In three days time, the dust will have settled. No more opportunities, no more snaps. Preseason will have come to a close and for 37 players currently on the Eagles roster, their future will take a very different turn. The ‘Backup Bowl’ fixture against the New York Jets is a do-or-die scenario for many, but for the receivers, the sky is the limit.
The Eagles wideout room isn’t loaded with certainty as of right now. Alshon Jeffery is still rehabbing an injury, Mack Hollins has been battling a lower-body injury and Nelson Agholor has missed preseason reps as well as come camp practices. The entire depth chart has been shifted up, giving great exposure to underdogs who have made the most of such a rare opportunities.
Shelton Gibson leads the Eagles in receiving yards and touchdowns after a stunning preseason breakout, while DeAndre Carter, a late arrival to the battle, has stolen the hearts of fans everywhere as Paul Turner once did. The difference is, Carter has a real shot to make the roster.
“He’s done a really good job.” Offensive coordinator, Mike Groh told reporters yesterday. “He’s a guy that we added in training camp and I’m glad that he’s here. He certainly has put himself in a position to be really competitive for a roster spot. Made some good plays the other night and some other plays he has got to improve on. Some easy things that we can get cleaned up. I think he’s focused on getting that done.
He’s made some plays and he’s certainly shown up in the games.”
To make the situation even more interesting, Markus Wheaton, a receiver who many had pinned as a breakout candidate seeking to rejuvenate his career, has also suffered injury setbacks, while Mike Wallace, the team’s number 2 wideout by default has missed a bulk of preseason action and has opened the windows for the underdogs to shine. Injuries, or rather avoiding them, has been the name of the game for a depleted receiving corps who are working without their starting quarterback in 11-on-11 drills.
” I don’t think missing time is beneficial for anybody who is competing for a roster spot.” Groh continued when asked about the progress of Wheaton. “It’s disappointing when that happens, but that’s part of the game. He’s been working really hard to try to get healthy. He was out there running around a little bit yesterday, as well. He’s one of those guys that are starting to feel better.
So here we are.
One more game, one more moment. For names like DeAndre Carter, Rashard Davis and Kamar Aiken, this could be the difference between surprisingly throwing themselves onto the bottom of the Eagles WR depth chart, or facing months of uncertainty. If the Eagles go into week one with a cloud of questions over their receiving corps, they will need insurance policies.
It’s currently unknown whether Alshon Jeffery will be ready for next Thursday’s season opener against Atlanta and Doug Pederson, as he has with Carson Wentz, has played his cards close to his chest.
“Well, first of all, he’s doing well in this rehab.” The Super Bowl winning Head Coach said. “He’s working every day. He’s progressed up to about 75 throws a day and really doing a nice job with that. We’re just going to continue to monitor him and we’ll see where he is at next week and make a decision.”
If Jeffery is indeed absent and Mack Hollins isn’t 100%, it’s a lot of weight to place on the shoulders of Wallace, who hasn’t been the most active this offseason and Nelson Agholor who has dealt with minor injuries of his own. That outside depth will be so, so vital in the opening weeks, meaning players like Shelton Gibson and DeAndre Carter have a real chance to maximize their exposure one last time in week 4, proving to the coaching staff that they’re worthy of playing time when the snaps really count.
Whether it’s a player on the bubble or an underdog such as Greg Ward or Tim Wilson, the importance of this game cannot be stressed enough. The fourth preseason game, to many, is simply one last chance for the backups to prove their worth or large underdogs to audition for other teams and practice squad contention. For the Eagles wide receivers, this could be the path to playing in an NFL regular season that they’ve dreamed of since they were children.
Mandatory Credit: Scott R. Galvin-USA TODAY Sports