With just a day from the start of training camp at Lehigh, it’s time for us to bring you the second installment in our preview series. A few days ago we looked at the pros and cons of the offensive line going into camp, and now it’s time to focus on some of the guys they’re trying to protect – the quarterbacks and receivers.
The Birds’ offense unit is young, with many of the guys still unable to rent cars on their own (or without a significant surcharge). Guys like wide receiver DeSean Jackson and tight end Brent Celek have already shown that they are among the NFL’s elite at their position, while receiver Jeremy Maclin and quarterback Kevin Kolb are part of the young core that will need to prove themselves as the #1 guys on a weekly basis.
Looking forward, this is Kevin Kolb’s offense. Although it can still be argued that this team would have been better off with Donovan McNabb (I wanted him to stay, for the record), he’s moved on to the next phase of his career in Washington. Kolb is young and while he doesn’t have the same speed or raw athleticism of his predecessor, he’s a QB that has the tools to be more memorable than Bobby Hoying.
He has gotten a taste of running the offense in the past, from the ’08 game against Baltimore when #5 was benched in the second half, to the two games last season against New Orleans and Kansas City. What we saw was a raw talent that became increasing confident and was quick to find his targets.
Expect to see less of those glorious downfield bombs to DeSean Jackson and more short yardage plays. Best friend Brent Celek was a popular target in those two games last year when Donovan was down, and with the shifting scope of the offense, the tight end is likely to get more than his fair share of passes.
Second year receiver Jeremy Maclin will benefit as well. While he’s not as flashy as #10, he quietly does things very well, and I expect him to pull down more balls than Jackson. As we saw at the end of last season, opposing secondaries were neutralizing him, and this year we’ll see how well he adapts. In the meantime, expect the pass happy Birds to look towards Maclin even more.
On the depth chart, Jason Avant may come in as the #3 guy, but his contributions are just as important. He emerged as a huge threat last season, especially on third down. In a way, he’s the anti-receiver. He quietly pulls down catches with increasing regularly, and there is absolutely no show about it. He’s a blue collar player for a blue collar town.
Hank Baskett, who is back through free agency, and rookie Riley Cooper, will more than likely be the fourth and fifth receivers. Cooper, coming out of Florida, made his mark this spring and should be a shoe-in with the team if he keeps up that play at Lehigh.
The number one guy at tight end is the aforementioned Brent Celek. Last year was his first full year as a starter and he made it count. This season will be his league wide coming out party, and if past numbers are of any indication, he’ll be make a trip to the Pro Bowl, both for his receiving and blocking.
Also in the mix are second-year guy Cornelius Ingram, who is back after a torn ACL. If healthy, he’ll be just what the teams needs, but his health makes him a big question mark right now. There’s also rookie Clay Harbor, who has shown the ability to catch and block, a definite plus for any tight end hoping to make the team.
Beyond the starters, there are a few options on the bench depending on how many tight ends and receivers the team decides to keep. Vet Martin Rucker could be an interesting option should Harbor not work out or Ingram goes down with another injury. There’s also the question of a sixth receiver and whether the team feels they’ll need a guy like Jordan Norwood or Chad Hall. With five promising receivers, it’s probably superfluous, but a brilliant training camp performance could force the team’s hand.
Barring an injury, we won’t see rookie third-string QB Mike Kafka take any snaps. The team will likely give Michael Vick more playing, both as a traditional guy under center and in the Wildcat formation. Now that he’s completely back in playing shape, he’ll be more of a factor on the field. While we won’t ever see the Vick of yore again, his speed athleticism will help the team down the stretch. And not to open debate, but on the off chance that Kolb is a bust, we could see more of #7 than we ever bargained for.
In this QB-driven league, the Eagles may have some uncertainty with a new guy taking the reins this year, but they’re 100% set with the receiving corps. On any given play, Jackson, Maclin, Celek, or Avant all have the potential to make a big catch. With all of the changes on the team, it’s comforting to know that at least one area of the team will excel in 2010.