Why the Philadelphia Eagles Will Survive at the Wide Receiver Position
It's been quite the offseason for the Philadelphia Eagles wide receivers. However, not in a good way.
First, Jeremy Maclin suffered a crushing injury blow. Maclin, the Eagles leading receiver in 2012 in receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns, suffered a torn ACL during the second day of training camp.
It was a devastating blow for Maclin, who was about to enter the final year of his rookie contract and was expected to flourish in new coach Chip Kelly's offensive system.
However, the nightmare was only beginning for the Eagles.
On Wednesday afternoon, a video surfaced online of Eagles wide receiver Riley Cooper using a racial slur at a Kenny Chesney concert that took place at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia over the summer.
Despite later apologizing for the slur, Cooper has faced plenty of backlash around the league and from his own team after the video surfaced. In addition to having to pay an undisclosed fine to the Eagles organization, Cooper has also faced the possibility of losing respect from his teammates.
I forgive him. We've been friends for a long time. But in a situation like this, you really find out about someone. Just on a friendship level, I can't really respect someone like that.
Now, Cooper has faced even more embarrassment from the Eagles. On Friday, the Eagles announced that Cooper will be excused from the team while he seeks counseling for his inappropriate behavior, according to the team's official website:
As we have said, Riley Cooper will be seeking counseling and we have excused him from all team activities. This is all new territory and we are going to evaluate this timetable every step of the way. He will meet with professionals provided by the Eagles during this period of time to better help him understand how his words have hurt so many, including his teammates.
This may just be the beginning of Riley Cooper's downfall with the Eagles, and possibly maybe even the National Football League.
While that will be sorted out in time, it's necessary that the Eagles focus on their on-the-field issues now, especially at the wide receiver position.
While Maclin's, who's out for the season, and Cooper's, who's out indefinitely, absences will be crushing blows for the Eagles offense, all hope is not lost in Philadelphia.
Read on to find out three reasons why.
The Eagles Will Have a Run-First Offense
Even before Maclin and Cooper ran into their respective troubles, the Eagles were most likely planning on being a run-first offense.
Now that two of the team's top five receiving options are out indefinitely, Chip Kelly faces no other option but to make the running game the staple of his offense.
Led by LeSean McCoy and Bryce Brown, the Eagles have as good of a one-two punch at running back as any other team in the league.
Despite missing six games last season due to injury, McCoy managed to pile up 840 rushing yards and remains one of the league's most lethal dual-threat running backs.
Brown, who replaced McCoy as the team's first-choice rusher when McCoy went down injured, had a stellar rookie season, managing to rush for 564 yards with four touchdowns.
While Kelly became known for his up-tempo, efficient, high-producing offense during his time at the University of Oregon, he accomplished all of that with his ground game. In fact, 62 percent of Kelly's plays while running the Ducks were running plays.
With the Eagles and their coaching staff still trying to figure out the quarterback situation, there is much uncertainty revolving around the passing game. While turnovers and injuries have plagued Michael Vick, inexperience and mistakes have cost Nick Foles. Matt Barkley is a long shot to get the starting job.
With the uncertainty of who will be under center for the Eagles come September, there isn't much uncertainty surrounding Philadelphia's running game. With a healthy offensive line projected to be intact by the regular season, the Eagles have the potential to contain one of the league's best ground games.
With McCoy, Brown, Chris Polk and even Felix Jones in the fold in Philadelphia, expect the running game to make up for the uncertainty surrounding the air attack.
Multiple Tight End Sets Will Be Staple of Offense
Many Eagles fans were surprised when their team used the 35th overall pick of the 2013 NFL draft with a tight end.
However, when Chip Kelly elected to select Zach Ertz out of Stanford University, he made a statement to every fan across the league about what kind of offense he will be running in Philadelphia.
With an above-average tight end already on the roster in Brent Celek (and another capable tight end in Clay Harbor), Kelly made upgrading the position a priority this offseason with the selection of Ertz in the draft, as well as the acquisition of the versatile James Casey in free agency. Casey, who comes to the Eagles from the Houston Texas, has the ability to play in the slot, outside the hash or even in the backfield as an H-back or fullback.
All of these moves mean one thing: Tight ends will be a huge piece of the offensive puzzle for the Eagles under Kelly.
Unlike the Andy Reid era, in which the Eagles used multiple-tight-end sets sparingly, Kelly will use them frequently. Especially with Maclin, and possibly Cooper, out for a long period of time, fans at Lincoln Financial Field should get used to seeing a combination of Celek, Ertz and Casey, or all three, on the field at a time.
Jordan Raanan of NJ.com recently posted an article in which Kelly stated that the Eagles will definitely be using these multiple-tight-end sets as a part of their offense:
We are going to go three tight ends in a game. Now, if they go three linebackers, we spread them out and if they go [defensive backs], we smash you. So, pick your poison.
The multiple-tight-end set has revolutionized the NFL over recent seasons. Specifically, the New England Patriots and coach Bill Belichick seemed to master the set by using Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez at the same time in order to create mismatches in the secondary and with the linebackers.
Kelly, using the height, speed and athleticism of Celek, Ertz and Casey, will look to compensate for his lack of deep talent at the wide receiver position by doing the same as Belichick has done in Foxborough.
Depth at Wide Receiver
Luckily for fans in Philadelphia, if there's one position on the Eagles roster that has enough depth, it is wide receiver.
Despite guys like Maclin and Cooper being out of the team for an extended period of time, the Eagles have more than enough talent on the roster to make up for those losses.
Now, I'm not saying that the production of guys like Maclin and Cooper can be replaced easily, or will be replaced. Combined, those two guys caught 10 touchdowns last season and combined to rack up over 1,100 receiving yards. Production like that cannot be reproduced.
However, the Eagles do have options at hand. Guys like Jason Avant and Damaris Johnson will be called upon to perform at a high level this season.
Avant, who is typically a slot receiver, may ask to play on the outside this year due to Maclin and Cooper's absences. The 30-year-old had 53 receptions for 648 yards last season.
Johnson, who is coming off his rookie season, is a DeSean Jackson-type player. The 5'8" 23-year-old out of Tulsa caught 19 passes for 256 yards in his rookie season last year. Johnson, whose skill set should entice Kelly, will look to play a much bigger role in the Eagles' up-tempo offense this season.
Besides Avant and Cooper, rookies Russell Shepard, who has impressed at training camp so far this year, and 6'7" Ifeanyi Momah will have a shot to make the roster and contribute this season.
While any team in the league would struggle to make up for absences like the Eagles will have to do with Maclin and Cooper, Philadelphia has enough talent and depth on their roster to be able to do so.
When the Philadelphia Eagles learned that Maclin will be out for the year, and that Cooper will be away from the team for an extended period of time, they did not panic.
They are not currently rushing around the free-agent market looking for veterans to pluck out of the streets and make them learn a whole new system. No, the Eagles and Kelly are certainly not panicking.
Instead, they are sticking with their in-house options. They recognize that the running backs, tight ends and talent and depth at wide receiver may be enough to somewhat reproduce Maclin's and Cooper's production.
Despite the huge blow that Maclin's and Cooper's absences will surely deal Philadelphia, the Eagles know that they will survive without them, and will look to Kelly to lead them to make sure that they do.
What are your thoughts? Will the Eagles survive without Maclin, and possibly Cooper? Or does the offense not have enough weapons in their arsenal? Share your opinions on the matter in the comment thread below!