Philadelphia Eagles: Vets and Rookies Fight for Spots on Birds' Roster

Chris MurrayContributor IMay 20, 2009

PHILADELPHIA - MAY 1: Wide receiver Jeremy Maclin #18 of the Philadelphia Eagles runs during minicamp practice at the NovaCare Complex on May 1, 2009 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Hunter Martin/Getty Images)

PHILADELPHIA—Just about every NFL analyst and pundit said the Eagles had the best offseason in terms of free agent signings and draft picks.


At least, on paper.


For all of that to be true for the Birds on the field means that the new players, especially the rookies, are going have to convince the Eagles' coaching staff that they are better than the players that already here.


During the first week of minicamp following the NFL Draft, Eagles head coach Andy Reid said he expects rookies to be in thick of all the battles for starting spots on the Birds roster.


“We're going to take it all the way through training camp and see how they do,” Reid said. “If I feel like they're ready to play, we'll put them in there. My time line is that you get ready right (to start) now. We're going to throw a lot of things at them and we're going to see if they can digest it.”


With Birds cornerback Sheldon Brown upset with Eagles management over his contract and demanding a trade, the fight for the right cornerback spot got interesting when the team traded for former New England Patriots corner Ellis Hobbs.


The team apparently made the move for the younger Hobbs in case Brown decides to hold out from training camp or if he became so much of a distraction that they have to send him on his merry way.


Meanwhile, Brown said he welcomes the competition from Hobbs and does not see him as an enemy combatant or a threat to his position.


“They bring in people every year now, so don't get it twisted. I've been fighting for my job every year,” Brown told a group of reporters when he first arrived to minicamp on May 1. “If Ellis Hobbs makes the football team better, he needs to be on the football period and I have no problem with that.”


Hobbs said he doesn't view himself as a guy brought in as an insurance policy to Brown's trade demands. For him it's an opportunity to compete for a starting position.


“One man's trash is another man's treasure, that's how I look at it,” Hobbs said.


“Somebody felt like it was time for me to move on in that area and somebody else said the time is here and the time is now for me, so I don't look at it in that sense of they're using me as a statement call or anything like that.I just see this as a window of opportunity.”


The statistical comparison between the two is interesting. Brown had 55 tackles, one interception, and 20 pass knockdowns in 2008. Hobbs had 47 tackles, 11 pass deflections, and three interceptions.


Another possible training camp battle in the Birds secondary will probably be at the free safety position. According to the Eagles unofficial depth chart—second-year safety Quintin Demps is the starter at that spot, but will no doubt get a challenge from newly signed Eagles safeties Rashad Baker and Sean Jones.


At this point, Demps, who signed a five-year contract, might have the advantage because of his familiarity with Jim Johnson's defense and the fact that he got significant playing time as a rookie. But Baker and Jones also have something to prove as well.


Jones (6'11", 224 pounds) spent the first four years of his career with the Cleveland Brown and is coming off a solid season in 2008 despite missing four games because of arthroscopic knee surgery. He had 56 tackles, four interceptions and one forced fumble.


Baker, who played mostly on special teams during his time with the Raiders and Patriots, is hungry to prove that he can be a starter in this league as well. Another player that could be in the hunt a the free safety spot is Virginia Tech rookie Victor “Macho” Harris. During his four-year career with the Hokies, Harris played both corner and safety.


On the offensive side of the ball, the big question is whether of not No. 1 draft choice Jeremy Maclin can somehow break into the starting lineup as a wide receiver. At 6'0", 200 pounds, the former Missouri star is actually bigger and faster than starting receiver Kevin Curtis.


That will depend on his ability to learn the West Coast offense after playing in Missouri's version of the spread offense in which he had to run slants or deep patterns, but very few intermediate routes.


“They didn't waste a first-round pick if the coaches didn't expect me to play, but they're not going to play me unless I do things that are necessary that will put me on the field,” Maclin said after going through a day of practice at the Eagles rookie minicamp.


“It's just working on the small things, the small details of routes, I think that's what everybody has to work on. My biggest asset is being a play maker, making plays when the ball comes my way and running after the catch is definitely one of abilities.”


Eagles offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg said Maclin has improved from his route-running from last minicamp.


“He has had a big jump from the first camp to this camp,” Mornhinweg said.


“At the first camp, he did some outstanding things. At this minicamp he's done an outstanding job of getting in and out of some of those medium-range cuts. He's not thinking quite as much, which is natural. He's still thinking a lot. He 's made a big jump from last camp to this camp. He had an outstanding at the first camp.”


In addition, Maclin is also competing against experienced returnees like Hank Baskett and Jason Avant, who both had solid seasons in 2008.


Former Delaware State star Shaheer McBride, who spent all of last season on the practice squad and is listed as a third string receiver on the Eagles unofficial depth chart is also in the competition.


“He's improved dramatically, he's got a real chance at competing this year,” said Mornhinweg. “He's a big strong wide receiver that has improved dramatically with his skills set.”


Mornhinweg said he likes this current group of young receivers:“It's the most talented group of young receivers, absolutely.”


The one receiver that might be the odd man out here could be five-year veteran Reggie Brown—who saw his playing greatly reduced last season, partially because of injuries and also because of the emergence of then rookie DeSean Jackson, who caught 62 passes for 912 yards and two touchdowns.


Brown played in 10 games, started just three games and ended the season with just 18 catches for 252 yards.


Needless to say Brown has not been happy about the situation.


“I'm trying to stay positive and take a positive approach to it,” Brown said. “I just have to lay back and see what happens. You want to get out there and tell everyone how feel, but I'm taking a different approach. It's going to work itself out.”


If rookie tight end Cornelius Ingram (6'4", 245) can learn how to play the tight end position with a defensive end lined up over him, he could pose a challenge to Brent Celek, who emerged as a solid starter late in the season.


During the 2008 postseason, He caught 19 passes for 151 yards and three touchdowns including a pair TD passes in the NFC title game against Arizona.


Veteran Matt Schobel (6-5, 247) and rookie and Purdue alum Eugene Bright (6-4, 255) will also be there to make things competitive for the Birds at the tight end spot.


“I think all of our tight ends are going to battling in training camp and there's going to some battles there,” Mornhinweg said during Wednesday's rookie minicamp.


“Brent Celek is a real dependable, disciplined, conscientious player and you've got a host of other guys who are very good players. Ingram's athleticism just shows up right way.”


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