The names jumped off the draft board and everybody noticed: A game-changing wide receiver, a workhorse running back and a superstar athlete at tight end. Instead of having a draft laden with linemen, the Eagles went the sexy route, as it turned out. And the national "experts" and the local media loved it all, every bit of it. Now that the euphoria has calmed a bit, one question remains: How much help can the rookies provide?
Maybe a better question, ultimately, will be: How much do the rookies need to provide?
Certainly, first-round pick Jeremy Maclin (wide receiver) and second-round pick LeSean McCoy (running back) and fifth-round pick Cornelius Ingram (tight end) showed in the spring drills that they have enormous ability. How quickly that ability manifests itself remains to be seen, but the Eagles know they have something they can work with this year and in the years to come. Maclin is a smooth receiver with fine speed and excellent hands. McCoy is a make-you-miss back who has the kind of versatility necessary to perform in this offense. And Ingram is a huge body with good speed who potentially gives the Eagles the opportunity to create favorable matchups in the passing game.
The masses seem to think that all three can come in and contribute. That may be true. It's also a dangerous assumption to make, and it could be foolhardy to believe that just because DeSean Jackson was so good as a rookie that Maclin can duplicate that success, and that because McCoy looked good in the spring he can do it in the fall, and that because Ingram looks so good in a uniform he can seamlessly go out and make it happen in the regular season.
One of the major, major storylines of this training camp is finding out how much the rookies can handle. There are other rookies to consider, like defensive back Macho Harris and wide receiver Brandon Gibson, but the rest of the draft class looks more at this point like developmental players rather than instant-playing time rookies.
The focus is clearly on Maclin, McCoy and Ingram.
It won't be easy for Maclin to walk in and gain significant playing time. With Jackson and veterans Kevin Curtis, Reggie Brown and Jason Avant lined up, Maclin has some high-caliber talent to leap to get on the field. Jackson is a star in the making and is primed for a superb season. Curtis is fully healthy after a tough 2008 season. One year after catching 77 passes, Curtis was stifled by a sports hernia injury and his production fell dramatically. Avant is the team's go-to option in the slot, and Brown is hoping to rebound after a poor '08 season. He was spectacular in the spring.
Where is Maclin in the pecking order? It really doesn't matter. What matters is that he steps up and plays fast football, catches the ball with confidence and runs sharp, crisp routes. Maclin has to show he can separate at this level, and that he can comprehend the complications of this offense after playing in a spread attack at Missouri. He made good strides in the spring. Signing Maclin on time is integral as those first three days of camp will allow him to take major reps and refresh and enhance his knowledge of the offense.
McCoy is going to have a full camp of repetitions. He already had a crash course in the spring with Brian Westbrook sidelined, and McCoy held up well and showed the coaches he could learn and retain the X's and O's. McCoy's greatest challenge will be picking up on the important other things besides running the ball -- blocking, recognizing blitzes and making sure he is perfect in his routes in the passing game.
No question the Eagles are high on McCoy. Otherwise, they would have gone out and signed a veteran off the streets to add insurance just in case Westbrook is not fit after his two surgeries in the off-season. Instead, there is great optimism about Westbrook and where he is at physically. He is going to be ready for the season. Training camp? It could be that McCoy is the headline feature at Lehigh.
Ingram has a chance to earn important playing time in a tandem situation at tight end with Brent Celek. Celek has come a long way and has earned the job as the starter at tight end, but the Eagles need at least two players at the position to shine. Matt Schobel is the veteran presence here, and he gives the Eagles a reliable presence should they face an emergency situation. The Eagles didn't make a move in the off-season to pick up a veteran and instead felt they could find an answer in the draft to complement and ultimately challenge Celek.
Ingram is that guy. He was excellent in the spring after having not played at Florida last year. Ingram suffered a torn ACL early in the Gators' training camp and actually hasn't been in pads on a football field for more than a full football season. He is eager to get it going at Lehigh, and the Eagles are eager to see if he is as good in pads as he looked in a helmet and shorts in May and June.
The blocking part of the equation is one to watch in one-on-one drills. Ingram is big and strong, but he wasn't asked to block much at Florida. He is a worker, though, and likely put in extra hours since the June camps working on his blocking technique.
These are the three rookies to watch in camp as far as them making an immediate impact. The grind is a difficult one and the Eagles are going to push all three very, very hard. They want to see what they can expect from the rookies right away. How much they will actually need them to play remains to be seen. The Eagles want to emerge from camp knowing what they have in the three gifted players who headline the Draft Class of 2009.