It’s Avant’s time to step up or be left behind…

A lot of PR juice out there about Eagles' WR Jason Avant being challenged to step up and take over a leadership role not just on the offense but on the team…

That's a lot of pressure to put on a guy who's simply trying to make the team.

It sure doesn't help when your new head coach says, "Hey buddy! How's about taking some reps at cornerback?"

That would be a "Yikes!" moment for me if I were Avant.





Jason Avant (# 81) is in his 8th year now out of Michigan…6-0, 212, he was drafted in the 4th round by the Eagles in 2006… He's nearing the end of a fairly lucrative contact extension, and may be considered expendable if Chip Kelly doesn't "feel" him as a leader of the offense at the slot-receiver position…

He’s not flashy, he’s not even a full-time starter — and under the new regime of head coach Chip Kelly, it’s not even a certainty that he’ll be with the Birds come September. I really dig Avant's hands but some may question his route-running abilities. He's certainly no speed merchant. But I never questioned his heart or dedication to the craft of the game.

Avant's uncertain status hasn’t stopped him from showing his dedication to Kelly’s new system and taking on the role of the go-to vet in the lockerroom, according to inside reporter Rob Edwards of the South Jersey Times

Avant has seemed to take a particular interest in youngster Russell Shepard, an undrafted free-agent WR out of LSU. The two paired off after practice Tuesday and played catch, as Avant helped Shepard with his own personalized "hands-drill."

“That’s why he’s a class player,” Shepard said. “I’m looking forward to looking up to him during my career. He wants us to catch balls after practice, juggs machines or not.”

“I’m willing to help anyone willing to work,” Avant said. “(Shepard) came to me asking how to get better and how to make the team and if any guy wants that, I’ll help him. I’ll help him catch passes and talk about life and (the playbook) and how to eliminate distractions. (Shepard) has heart and want and I’m just doing my job.”

The Eagles offense has sputtered the past two seasons, yet Avant has averaged over 50 catches and 600 yards in each. His lack of end zone production is what hurts his stat-line most (just one touchdown in that span).

Avant’s true job is to make the roster. He said all the right things after Tuesday’s practice, deferring on multiple questions about the Andy Reid era in an attempt to eliminate his own distractions.

“It’s a new coach,” Avant said. “Coach Kelly is a great coach. We’re under his leadership and we’re going to do what he tells us, veterans or not. We have to make the team and we respect whatever he says and we’re going to do whatever he says.”

He seemed a little agitated that the perception of what Kelly has the Eagles WRs doing is any different than what they’ve done all along. From blocking, to catching passes, Avant says there’s really nothing new — yet.

“I don’t know what you guys watch on film,” he said. “But we’ve been blocking for a long time. It’s pretty much the same. You have to know where the play is going and who to block and be capable of doing it in order to be on the field with this offense.”

What he says is different is the sports science aspect Kelly has brought to the team although wouldn’t get into the specifics of the training or meal program that is involved.

“That’s in-house stuff,” Avant said. “A lot of these things I wish we had earlier in my career. It’s just a smarter way of doing things. (It pays off) when you see the defense has its hands on their knees and we’re still going.”

What Avant is observing is only the tip of the iceberg in the new technology Kelly wants to bring to the Eagles.

Kelly is looking at "LiberoVision"…

This is a new system of videotaping practices and games.

Using optical recognition technology, there will be 20 cameras tracking each player as he flies around the field, collecting information and quantifying what has long been a cliché thrown around the league—"game speed"….

The tracking cameras have figured out game speed. They are capable of placing a number to the tiny marginal differences in speed barely picked up by eye. They could put a time span on a running back’s burst from the snap to the line of scrimmage, or a linebacker’s recognition of a run play to the moment he swarmed to the play.

By tracking the X, Y and Z coordinates, every object on the field can be quantified. Where advanced analytics have already gained a foothold in the league, its merger with scouting and game action may be the next step in its evolution.

There is a dichotomy between organizations that want to use and implement the technology available, and the league office that is unwilling. The NFL does not even let teams use computers in the coaches’ box during games — perhaps at the risk of one team gaining a competitive advantage.

Paraag Marathe, the 49ers’ chief operating officer, called it an "anti-technology rule."

"That’s a little bit 1940's still," he said at the MIT Sloan Sports Conference in March.

But while being governed by a somewhat technophobic league, some are waiting for the next step.

John Pollard, LiberoVision STATS general manager, said five teams have already reached out to ask about installing their cameras during a practice — a period in which the NFL does not prevent their usage.

the NFL does not give individual teams the option to decide whether the technology is appropriate for them. It is all or nothing. For now, it is nothing, after the camera tracking program came in front of the league’s competition committee in 2010 but did not pass. This past season, they had tracking cameras in several stadiums, but only on an experimental basis.

"John would like the league to put that stuff in," said Tony Khan, the senior vice president of football technology and analytics for the Jacksonville Jaguars. "I would like the league to put that stuff in."

"Hopefully, leaguewide, they integrate either LiberoVision SportVU or a comparable product or a better thing if there is one."

The NFL is taking some steps to quantify the game by computer for the benefit of both scouts and fans. In a project they call Next Generation Stats, they have experimented with placing computer chips into players’ shoulder pads last season, first reported by CBS Sports. Brian McCarthy, a league spokesman, said the league would track how fast players are running, the distances covered, and potentially more. He said tests are ongoing.

During the 2009 season, according to an ESPN report, the NFL allowed four companies to install cameras in stadiums and track play. However, Mike Jakob, the president of SportVision, one of those companies that was allowed access, said no system is currently being used in the league by any company. The SEC, Pac-12, and Big 12 will electronically track players during the upcoming season, according to an report.

SportVision, which runs Pitchf/x in baseball, runs a system in which they would put tracking devices on players during games. SportVision, Jakob said, has the capability to offer real-time location of players, allowing for information like spacing at the line of scrimmage and distance between the quarterback and wide receiver.

"I would say football coaches and teams have been much more focused on video than raw analytics, as opposed to a sport like baseball," Jakob said.

"There’s definitely a trend to wanting more and more analytic information, particularly if they can combine analytical information with video. … It feels like on the whole the sport of football is a couple of years behind baseball, as an example. That’s a sport that’s put more focus on analytical data, but I’ve definitely seen a movement to catch up."

I'm all for the maximum amount of quantified analysis and real-time stats of every player in every game or every practice at the NFL level. I'm a little concerned about the overemphasis on certain measurables that may be meaningless. For example, do I really care that my defensive tackle blew his spacing assignment in the final seconds of a game which we were losing 41-13?

You've got to have that human override IQ to evaluate what you are really seeing in the overall picture. And that is what makes a great coach, and separates him from the computers and the video machines.


Thomas Jackson

About Thomas Jackson

Jax Sports Media has been reporting on NFL teams in the mid-Atlantic region since 2006. Thomas Jackson is its senior writer. Tom started covering the Philadelphia Eagles for the MVN Network in 2007. In 2009 he joined the Bloguin Network. He now also covers the Baltimore Ravens.