They are running around in shorts and helmets, so to make any kind of observation and to think it will be taken seriously by the NFL community about a spring/summer practice is foolhardy. Yeah, the Eagles' rookies and selected veterans look great in practice. Yeah, Jeremy Maclin made a pretty back-of-the-end zone catch the other day and he showed some of that great ability that made him a first-round draft pick, but the defense wasn't hitting. Nobody was wearing pads.
So what do you really learn by watching these practices?
"Oh, quite a bit," says offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg. "This is good work. The repetition they have, the chance to learn the playbook and then to take what they are taught in the classroom to the field is important for all of them. You hope that every day they play a little bit faster and know where they are supposed to be."
Maclin is an interesting case to watch, because up until DeSean Jackson caught 62 passes and flashed the star talent that he has, rookie receivers here were in the shadows. Reggie Brown had a 43-catch season in 2005 after being thrust into the lineup, and then Jackson had a big year after injuries shuffled the cards and forced Jackson onto the field.
Then again, Jackson is so talented and was so polished coming out of college that he probably would have played a lot had Brown and Kevin Curtis stayed healthy from the get-go last year. But Jackson wouldn't have caught 62 passes.
So I wonder, on the heels of Jackson's big year, what Eagles fans expect from Maclin? Do you think he is going to walk into the starting lineup? Do you see him as some kind of savior?
A more realistic expectation has to be a touch less optimistic. How much less optimistic? Well, it isn't right to temper the enthusiasm for Maclin and his enormous talent. The kid, I think, is going to be a fantastic wide receiver in this league. I also don't know, though, how quickly the light will go on. I don't know, even, how much the Eagles want to force-feed the system to Maclin. In some ways, I wonder how Maclin fits in to the current depth chart. He has some real talent in front of him, including Brown, Jackson, Curtis, Jason Avant and Hank Baskett. Those guys aren't going to step aside for the hot-shot rookie, and those five have enough game to keep the passing game among the league's best.
Having Maclin around pushes the talent level to a new echelon. This group of wide receivers -- and I'm including the gang at this current camp -- is as good as the Eagles have ever had. Top to bottom, it is the certainly the best set of players in the Andy Reid Era, and then some. How it all sorts out will be resolved in training camp and in thie preseason games.
Maclin figures in the mix, somewhere. He is going to get a long look in the punt return game and is already taking a lot of kicks in this camp. Maclin has looked really good in everything he has done. He is an exciting prospect. I can't wait to see how good he will become.
But is Maclin going to start this year? It's far too premature to answer. Is he going to contribute? Again, premature to say, but the Eagles would be wise to get the ball in Maclin's hands as often as possible this year whether he's a punt returner, or a third-down receiver or even more in the passing game.
Will Maclin give the Eagles what Jackson gave the Eagles last year? Remember that had Jackson not seen injuries in front of him on the depth chart, the mercurial receiver would not have had the chance to accelerate his progress so much.
These camps are the appetizers for what is to come in the heat of Lehigh University. Wide receiver is, obviously, a position to watch. And the Eagles have a bunch of good ones, including youngsters like Brandon Gibson and Danny Amendola and Shaheer McBride and Brandon Robinson and Marcus Thigpen. Some of them are, clearly, better than others. In this camp, all are getting their reps and all are improving.
Maclin is at the head of the class here. He is the only one of the receivers toiling in NovaCare Complex sun for these couple of weeks who is a sure thing to make the team. Beyond that, we don't know how much Maclin will play in 2009. The ceiling for him is exciting. And every day that he is out with Mornhinweg and wide receivers coach David Culley breathing down his neck, correcting his mistakes, Maclin gets one step closer to being as good as he can be.