Heading into the offseason, wide receiver was among the Eagles top priorities. Would the team add Corey Davis or Mike Williams in round one of the NFL Draft, or simply look for some veteran presence through free agency? Fast forward to the start of OTA’s, and the corps is crammed with talent. From the additions of Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith, to the drafting of Mack Hollins and Shelton Gibson, the Eagles have an abundance of talent at the position…and when it comes to deciding who makes the roster, it all comes down to how deep a new culture is embedded into the DNA of the players themselves.
One of the first moves that the Eagles made after the end of last season, was parting ways with wide receivers coach Greg Lewis. In turn, the Eagles sought a more experienced coach who has shown an ability to help develop players into stars. This is something that his replacement, 45-year old Mike Groh has shown consistently throughout his career.
Prior to his lone season in LA, where Kenny Britt amassed 1,000 yards in a single season for the first time in his career, Groh spent time with the Chicago Bears and New York Jets. Working with Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall, Groh rapidly grew a reputation as one of the best in his profession.
His handprints can already be seen on the team during OTA’s, with his extremely vocal style of leadership and some new drills that had previously not been seen during Eagles practices.
Eagles new WR coach Mike Groh was yelling at DGB quite a few times. "Why are you looking at the ground! There's nothing there!"
— Brandon Lee Gowton (@BrandonGowton) May 23, 2017
The main thing to note is how Groh is whipping his players into shape early on, setting a strong tone. Not only that, but with so many undecided roster spots…every player simply has to compete. Alshon Jeffery is reported to be one of the early trend setters, impressing coaches and media members on the opening day of OTA’s through his presence alone. However, beyond the former Chicago Bears standout and arguably Jordan Matthews, it’s very much open season.
The main battle and question to be answered is who is going to start on the opposite side of the field? The two prime contenders appear to be newly signed Torrey Smith, and the resurgent Nelson Agholor. While it’s the USC standout currently turning heads with what appears to be a new attitude, the prove-it deal signed by Smith ensures that if he fails to shine during the offseason, he could be subsequently cut by the team, or see himself buried in the depth chart…and that’s exactly where the culture begins to marinate.
Dorial Green-Beckham for instance is one wideout who could very well be on a lifeline. Next season, he is set to account for just over $1.1M of salary cap space and as it stands, his role is anything but cemented. With just 392 yards during his first season in Midnight green, DGB failed to utilize his 6’5, 237 lbs, frame consistently, meaning that the redzone threat that the Eagles once coveted was still a hole that needed filling.
As things stand, DGB has direct competition with not just one wide receiver, but two for that niche in Pederson’s Offense. Former Tarheel, Mack Hollins, not only stands at 6’4, but comes without the existing character concerns and a background of being a perennial deep threat. A collar bone injury held Hollins back in 2016, as he received for 309 yards and four scores in the seven games he did play. In the year beforehand, he averaged 24.8 yards per reception and recorded eight touchdowns and 745 yards on 30 targets.
Then, there’s West Virginia’s Shelton Gibson. His 4.5 40-yard dash time was hampered, with a 4.39 being a more accurate reading for the newly drafted wideout. In 32 games,the 5’9 wideout had 1,898 yards, averaging 22.6 yards per catch..and for good measures, 17 trips to the end zone. Needless to say, Gibson could help boost the passing game, and have QB Carson Wentz going long. Gibson wideout caught 43 passes for 951 yards last season..but interestingly, he was targeted on deep looks 29 times. Of the 17 that were labelled “Catchable”, he hauled in each and every one for 726 yards and a score. In the last two seasons alone, 36% of his receptions went for 25 yards or more.
Gibson also poses a threat to Bryce Treggs. Originally signed by the Niners after going undrafted, Treggs eventually found his way to Philadelphia as the team clawed at ways to take the top off of a Defense. Treggs was only able to haul in one eye catching pass that year, as he received for 80 yards. The Cal product grew close with DGB as the season progressed, but now there are two newly drafted guys who seem to tick all of the skill set boxes and then some. If both Treggs and DGB are to retain any hope of staying on the Eagles roster, they simply HAVE to shine in an ultra competitive environment.
The Eagles currently have 12 wide receivers on the roster…meaning that once again, competition will be the focus. However this time, it’s all or nothing. A mixture of prove-it deals, players in need of a breakout and those now simply suffocated by the talent surrounding them, make up a corps of players who simply cannot afford to take the offseason workouts lightly. There’s almost a sense of desperation surrounding the position…and when you combine that with the prowess of Mike Groh, what you have is a pack of Dogs who are chomping at the bit to earn their role.
Last year saw what I would call the first step in establishing this culture. The Eagles added Reuben Randle, Chris Givens, T.J Graham to their roster last year with the hopes of adding a proven deep threat to work with Sam Bradford, while rejuvenating the career of a former star. None of the three would tick those boxes as planned, leaving the team extremely short at the position.
This year, the needs remain the same…but the talent differs. There are some extremely interesting UDFA’s to keep an eye on, including former quarterback Greg Ward, and with such a variety of options…nobody can afford a bad day. Day one of OTA’s acted as a rude awakening for Dorial Green-Beckham, and if he is unable to rekindle the fire that once saw him emerge as a reliable threat for Marcus Mariota, then the likes of Mack Hollins, who is out to prove he’s more than just a special teamer, will be jumping at the gun for the chance to displace him.
The Eagles aren’t afraid to cut the bigger names, even those who have only recently joined the team. Competition is the name of the game…and Mike Groh is the enforcer. The Eagles wideouts have a new ultra-competitive culture to embrace, because if they don’t, they may find that their slot on the 53-man roster isn’t as safe as they once thought.
That in itself will ensure that the entire corps is filled with receivers who share the same work ethic that’s been refracted from Jordan Matthews in the last few years, and minimizing the chances of repeating the same mistakes as they did in year’s prior. It’s a new era for the Eagles receiving corps and it all starts with OTA’s.