The Philadelphia Eagles faced a wildly tough decision at the wide receiver position last weekend when they were forced to shrink their roster down to 53 men.
Everybody knew that the final wide-out spot would go to either third-year journeyman WR Greg Salas, former Oregon Ducks product WR Jeff Maehl, or rookie slash-man WR Russell Shepard.
In the end, new Birds head coach Chip Kelly stayed true to his Oregon roots and chose to hold onto Maehl, whom he had acquired in a trade with the Houston Texans earlier this summer. It seems to me like Kelly’s familiarity with Maehl’s work ethic and general understanding of his offense trumped overall athleticism and skill.
I say this because while Salas harnesses iffy NFL potential, Shepard is an incredibly athletic young burner who has the capability of playing all over the field. While at Louisiana State University (LSU), Shepard played quarterback, running back, and wide receiver. And even though he didn’t greatly excel at any spot, his job on LSU’s offense was to be a change-of-pace weapon, and a versatile contributor. And he filled that position tremendously.
I strongly believe that given the right opportunity, with the right coach, in the right system, Shepard can be a superior NFL contributor. And fortunately for the rook, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers feel the exact same way, as the Bucs quickly scooped Shepard up off waivers; while Salas cleared waivers and was signed back to the Eagles’ practice squad.
It certainly makes sense for Coach Kelly to hold onto an athlete who he has already coached, and who already has a decent grasp on has innovative, completely original spread offense.
But I can assure you that Kelly will be shaking his head, with a sheepish smirk, when Shepard explodes onto the NFL scene with the Bucs’ slot receiver and special-teamer.