Hopefully some new hires in passing and catching will yield some improvements.
It isn’t just Alshon Jeffery And His Supporting Cast.
The Eagles, aware their passing game lacked down-the-field explosiveness and a consistent threat to defenses in 2016, made it a priority in the months after a 7–9 season to upgrade the pass-catching corps.
On the first day of free agency, way back in March, the Eagles made the biggest splash when they signed Jeffery, formerly of the Chicago Bears and a big-time talent considered the top player in the free-agent class, to a one-year contract. But they weren’t finished.
By adding another unrestricted free agent, Torrey Smith, and using two draft picks on wide receivers (Mack Hollins and Shelton Gibson), the Eagles effectively said, “Gentlemen, jobs are open! May the best players win!”
And so here we are. The Eagles are off until training camp begins on July 24, having completed two months of their offseason program. They feel like they’ve top-to-bottom upgraded the wide receivers.
Some out there, for sure, need more convincing.
“What we do with the pads on, when we get into the season, that’s really when we’ll know,” Smith said. “What we’ve done so far, I think, everyone is encouraged. But the true test comes when the season starts.”
There is no doubt if the Eagles hope to contend for a playoff spot — something they haven’t had since 2013 — the wide receivers have to be reliable. Trustworthy. Productive. Threatening to the defense.
Quarterback Carson Wentz needed more weapons in his second season, and the Eagles have provided them.
“He’s one of the main reasons I came here,” Jeffery said. “He’s a very talented quarterback and a great leader. He puts the ball right where you want it. So far, we’ve had a great chemistry. I want that to continue.”
Wide receiver hasn’t exactly been a position of strength historically for the Eagles. Since 1971, in fact, six Eagles receivers have made the Pro Bowl — Harold Carmichael, Mike Quick, Irving Fryar, Terrell Owens, DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin. Jeffery should have a chance to catch 85 to 100 passes this year. He’s the go-to receiver the Eagles have long missed.
But the speed of Smith, the slot presence of Jordan Matthews and the spring’s very obvious improvement of former first-round draft pick Nelson Agholor, along with the draft picks, present a much-improved picture over recent seasons.
“We’ve got competition that is exciting to see,” offensive coordinator Frank Reich said. “I like what I’m seeing. I like the way the guys are pushing each other. Now, we see how it looks with pads on and the defense able to do more things.”
Is the wide receiver position the most improved on the Eagles’ roster? Based on the spring practices, yes. But hope springs eternal in these months, and a more accurate picture is presented come August.
For now, though, it’s OK to dream big. The Eagles have some promise, and it’s very real, at wide receiver.
“We’ve got some ballers here,” Matthews said. “It’s very obvious we’ve upgraded. I love the way we’re pushing each other. We have to do it every day, earn the trust of the coaches and of Carson. Let’s play ball and take it to the defense. That’s what we want to do.” ••