BETHLEHEM, Pa. -- By the time he left the spring passing camps, wide receiver Jeremy Maclin made noticeable strides. He looked faster in and out of his cuts. He created separation from coverage. He caught passes, made plays, inspired some confidence. And the thought then was that Maclin was a player who would vault up in stature within the Eagles wide receiver corps throughout the course of training camp.
Thirteen missed practices and nine days later, Maclin can resume his ascension. We hope. Maclin agreed to terms on a five-year contract late Monday night and the Eagles and Maclin's representatives concluded a tough negotiation. How costly it was for the first-round pick to miss so much time -- when he practices on Tuesday, morning or afternoon, isn't known at this very moment -- remains to be seen. Maclin wasn't around for the five practices with just rookies and selected veterans, so he whiffed on the chance to run route after route after route and refine what he knows about this system just a little bit more.
And not having the pads on for the last handful of days is an opportunity missed. Maclin won't get back that time, those practice reps, the chance to sit in and learn the base installation of the offense so early in camp. He has ground to make up.
Let the learning begin.
It's going to be exciting to see Maclin when he joins the fray at wide receiver. After watching DeSean Jackson, Kevin Curtis, Jason Avant, Reggie Brown and Hank Baskett and even Brandon Gibson, I am convinced the Eagles have as good and as deep a group at this position as any I've seen. Adding Maclin to the mix makes it even more talented, even deeper.
The Watch At Wide Receiver intensifies. During a camp that has been as up and down as was the off-season, the Eagles got a deal done on Monday night to put a good feeling on a tough day. Stewart Bradley's knee injury was the talk of the camp and it remains a serious topic for the defense. That is something new defensive coordinator Sean McDermott will have to work through. Does he tweak the scheme? Don't know. Can Joe Mays and Omar Gaither do a great job for however long Bradley is out? All good questions.
So are the many questions about Maclin. It doesn't make sense to sit and complain and moan that Maclin missed so much practice time. He comes into camp knowing the hole he is in, and he comes into camp with full confidence that in time, Maclin will get to where his talent says he belongs: As a starter and as a contributor to this football team. When that time comes is the big-picture question.
Here is a word of reality, please: Don't think that Maclin is going to start from the jump. And don't think that the coaching staff is going to force a thing with the young man who comes from a spread offense at Missouri and who is enormously talented and who can help a team in so many ways if he shows he is worthy of the chance.
What happens next is this: Maclin practices. Maclin shows what he can do. And then the coaches deem him worthy of playing time. No way is Andy Reid drawing up a play chart for Maclin "just to get him on the field." That doesn't happen in the NFL. Maclin has to earn it. It would haven been more advisable for Maclin to arrive in training camp last Sunday with the rest of the rookie class, but it didn't work out that way.
No doubt Maclin has worked hard and is in good shape. He is going to need some time to get into prime football shape, a challenge for a rookie, anyway. The good news is that Maclin has four preseason games ahead of him, a lot of practice time and an excellent coaching staff with which to work.
And as thrilled as I am that Maclin has agreed to terms and is on the way to training camp, the truth is that he is in a prove-it situation. The Eagles have receivers already who are good enough to win the Super Bowl. The offense doesn't need Maclin to have the pieces to be great. Nobody is going to feel a great need to "rush" Maclin to the head of the line in practice or to take extra snaps in the preseason games. The other guys need their time, too.
Then again, that may actually work in Maclin's favor. He isn't a savior coming in here. He isn't expected to carry an offense on his shoulders. Maclin is a bright kid, a great talent, and the game should come naturally to him. That's the first thing coaches look for: Natural players. I've talked to coaches over and over about that. And they all said, after watching Maclin in the spring, that he has "natural" skills.
I wonder how Maclin did when he crammed for finals at Missouri. That's what it will be like, in a way, While the rest of the receivers on page 17 of the playbook after memorizing the first 16 pages, Maclin has to work in reverse and learn the latest information first. It's going to be interesting to see how quickly a mature and intelligent Maclin handles that burden.
Immediately, though, Maclin will get right in there and catch punts with Jackson and Danny Amendola. And he will have David Culley barking in his ear over every little -- and important -- thing. And he will hit a wall like every rookie.
The tests for Maclin are coming fast and furiously. Having him in camp is a great boost for the offense, for the Eagles. Now we find out just how much lost time he can put in a bottle and capture as a good and deep Eagles wide receiver corps gains an X-factor to consider.
No. 1 is in. Hooray! So much is ahead for Maclin, depending on his ability to accelerate off the field as well as he does with a defender on his heels.