Tuesday, June 3, 2014
Maclin scare illustrates change in Eagles
By Phil Sheridan
PHILADELPHIA -- Jeremy Maclin got up. The moment of hushed concern passed, and everything shifted back to normal in the Philadelphia Eagles' world. The wide receiver walked off the field as practice ended, reporting his knee was fine.
In that moment, though, much was revealed about the state of this team as it begins Chip Kelly's second season as head coach.
The Eagles' offense will depend on more players than just wide receiver Jeremy Maclin in 2014.
The immediate reaction: that another injury to Maclin could be devastating because of his perceived status as the replacement for DeSean Jackson in Kelly's scheme. But in reality, that is not the case and it never was. The Eagles will try to replace Jackson's production with Darren Sproles, with draft picks Jordan Matthews and Josh Huff, with second-year tight end Zach Ertz, with Arrelious Benn and, yes, with Maclin.
The Eagles won 10 games and the NFC East title last year without Maclin, who tore an ACL during training camp last summer. The former first-round pick has been a solid starter during his tenure here, but he has not had the kind of impact Jackson had. That's why, when the Eagles released Jackson in March, it was fair to worry that they were expecting too much from Maclin. Not only has he not been the big-play guy Jackson was, but Maclin would now be playing on two surgically reconstructed knees.
But here's the other twist. Any attempt to project Maclin's production based on his performance under Andy Reid is a waste of time. Kelly's scheme turned Riley Cooper, a former fifth-round pick, into a valuable asset and favorite target of quarterback Nick Foles. It will be fascinating to see what Kelly can do with Maclin.
"I was really excited about how he would fit into what we do because of what he can do," Kelly said of Maclin. "And then to lose him that early in camp was disappointing. You got a taste of him. But having him out there full speed, running out there right now, he's doing a really good job."
Maclin has good speed, but not Jackson's speed. So one issue is whether Maclin or someone else can provide enough of a deep threat to create space for LeSean McCoy to run the ball and for the other receivers to work underneath the coverage. The addition of Sproles by trade and of Matthews and Huff in the draft should help there.
But even McCoy wonders. He led the NFL in rushing last season. But McCoy said this week that he would have to see how the offense functions now before he could assess the impact of Jackson's departure.
The suspicion is that Kelly has all of this worked out in his busy mind. It is clear the coach made the decision to release Jackson. He wouldn't have done so without a sound plan for his offense to remain effective. And that is the objective. It isn't about replacing exactly what Jackson did, it's about building a balanced, varied attack with the players who are here.
All of those players stopped suddenly when Maclin went down at the end of Monday's practice. But that's because they were concerned for a teammate who is coming off a serious knee injury. They were not concerned about the fate of their offense. That is in too many hands this season.