Given where the Eagles were at wide receiver at the end of last season, this would seem to be remarkable progress: Heading into the final week of the preseason, offensive coordinator Frank Reich said the decision on the final few wideout roster spots will be very difficult. He indicated that wide receivers who don't make the team will quickly be snatched up by other squads.
"This is, without a doubt, the best group that I've been around for a while," Reich said. "From top to bottom, just very competitive. They've all flashed; they all deserve to be here. For a couple of guys who might not be here, I think they're going to end up someplace else — that's how confident we feel in this group. All in all, we're just very happy with the progress they've made and the chemistry in that room and the production they've had in practice and in games."
Right now, Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith are the starters, with Nelson Agholor in the slot. Fourth-round rookie Mack Hollins would seem to be next in line, followed by perhaps Marcus Johnson, who might have to fend off Bryce Treggs and fifth-round rookie Shelton Gibson for the fifth spot. Head coach Doug Pederson could ease that logjam a bit by keeping six wideouts on the 53-man regular-season roster, which must be set by 4 p.m. Sunday. Undrafted former Houston quarterback Greg Ward might be a good candidate for the practice squad. Last year's preseason hero, Paul Turner, is way back in the pack this time, because it's a better pack.
"It's tight. It's very tight," Reich said. "When it comes down to those last roster spots, [Pederson] always emphasizes that it's not only what they do as a receiver — it's what they do on special teams and how you can contribute: position versatility, special teams, all those things factor in the roster … It's very complicated, lots of moving parts."
Reich said the coaches want to be sure to give everyone a fair shake, waiting for all the dust to settle, including in Thursday's final preseason game at the New York Jets.
"You set the table, but you don't really start digging in until you have to," he said. "You gotta have the patience to wait it out, and see how everything plays out."
Reich acknowledged that the trade of Jordan Matthews to Buffalo opened a spot on the receiving corps, perhaps energizing the roster hopefuls.
"Certainly, Jordan leaving – if I'm in that room, you have to believe that," he said.
Overall, Reich said, the week of roster cutdowns is "bittersweet for players and coaches."
Fans and reporters can speculate all they want, but Reich expanded on Pederson's message from Sunday, minimizing the elbow soreness that has kept backup quarterback Nick Foles out of preseason games so far and expressing strong faith in Foles as Carson Wentz's backup.
"Nick's worked good this off-season. … I think all players kind of have bumps and bruises along the way. He's had a little bump. I think it'll pass quickly, and we're ready for the season," Reich said
Reich indicated that the coaches don't need to see anything from Foles in the preseason to have confidence in his ability.