Brown impressive at Eagles' mini-camp
The turmoil surrounding a couple of veteran Eagles WRs could open the door for rookie Reggie Brown this season.
It has been eight years since Jon Gruden departed the Eagles, leaving his post as offensive coordinator to accept the Oakland Raiders head coach job. But the performance of Brown at a weekend mini-camp in which the rookie receiver manifested few of the freshman jitters that typically accompany such debuts might have been Gruden's delayed payback for three seasons of cashing Jeff Lurie-autographed paychecks.
Gruden and his Tampa Bay Buccaneers staff, you see, coached the South squad in the annual Senior Bowl college all-star game four months ago. And one of the wideouts on that team was Brown, who put the tutelage he received at the Mobile, Ala., all-star tilt to good use in his Eagles coming-out party.
|“||I wished he had been there, even though it's not up to me to get involved with that stuff. But when he wasn't there, sure, I thought, 'Hey, this could mean more [playing] time for me.' I think it gave me a chance to make an impression on the coaches. And I think I made progress every day.”|
|—Eagles rookie WR Reggie Brown on Terrell Owens|
"There are so many more concepts, so many more plays, and everything just happens at a different level," said Brown, recalling the three-day mini-camp. "But one of the things that I could lean back on was playing for coach Gruden and the Bucs staff down in Mobile. The [verbiage] isn't exactly the same, but the offense is pretty similar to what the Eagles do, so that helped me a lot. I felt like I had a little bit of a head start, you know?"
Quickly mastering the nomenclature of any offense is akin to being asked to assimilate a foreign language in 72 hours. That many young players have struggled as much with the semantics of the game as with the science of NFL methodologies in part helps to explain why only five wideouts since 1990 have registered 1,000-yard seasons as rookies.
Assimilating the wordy West Coast offense, perhaps the equivalent of translating the message of one speaking in tongues, is an especially challenging chore. And the spotty track record of wide receivers chosen by Philadelphia under coach Andy Reid's stewardship is a graphic illustration that deciphering the code is a dicey endeavor.
Having been exposed to at least a primer version of the West Coast jargon as part of the draft process, having participated at the Senior Bowl and maneuvered his way through the foreign language of the Tampa Bay offense, served as a sort of football Berlitz course for Brown.
And it apparently served the former University of Georgia star, the third prospect chosen in the second round of the draft, pretty well.
Despite a deep roster, and the likelihood that the team will claim a fifth straight division title even if Owens remains AWOL and Mitchell is jettisoned, Philadelphia might need Brown to make a viable contribution as a rookie. Last weekend certainly offered signs, Eagles coaches agreed, that he might have the pedigree to reverse a recent history of rookie wide receivers dogged by disappointment.
"He's certainly shown an aptitude and the ability to hold his own," acknowledged Eagles offensive coordinator Brad Childress, one of the NFL's best minds and top teachers. "It's a matter of how he continues to grow."
Compared with the wide receivers Philadelphia has selected since Reid arrived in 1999, it won't take much for Brown to be considered at full blossom.
In the six previous drafts of the Reid Era, the Eagles chose seven wide receivers, ranging from first-round picks (Mitchell in 2001) to sixth-rounders (Troy Smith in 1999). Of that group, three remain, and that number will be reduced when loquacious Mitchell exits. Todd Pinkston, a second-round choice in 2000, has not approximated his potential. Billy McMullen, selected in the third round in 2003, has four career receptions and is probably on his last chance.
The aggregate rookie performances of the seven draft picks: fifty-one catches for 668 yards and two touchdowns. None of the seven had more than 21 receptions as a rookie. Mitchell was the only one with 200 receiving yards. In fact, the last time a Philadelphia rookie wide receiver had more than 40 catches was in 1993, when second-round choice Victor Bailey hauled in 41 passes for 545 yards and one touchdown.
But the convergence of factors in Philadelphia -- the potential absences of two of the team's top three veterans on the wide receiver depth chart and Brown's obvious potential -- might end that drought.
Great expectations at the wide receiver position are nothing new in Philadelphia, since the Eagles harbored optimism about all seven of the pass-catchers chosen from 1999 to 2004. Great execution, however, would be a welcome commodity. Fresh off the mini-camp, and already looking forward to returning to Philadelphia in late May for more work, Brown is reservedly optimistic he can reverse the string of failures.
And if that means stepping into a breach precipitated by Owens' holdout or the departure of Mitchell, he is prepared for that possibility.
Fact is, Brown was simply continuing the positive momentum that began a couple of years ago. One of the most heavily recruited wide receivers in the country when he came out of Carrollton (Ga.) High School, he caught just 42 passes in his first three seasons with the Bulldogs, including a 2001 campaign truncated by injury.
But in 2003, fully healthy and operating in an offense more conducive to his success, Brown surpassed more celebrated teammate Fred Gibson as the team's go-to receiver. And when Brown started making more plays, NFL scouts began paying increased attention, suddenly viewing him as a high-round prospect. Brown followed a strong Senior Bowl week with an outstanding combine performance, one in which he was clocked in under 4.5 seconds, and his stock continued to rise.
The guy who regularly pedaled 30 miles around Athens on his old bicycle, and who was often chided by Georgia teammates for doing so, is on the NFL fast track. With Owens still in the garage and Mitchell headed for the exit ramp, the Eagles might need Brown to move into the passing lane.
"We threw a lot at him," Reid said after the mini-camp. "We're going to throw even more at him in the next camp, and we'll see how it goes."
Reviewing his first mini-camp, and mentally inventorying the pluses and minuses, Brown seemed genuinely pleased by his first audition and about as prepared as a rookie could be for the pressure to be ramped up. During the mini-camp, he told the Philadelphia media that he was still "trying to learn [his] ABCs" and felt like he was "in kindergarten."
Upon further review, Brown estimated he passed his first course in remedial West Coast offense and is ready for the next lesson. Given the current circumstances in Philadelphia, and the possibility Brown is going to have to move into the receiver rotation quickly, that could mean an accelerated learning curve.
If that is the case, Brown, demonstrably more confident than cocky, is prepared to move on to the advanced placement class.
"There is still a long, long way for me to go, no doubt about that," he said. "And, look, I'm not trying to take anybody's place. I'm just trying to take care of my own business. But at [the mini-camp], I think I started to establish a little comfort zone. I laid a little bit of a foundation, and now I just want a chance to build on that."
Len Pasquarelli is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
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