They were both out there on Wednesday at the NovaCare Complex under the bright sunshine, just a perfect day to see DeSean Jackson and Alshon Jeffery practicing together, something the Eagles have been waiting for, well, all season. Two veterans who have been there, done that, in the NFL. With fingers crossed, Jackson and Jeffery will see how they feel on Thursday and Friday – Jackson, a balky hamstring for the last few weeks, and Jeffery's foot, injured last December – and if they clear the health test, it's likely they will be in uniform Sunday against Baltimore and, the blueprint goes, will inject some weapons Baltimore's defense must account for in the Eagles' offense. Both were limited in practice on Wednesday, and both will have to increase their reps this week to play on Sunday, at least in theory.
It's been a long while, right? The two haven't been on the field together – whole and healthy – since the 2019 season opener against Washington and, wow, what a show it was. Jackson caught eight passes for 154 yards and touchdowns of 51 and 53 yards. Jeffery, although not the headliner, was impressive as well with five receptions for 49 yards and a score, and also added a touchdown on the ground. Quarterback Carson Wentz on the day – a glorious one, if you remember, full of so much promise – went 28-of-39 for 313 yards and three touchdowns, completing passes to eight different receivers.
That was then.
This is now.
And as much as both Jackson and Jeffery have accomplished on the field in their NFL careers, the picture has changed at wide receiver for the Eagles. Travis Fulgham caught a big-time touchdown against San Francisco to fuel a much-needed win and followed that up with a 10-catch, 152-yard, 1-touchdown game in Pittsburgh. He's earned the right to play. Rookie John Hightower has been forced, probably ahead of schedule, into the lineup and has had the usual ups and downs a first-year player has, but he's making progress. The Eagles want to see more. Same with sixth-round draft pick Quez Watkins, who had his first taste of regular-season action in Pittsburgh and drew a pass interference penalty. Second-year man J.J. Arcega-Whiteside had a pretty catch late in the first half of Sunday's loss and helped running back Miles Sanders on his 74-yard touchdown run with a big block down the field. Greg Ward catches everything thrown his way as a slot receiver.
And here come Jeffery and Jackson, hopefully ready to go. What does Head Coach Doug Pederson do here?
"It's a difficult thing," Pederson said on Wednesday. "One, we have to make sure that the player in question is healthy, right? That's why we practice during the week and we let them practice today and we see how they feel tomorrow on a Thursday. Then we see how they feel on Friday. Then we can make a decision for gameday.
"At the same time, it is hard to say, 'Hey Travis, we're going to push you to the side because here comes a couple of guys.' We've got to get all of our guys integrated back into practice this week. At the end of the say, we've got to select the four or five guys that we feel give us the best opportunity on gameday. Some of it could be based purely on matchup. Obviously, Travis has made a case to continue to play and play at a high level."
What Pederson is saying there is that he doesn't want to say anything publicly because, well, he may not quite have an answer yet. It's a day-by-day thing, but at some point before Friday the Eagles are going to have to figure out the rotation and stick with it. Fulgham has to play. He's earned it. Jackson and Jeffery are certainly going to play if they are healthy because they're talented and they've accomplished far more in their careers and if they show in practice that they're ready, and that's they're better than the young receivers, they should be on the field as well.
Somehow, the Eagles have to make everybody happy here and, more importantly, have to bolster the production in the passing game. At the end of the day, that's what is important. The Eagles have a huge game on Sunday against a defense that allows an NFL-low 15.2 points per game, that has a veteran secondary with maybe the best cornerbacks in the league. It makes sense that Jeffery and Jackson are better equipped to combat that kind of talent than, say, Arcega-Whiteside, Hightower, and Watkins.
But we'll see. This is a delicate balance of developing young players and putting the players on the field who give the Eagles the best chance of winning the football game. Fulgham, Jackson, Jeffery, and Ward are, as I'm typing out the names and thinking out loud, a pretty good foursome. You could keep Hightower in there as he has speed and can be a threat down the field. This is one scenario to consider.
Let's see how it develops throughout the week. The health of Jeffery and Jackson is first on the list of things to consider at wide receiver. After that, it's about beating the Ravens. The Eagles need all the help they can get at wide receiver, no matter the years of experience on the ledger. That's what it comes down to for Pederson as he decides his gameday roster.