Who's Going To Catch The Ball?

Todd Pinkston is out until at least the start of the regular season, and possibly longer, leaving a hole in the Eagles' receiving corps. Hank Baskett may be the early favorite to step in, but do the Eagles have other options?

It's becoming more and more apparent that wide receiver Todd Pinkston probably won't be ready to play by the start of the season. Which leaves the Eagles with a significant question mark as to who will be their other starter opposite Reggie Brown.

Pinkston missed all of last season with a torn Achilles tendon. Coach Andy Reid had hoped he could return and be the deep threat he was two years ago when he averaged an NFL-best 18.8 yards per catch. But Pinkston has been able to practice just once since training camp opened and hasn't played in any of the Eagles' three preseason games because of Achilles tendonitis in both of his feet.

Making matters worse, Jabar Gaffney, the former Houston Texans' wideout, who was signed in the offseason to compete for a starting job with Pinkston, has struggled much of training camp and the preseason.

Gaffney turned in his first impressive performance Thursday night against Baltimore, catching a team-high four passes for 37 yards. But before that, he had tumbled down the depth chart below undrafted free agent Hank Baskett and rookie fourth-rounder Jason Avant.

"I'm finally starting to feel more comfortable and I'm just trying to take advantage of the opportunities I get in a game," said Gaffney, who caught 55 balls for the Texans last year. "To come out and get a couple of catches, it feels good."

Right now, Hank Baskett, who was signed after the draft by the Minnesota Vikings and later traded to the Eagles for unproductive third-year man Billy McMullen, appears to be the number two starter. He's had a terrific training camp and played well in the Eagles' first two preseason games before getting shut out against Baltimore.

But he's an undrafted rookie. At 6-4, he's got nice size and impressive leaping ability - he was a conference high jump champion at New Mexico - but not much separation speed, which is why he went through the April draft unclaimed.

Asked about the prospect of Baskett being his number two wideout, Reid said: "We've got quite a lot of time before we open. But if that happens, it happens. That's the way Hank's been playing. Now, does he need to continue to improve? Absolutely. These next three weeks, he needs to continue to improve. But he's held his own out there and done a nice job."

The Eagles had some talks with the Denver Broncos about their holdout wide receiver, Ashley Lelie. But weren't able to work out a deal and Lelie was later dealt to Atlanta. One reason that the Eagles didn't become more of a contender to acquire Lelie is that while the Broncos, like the Eagles, run the West Coast offense, there are enough differences in the two offenses that it would have taken him time to learn before he'd be able to step in and play. Another key reason was that Lelie had sat out all of training camp and would have needed time to get into football shape, plus learn the offense.

For now, Baskett and Gaffney will likely battle through the rest of the preseason to see who would start opposite Brown should Pinkston's injury sideline him as long as expected.


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