IN THE NFL, they don't really pay wide receivers to block. No agent goes to the bargaining table with a list of blocking stats, or film clips of his client freeing the running back for a long gain.
"They don't," 30-year-old Jason Avant agreed yesterday. "But I'm trying to win. I've got enough money."
Avant and fellow wideout Riley Cooper have played an underappreciated role in helping make LeSean McCoy the NFL's leading rusher, with 1,305 yards on 261 carries. Both were strong blockers in Andy Reid's offense, often in helping extend pass plays; Reid didn't run the ball nearly as much as Chip Kelly, who likes to stretch the field and needs good blocking on the perimeter.
Kelly told reporters of Avant asking him during Sunday's snow-day victory over the Lions to run the ball to Avant's side. Kelly thought it was great to have a receiver ask that, instead of insisting the ball be thrown to his side. Offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur noted that Avant wasn't even targeted with a pass Sunday, but he plowed two Lions on McCoy's 57-yard touchdown run. Avant, running in front of McCoy, upended the nickel corner, sending him into the safety, who was taken out of the play. "I thought he played outstanding," Shurmur said.
"It was one of those plays where I knew he was coming behind me and I just tried to grab my guy and run him into the safety. Shady actually made a cut and was able to put me in a position to block both," Avant said.
Avant, 6-0, 212, said it isn't that unusual for him to advocate for running to his side.
"Usually, I'm bigger than most nickels," he said. "If we can get past the front line, I just feel normally it's an advantage in the run game. One of the reasons we run the ball so well out of the three receiver [sets] is that I'm usually bigger than the nickel."
Cooper, 6-3, 222, usually plays outside, and is bigger than most of the guys covering him, as well.
"I like doing it. I think it's easier to be good at something when you like doing it," Cooper said. "I'm a big receiver, and I think that should be part of my game. I feel like I should be able to move some people around and help out my running backs.
"We've got a lot of committed players and a lot of team players, especially at the wideout position. We all bought into it. We're all going to do it."
DeSean Jackson, at 5-10, 175, acknowledged he is not in Avant's or Cooper's blocking league, but said, "I do the best I can." Reserve wideout Jeff Maehl said Jackson usually gives a decent accounting of himself.
"We do so much running the ball, bubble screens, stuff like that to get it out on the perimeter. If the receivers aren't blocking, you're only going to get three or four yards," Maehl said. "In the game, you see Jason Avant pushing a guy five yards back, ending up putting [the defender] on his back, and it's a touchdown. Ever since I've been at Oregon [under Kelly] they've emphasized it . . . even DeSean, he's been really physical this year. We're starting to see the results, that we can turn a 10-yard gain into a touchdown."
Wide receivers don't grow up learning how to block. It's a hard skill to just pick up in the NFL.
"It's a mentality," Maehl said. "I think our guys have a good one - we know that we can affect the game and help the team. It's huge."
Cooper is having his best year all-around, with 37 catches for 714 yards and seven touchdowns, but it will be interesting to see how much his blocking contribution is taken into account when his 4-year, $2 million rookie deal runs out this offseason.
"In our offense, you've got to be able to block, especially for those bubble screens. So maybe they do pay money for that," Cooper said. "We'll see."
Center Jason Kelce was voted the Eagles' Ed Block Courage Award winner. Kelce returned this season from repairs to his ACL and MCL that caused him to miss the final 14 games of 2012.
"Obviously, it's a tremendous honor," Kelce said. "The guys who get it usually have a lot of respect from their teammates . . . the guys respect me enough to understand this was a rough offseason for me."
Right guard Todd Herremans said the effort Kelce put into his rehab has been reflected on the field. Left guard Evan Mathis lauded Kelce's role as the QB of the o-line.
An ESPN report said Vikings running back Adrian Peterson probably will not be able to play with the foot injury he suffered Sunday against Balitmore. Peterson had said Monday that he would try to play. Eagles defensive coordinator Bill Davis said he will start the week preparing for Peterson and adjust if needed. . . . Rookie safety Earl Wolff said he "did a little bit" in yesterday's practice. Wolff has been out with a knee injury since Nov. 10. "It felt pretty good," he said. "A couple of small things kind of bothered me a little bit. But I'm going to do more and more every day, and see where I'm at for Sunday" . . . Davis said that from the press box, he couldn't see uniform numbers during the first half of Sunday's game. He said the still shots of formations teams use on the sideline "were almost impossible to look at, because it was whited out. You could see a little bit, you could see alignments, but you weren't positive what was happening."