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Spadaro: Tough decisions lie ahead at wide receiver

Eagles Insider Dave Spadaro
Eagles Insider Dave Spadaro

There have been games in past preseasons where the offense just, to put it mildly, had no rhythm. The passing game wasn't coordinated, the timing wasn't there, and the connection failed. But what we've seen in two preseason games, and in the Training Camp practices including the two last week with the Cleveland Browns, is that the quarterbacks and the receivers are on the same page. For anyone who questions the "new" way that Training Camp is conducted – emphasis on the mental reps early, followed by a ramping-up of the physical stuff – look no further than the success the Eagles' receiving corps had.

One of the goals that Howie Roseman and his personnel department and the coaching staff have every year is to make cuts difficult. How much do we hear about "competition" and "depth" as the 90-man roster is formed, and how often are the cuts really, truly that tough when it comes to paring the roster to 53 players?

Well, between now and Tuesday, August 30 at 4 PM, when the Eagles reach the NFL-mandated 53-man roster limit, they're going to have some very tough decisions. And one of those positions that will weigh heavily on Roseman's mind is wide receiver, where the Eagles have gotten outstanding production up and down the depth chart this summer.

The latest example happened in Cleveland on Sunday in the 21-20 victory. The starters didn't play, so A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith watched from the sidelines after dominating Cleveland's defensive backs in the two joint practices. The Eagles' receivers put on a clinic in the one-on-one drills, setting the stage for Sunday's game.

And in that game, some players further down the depth chart stepped up. Way, way up. Deon Cain, formerly a sixth-round draft pick by the Colts in 2019 who had nine catches for 124 yards in 15 career regular-season games with the Colts and Steelers before landing on the Eagles' practice squad in 2021, grabbed five passes for 66 yards on seven targets. Cain was terrific with some tippy-toe sideline grabs, a pretty back-shoulder reception, and catches on which he ran crisp routes and created separation.

Cain has played his way into the receiver roster equation. To what degree, hey, that's Roseman's opinion and his (and the coaches') are the only ones that matter. Cain is just keeping his head down and staying focused.

"It's just part of the journey, really," Cain said after the game. "You know, in general, just making sure I do the right thing on and off the field. At the end of the day, you just have to make sure you are doing your job and everything will just take care of itself."

Down the row of lockers among the receivers was Devon Allen, the world-class 110-meter hurdler who is giving his everything to transitioning back to football, something he hadn't played since his Oregon days in 2016. Allen has been kind of busy since then, of course, participating in two Olympics and winning three United States titles. Now he's a football player, and on Sunday, he outran the Browns' secondary on a post pattern, reaching out and catching a perfect Reid Sinnett pass for a 55-yard touchdown.

His celebration – an air hurdle, if you will – was epic, and his joy after the game was clear.

"It felt great. I was glad to have the opportunity and glad to be here," Allen said. "I'm just enjoying my time here, learning a lot every day. We have a lot of great receivers here, a lot of great football players. My learning curve has accelerated being on a great football team the last three weeks. I'm feeling more comfortable every day."

That Allen has come as far as he has is a credit to him, of course, for the work he has put in. It's also a credit to Wide Receivers Coach Aaron Moorehead. The result of the lessons Moorehead has taught and the way the players have absorbed the details and applied them in practice is a group that has been highly productive on the field. Brown has been a beast and has made big plays literally every day, and Smith is a craftsman at running routes, contorting his body and coordinating his feet for sensational grabs repeatedly. Those two are worth watching every single day and it has been a treat.

But the Eagles' wide receiver corps is so much more than those two. Quez Watkins has taken a serious step forward in his third season. Zach Pascal is a true professional who is going to help this team in so many ways this season. Jalen Reagor is having his best summer in terms of consistency. On and on it goes, including Allen and Cain and everyone in between.

"I've been pleased with the way the guys have approached every day, fine-tuning the details of their work," Moorehead said a couple of weeks ago at the NovaCare Complex. "They see what's going on in the room, the level of competition we have in that room. I think that brings out the best in all of them, and that's what I'm seeing every day. They're having fun and they are pushing each other and, really, that's what you want. You want to have that kind of play from every guy in the room."

We'll see how it all shakes out with the cut to 53 players only one week away. The Eagles are going to have some tough decisions to make with a roster that is so strong, and wide receiver is no exception. The offense has been humming, the passing game clicking, and wide receivers who are on the same page as the quarterbacks and who are winning their battles against defensive backs are a huge reason for the success.

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