It was a subtle dig. Or maybe not so subtle.
Toward the end of his exchange with the media at training camp on Wednesday, Chip Kelly gave a little dissertation on wide receivers and cornerbacks and how both positions are getting bigger and more physical. The initial question was about Riley Cooper and how he uses his size as an advantage. Kelly’s answer was as much about the guy who isn’t here as the guy who is.
“The fact that [Cooper is] a 230-pound receiver, it’s tough to be really, truly physical and just keep him pinned on the line of scrimmage,” Kelly said. “This league is continuing to go that way. When you think two of the best corners -- Patrick Peterson, a guy who just signed an outstanding contract, who I think is one of the tops in the league, [and] Richard Sherman, probably the two highest-paid guys, probably the two best guys -- are both big, physical corners, and they’re going to try to beat you up on the line of scrimmage.
“If you can’t get off the line of scrimmage, you’re done. I think that’s what we’re moving towards. I think the corners are getting bigger in this league and the wideouts are getting bigger. That’s one of Riley’s strengths, his ability to get off that stuff. No one is going to get off clean and just be running down the field with no one around him for four or five yards. When the ball is up, now you have to be able to go get it. Having a 6-4 guy that’s 230 pounds, it helps.”
If you can’t get off the line of scrimmage, you’re done. Corners and wideouts are getting bigger. Being 6-4, 230 pounds helps. Kelly didn’t mention DeSean Jackson. He didn’t have to. It wasn’t an encrypted code. The message couldn’t have been clearer.
Jackson had his best season a year ago, amassing career highs in targets (126), receptions (82) and yards (1,332). He tied a career high with nine touchdowns. He had 25 catches that went for 20 or more yards, which was second in the NFL. He had an excellent season. And now he’s in Washington.
Quite a bit has been made of why that happened –- why the Eagles would simply cut him after another Pro Bowl campaign. There are probably plenty of factors, and we might never know the whole truth about that decision. But to hear Kelly tell it on Wednesday, Jackson’s size worked against him. If being 6-4, 230 pounds helps, then being 5-10, 175 pounds –- which is Jackson’s generous listing –- might hurt.
Like Jackson, Cooper also had a career season a year ago. After Jeremy Maclin went down with an ACL injury in training camp, Cooper inherited the starting wide receiver slot opposite Jackson. Cooper finished with 47 catches on 84 targets for 835 yards and eight touchdowns. All were career highs.
Cooper has been held out of practice the last two days with what he called a “standard ankle deal.” He said he expects to sit out another “two, three more days” in an attempt to let the swelling go down, though he plans to be available when the Eagles play their first preseason game in Chicago a week from Friday.
“I tell everybody, you can have a 6-9 wide receiver, but it he doesn’t know how to use his big body frame, if he doesn’t know how to put himself in position to make the play, or put himself in between the corner and the ball, it doesn’t do any good,” Cooper said. “I try to really work on that. I kind of have a natural knack for that, just being able to use my big frame for guys that have to come over my back.”
Cooper said his background as a baseball player was an integral part of tracking deep balls and finding favorable angles. Cooper was drafted by the Phillies out of high school but chose to play football and baseball at Florida. He was an outfielder for the Gators and was later taken by the Texas Rangers before ultimately focusing on football and the NFL.
“One of the things about Riley, number one is he has a baseball background, so he does a great job tracking deep balls,” Kelly said. “I think that’s a lot easier said than done, really being able to understand how to adjust and put himself in a position. Because being a good outfielder in baseball, you can’t just make the catch. You also have to be in position to make the catch and then throw the ball. So how do you put yourself in position to do different things? I think Riley understands that because of his background from [baseball].”