Fresh off a Christmas Eve promotion, Deontay Burnett turned some heads once the Eagles returned to the practice field after a holiday break.
The Eagles’ 22-year-old wide receiver, called up from the practice squad on Dec. 24, made a diving catch on Thursday that resonated with Eagles scout team quarterback Kyle Lauletta, and a sideline catch that reminded Eagles defensive back Cre’Von LeBlanc of Antonio Brown.
“From the jump he made a couple catches,” LeBlanc said. “Today in practice he had a nice catch on the sideline, 'Tony toe-tap style.”
The Eagles are growing accustomed to getting young receivers up to speed in the offense, having done it twice already with Greg Ward and Rob Davis.
Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz has thrown passes to eight different wide receivers this season. Starting wideouts Alshon Jeffery and DeSean Jackson are both on injured reserve, Nelson Agholor has been sidelined. Jordan Matthews and Mack Hollins were both cut midway through the year. All that remains for Wentz on the outside is rookie J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, Ward, Davis, and now Burnett, an undrafted rookie in 2018. The group’s average age is 23, and they’ve played a combined 32 games in their careers.
How does the quarterback get the inexperienced newcomers integrated quickly?
“Just talk to them as much as I can when I find out the news,” Wentz said during a Thursday news conference. "Just talk to them about the plays and how we’re seeing things and get as many reps as we can out at practice. Obviously, it’s late in the season and we’re not trying to over-exert ourselves, either, but I’m just talking through it, watching the tape of [Burnett] in other places as well and him on the practice squad the last few weeks and just getting in as much as we can.”
Wentz isn’t the only one working hard, though. Josh McCown is the most familiar with Burnett, after the two played together on the New York Jets’ scout team last season. Now that the two are reunited, McCown is part of the group of players and coaches teaching Burnett the same way they taught Ward and Davis.
“I help out as much as I can,” McCown said. “I think Carson Walch, our receivers coach, people don’t even know what he goes through to get these guys ready. It’s extra meetings, extra walkthroughs. Whatever it takes to get these guys ready to go. ... We kind of divide and conquer with taking these guys and being able to give them some one-on-one attention to help them get ready."
In his time with the Jets last season, Burnett caught 10 passes for 143 yards. He was signed to the Eagles’ practice squad on Dec. 12, and was one of three receivers on the taxi squad, joining Marken Michel and Marcus Green.
Eagles coach Doug Pederson said Thursday Burnett’s game experience helped his case when deciding between the three players.
“He’s the one that’s actually had some game experience,” Pederson said. “Just we obviously feel comfortable with him and the skillset that he brings and the position that we kind of need at this time. He’s not a real big guy, but he’s quick and elusive; has good hands; strong to the ball; smart. He has only been here a short period of time but understands his role and what we’re trying to get done with him.”