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Lawlor: Passing Game Poised To Take A Big Step Forward In 2017


The Eagles finished 24th in the league in passing yards last season. Carson Wentz had a passer rating of 79.3 and only threw for 16 touchdowns. He averaged just 6.2 yards per passing attempt. The receivers only averaged 10 yards per catch and had way too many dropped passes. The passing game needed a lot of work.

The coaches and front office knew they had to make changes. They brought in Nick Foles and Matt McGloin to improve the quarterback room. The front office made sure to improve the depth on the offensive line. The team made big moves at receiver, signing free agents Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith. They drafted Mack Hollins and Shelton Gibson. Doug Pederson hired a new receivers coach in Mike Groh, hoping he could get the holdover players to improve their level of play.

So far, the changes look like they are paying off - in a big way.

Wentz had the best practice of his young career on Saturday. He was 15-for-15 in a 7-on-7 drill, making smart reads and accurate throws. Wentz spread the ball around, going short and deep, left and right. This wasn't a case of Wentz throwing a bunch of short passes. This wasn't a case of Wentz feeding the ball to one receiver over and over. This was a quarterback in control of his offense. Wentz found the open receiver and got him the ball. He threw into tight coverage a couple of times, giving his receivers a chance to make plays. You love to see a quarterback who has confidence that his receivers will find a way to win even when a defender is right there.

This wasn't an isolated practice. Wentz was up and down early in the spring but got better as the Organized Team Activities moved along and then played even better in minicamp. Wentz has played well so far in Training Camp. The coaches want him to "stack practices." That means playing well over and over, instead of being great one day and erratic the next. Coaches put a premium on consistency.

The improved play of the receivers is a big reason why Wentz is playing well right now. Jeffery has lived up to the hype of being the top free agent receiver from the offseason. He has looked like a star receiver every time he's taken the field for the Eagles. Jeffery catches nearly everything that gets in his area. Wentz knows he has a receiver who he can force the ball to, no matter how good the coverage. That wasn't the case last year. It seems like Jeffery's play has been infectious. The whole receiving corps is playing well right now.

Torrey Smith did not do much in his time with the Niners. He looked like a star with the Ravens but then struggled in San Francisco the past two years. It was fair to question whether Smith would return to the level of his Ravens days or would struggle as he did on the West Coast. So far, Smith has been outstanding. It looks like the Eagles found the deep threat they wanted for Wentz, and to help keep teams honest when covering Jeffery.

The first of two Eagles Camp Open Practices took place on Sunday. The practice recognized former and current military members for their service.

Jordan Matthews and Nelson Agholor are holdovers from last year. Matthews missed time in the spring with a knee injury, but he's been making plays so far in Training Camp. He should see plenty of single coverage this year and has a chance to make some key plays. Agholor has played in the slot and outside. He isn't dropping passes like he did last year and also looks more confident and aggressive once he does get his hands on the ball. Groh has been able to push the right buttons with Agholor.

Hollins is the rookie generating the most buzz. He has an excellent combination of size and speed. Hollins has been surprisingly good with his route running. He played in somewhat of a basic offense in college but has shown the ability to make sharp cuts and get open. There have been drops here and there, but his good plays have far outweighed his bad moments.

David Watford is playing well in his second year. Eagles radio analyst and former star receiver Mike Quick has liked what he's seen from Watford. Quick thinks Watford is good enough to play in the NFL.

The one receiver who is struggling right now is rookie Shelton Gibson. He has shown great speed, but drops have been a real problem. Gibson has run better routes than expected and can get deep, but he's put the ball on the ground too much. There is still plenty of time left for Gibson to turn things around.

Donnel Pumphrey was a star running back at San Diego State, but he has been used a lot as a receiver in the spring and summer. He is going to make the team. The question with Pumphrey is how much he'll play in games. The Eagles have not been shy about getting him on the field, even with the starters. They seem to feel Pumphrey could be a good situational player out of the slot.

The Eagles didn't have a lot of weapons in the passing game last year. It looks like that is going to be very different this time around. The new guys have looked great. The returning players are improved. There are multiple rookies who could help the team out.

Tight end Zach Ertz has looked terrific in camp so far. He and Wentz showed excellent chemistry at times last year, especially as the season wore on. That seems to have carried over and it looks like Ertz could have a huge year.

The performance of Wentz and his receivers in Training Camp has been outstanding. It looks like the Eagles made the right moves and the passing game is going to take a big step forward this season.

Tommy Lawlor, goeagles99 on the Eagles Message Boards, is an amateur football scout and devoted Eagles fan. He is the editor of

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