JEREMY MACLIN'S job is to make liars out of people. It is a task he approaches with seriousness and with sincerity.
When he held out this summer in a rookie contract dispute, there was much tut-tutting in the land. (Truth in advertising: I tutted but didn't tut-tut.) As the missed practices began to mount, from one to five to 10 to 15, the concerns were obvious enough, that he was only a kid, and the transition from a spread offense at Missouri to a West Coast offense in Philadelphia was going to be hard enough already, and et cetera.
Well, what do you think now? Maclin was here for the exhibition games, for the runs of August, and that was plenty. Obviously.
When they drafted Maclin in the first place, there was what had to be described as cautious applause - more than one hand clapping but less than full
municipal thunder. The reason was because so many other young receivers had labored in this offense under coach Andy Reid. DeSean Jackson had broken through in 2008 as a rookie, but he still had to be considered the exception until proven otherwise.
Well, now what? Because
Maclin arrived yesterday against the godawful Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
"I think I'm a very intelligent guy," Maclin said.
"I can pick up on things fairly easily," he said. "I know a few different positions. That's what they asked me to do so that's what I've got to do. It's not about trying to prove [things] to everybody. It's just doing what you're capable of doing and letting everything else take care of itself."
Starting in place of the injured Kevin Curtis, Maclin took the job and made it his own. He caught six passes for 142 yards and two touchdowns, a 51-yarder and a 40-yarder from quarterback Donovan McNabb. He is the first rookie in the history of the franchise to have two 40-yard touchdown receptions in a game.
With Curtis' knee iffy now for weeks and the whole thing kind of nebulous, Maclin has done things as a rookie that plenty of other receivers in this offense have not approached. Reid will never say it this soon - he wouldn't say it yesterday - but the job has to be Maclin's. It would be crazy to limit this kid's snaps in any significant way. They can call him the starter or they can call him whatever they want, but Maclin and Jackson are the future of this offense.
"You just make the best of your opportunity," Maclin said. "I said it's unfortunate that Kevin got hurt, but it's very fortunate for me to be there and be in that position and step into that role. When he gets back healthy, he'll be a guy who's going to help, no matter what. We'll let the coaches decide on what's going to go on."
Yesterday, it seemed that the Bucs' defensive scheme dictated that Maclin would be the guy to see the ball the most. Jackson had been the go-to receiver in the offense so far this season, but he had only one catch for 1 yard - on a pass thrown by Michael Vick in garbage time. Reid said it was because of all the attention the Bucs' defense paid to Jackson. Jackson wasn't available in the locker room afterward to talk about what he saw.
There were times in past years when this would have turned into a long, difficult slog as a result - with one receiver taken away, with the running game kind of lame, with McNabb and Reid not willing to trust the kid receiver on the other side - Todd Pinkston, Freddie Mitchell, whoever.
Maclin clearly is in a different class as far as ability. And the connection with Reid and with McNabb has been growing stronger, and growing quickly.
Maclin said, "The offense here is hard to pick up. But I've learned offenses. I think I've learned offenses from Day 1. It's just gaining the trust with the coaches, gaining the trust with the quarterback. That's why the results are how they are."
He said, "It's very difficult. Especially for me, coming from the spread offense, it was different. But like I said, I'm smart enough and intelligent enough to pick up on things like that."
After a game like this one, defensive coordinators around the NFL will pop in the video and shake their heads. The operating theory in the league, after what Jackson did last year and how he started this year, is likely simple enough: Do what you can to take away No. 10, and if they beat you with tight end Brent Celek or someone out of the backfield, so be it.
That is how things seem to have evolved. For years, you had to stop McNabb first and keep him in the pocket. Then you had to stop Brian Westbrook. Now it is malpractice if you don't pay extra attention to Jackson. But with Maclin now on film with a game like this one, it just adds to the mix, just adds another layer of complexity.
"If it's like that, it's great,"
Maclin said. "You want guys out there who can take the pressure off of each other, and I think
we've got a long list of guys who can do that. Hopefully I'm added to that list now."
The offense, he said, "I think it's scary. Big games, it's going to rotate from receiver to receiver, from running back to running back. I think we've got those type of weapons. That's the fortunate thing about playing in this offense."
People see Jackson, they see Celek, they see Shady McCoy, they see Kevin Kolb, now they see Maclin. You say the future is young and it is vibrant. Maclin asks a question in return.
"Why wait till the future?" he said. "Why not do it now? We've got the guys who can do it now. We've got a long list of receivers who can definitely play ball . . . "
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