ward will be one name looking to establish himself as his year’s Paul Turner or Rasheed Bailey.
Ward registered the most rushing yards by a QB in Houston history, tying the record for most rushing touchdowns. In fact, during the 2015 season, Ward was the only quarterback not named Deshaun Watson to rush for 1,000 yards and throw for 2,000. At 5’11, 186 lbs, Ward has the perfect frame for a wide receiver…but can he make the transition? Well, he was one of the names placing himself in the coaches good books after rookie minicamp, making some big catches during the individual drills.
It’s not yet known just how much the Eagles rookies will contribute in 2017, and with Hollins already eager to prove his potential reputation as a “special teamer”, the competition will be fierce for all…which could be bad news for those whose long-term future is anything but certain.
A change at the top:
For me, the most intriguing aspect of OTA’s has nothing to do with the receivers themselves, but moreover the coach in charge. Mike Groh was the Eagles biggest staff addition this offseason, and his impact can already be seen after some new drills were introduced during rookie minicamp. From Kenny Britt, to Alshon Jeffery, Groh’s track record with wideouts is beyond impressive when it comes to 1,000 yard seasons, so it’s clear his methods work.
We saw Chip Kelly’s musically induced practice, and some new drills introduced last year for Eagles linebackers..but it’s now Groh’s turn to leave his handprint over the NovaCare Complex..and from the intensity of the drills themselves, to how the players respond, to their form, attitude, and overall atmospheric difference, the catalyst of Groh’s presence could be the most underrated aspect of OTA’s.
Our first look at Alshon Jeffery in Midnight Green:
This one is the simplest, but also most energizing aspect of OTA’s for fans who have craved a number one wideout ever since the departure of DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin. The images of Jeffery in his practice uniform alone sent chills down the spine of many, and the videos of the drills, and reported impression that he made on the coaching staff substantiates his early impact.
OTA’s are the first time that we will get a closer look at Jeffery and how the Eagles decide to utilize him. While he’s the clear number one option at WR, the Bears had great success by placing him in the slot during redzone situations. Pederson has already established himself as a creative coach who isn’t afraid to experiment..so we could be seeing far more out of Alshon Jeffery than we already expect.
Finally, there’s his relationship with Carson Wentz. After the star receiver revealed the context of his bromantic back-and-forth with Carson Wentz following his signing with Philadelphia, the duo will now have a chance
Rasheed Bailey and Paul Turner. Two names who will spring to mind when you discuss preseason standouts. While one is no longer on the roster, Turner enters his second season with the team after biding his time on the practice squad and waiting for his opportunity to shine.
This year, the Eagles enter OTA’s with 12 receivers on the roster. With Turner being joined by Marcus Johnson, Dom Watford and Greg Ward in the list of underdogs vying to stand out and earn a place on the roster, the competition will be arguably even higher than the last time Turner was raising eyebrows working out of the slot.
Shelton Gibson and Mack Hollins may be two of the favorites to really shine, given their ability to take the top off of a defense and burn corners on deep routes. DGB and Bryce Treggs for instance may endure a tougher battle, but as Reuben Randle and Chris Givens proved last year, no wideout is a lock to make the roster..especially with the “prove-it” nature that the Birds have sought to deploy.
They say things happen in threes, and 2017 could well see the emergence of the third preseason standout to capture the hearts of fans before the real show begins..with all hopes being placed on performing in it.
Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports