The kids are having fun. That's the important thing to know here, that the group of wide receivers the Eagles have in this Training Camp have been working together, making progress, and having F-U-N. Translation: They're making plays and that kind of success becomes infectious.
"I think the good thing about this wide receiver corps is that we all have special skill sets that have worked in the past and that work right now and we complement each other off of it," said third-year man J.J. Arcega-Whiteside. "I think right now we've got a great mix of guys that are each individually talented and super-talented at certain things and when we go out there we put it all together. The coaching staff has been very detail oriented ... and you just get better overall as a player and as a group. That's what I'm excited to see."
Wide receiver has been a position in transition for the Eagles these last couple of seasons. From the time the Eagles won the Super Bowl with Alshon Jeffrey, Torrey Smith, and Nelson Agholor as the top threesome, the team has used some valuable draft capital to build a top-to-bottom group that will sustain. Arcega-Whiteside was a second-round draft pick in 2019. Jalen Reagor was a first-round draft pick in 2020, followed that spring by John Hightower (fifth round) and Quez Watkins (sixth round). DeVonta Smith was the team's top draft pick in April, the 10th overall selection. Along the way, the Eagles developed Greg Ward, who has become a productive slot receiver, and plucked Travis Fulgham off the waiver wire. There are 10 receivers in Training Camp fighting for four or five spots on the 53-man roster and, certainly, the rest of the group will get consideration as the Eagles build their practice squad.
Ten players. Five spots. The competition is out here for everyone to see.
"I've been very pleased with the entire group. I think (Passing Game Coordinator) Kevin Patullo keeps coming up to me and he keeps saying, 'We didn't have this speed in Indy.' He's like, 'And we sure as heck didn't have it right away.' We're seeing that we've got some guys that can really run, so I'm really excited about that," Head Coach Nick Sirianni said. "So really excited about the group as a whole because I really feel like (Executive Vice President/General Manager) Howie (Roseman) and his staff have done such a good job of getting players in here that we can work with and develop."
The goal for the Eagles is to emerge from camp with a group of receivers that plays a mature, explosive, and consistently productive brand of football, and one that belies its relative lack of experience. The team didn't feel the need to go out and add a veteran presence for the season. There wasn't the intention of bringing in someone to "show the kids how it's done," so the Eagles are going with what they've got. And what they've got is a top-to-bottom room that has speed, that has plenty of size, and that is going to grow together.
Smith is the headliner. He was everything the Eagles thought he would be early in camp before suffering a knee injury that has him sidelined week to week. There isn't any anticipation that the injury will impact Smith's ability to return for the regular season, and the rookie is expected to have a very significant role in the passing game. Smith, along with Reagor, had been taking the first-team reps on the outside and both could be in those respective roles in Atlanta for the opener. Ward is the returning slot receiver.
Now, it's not as simple as 1-2-3, because the Eagles have their receivers lining up in all three positions. They want as much position flexibility as possible, so there are many ways this lineup could go. The most important part of what the coaching staff is seeing through the first week of camp is that the receivers are taking turns making big plays. There are 10 receivers in camp and a handful of them aren't going to be here in September.
How it works out, hey, that's where Training Camp, three preseason games, and joint practices against New England and the New York Jets come into play. May the players who perform the best win the roster spots, earn the playing time, and have the opportunities to make big plays.
"That's the beauty of it," said Fulgham, who in that memorable 2020 stretch produced a league-high 435 receiving yards in Weeks 4-8. Fulgham ended the season with 38 receptions for 539 yards and four touchdowns. "I feel like people are sleeping on our receiver room. We have a bunch of young, talented guys that are hungry to make some plays this year."
So, the competition continues and the young receivers push each other. It's going to be one of the NFL's youngest wide receiver groups, no matter who makes the final roster. The Eagles are banking on the idea that youth will be served here, and that the wide receivers will play beyond their NFL years, setting up the position for a prolonged period for success.