Getting a rare rep with the first-team offense this morning, Shelton Gibson rose above the tight double coverage provided by Ronald Darby and Malcolm Jenkins and hauled in a deep pass tossed by Nick Foles.
It was the kind of play that left the two veteran DBs shaking their heads. It was the kind of play that drew audible gasps from the crowd.
It was the kind of play he never would have made last summer. Never.
“Last year in training camp? No,” Gibson said at his locker after practice. “Confidence was way down. I was out there trying to be somebody I wasn’t.”
Gibson, 23, was a fifth-round pick out of West Virginia last spring and came to Philly billed as an explosive deep threat. But from the time he arrived to OTAs, he looked lost. He dropped passes every single day at practice, and not just the difficult ones; he was dropping easy balls even during individual drills without any coverage. It was bad. And it kept getting worse as his confidence dropped lower and lower.
But the Eagles stuck with him and he’ll never forget it. Gibson made the 53-man roster out of training camp — even though he didn’t really earn it — and was inactive for the first 10 weeks of the season before the Eagles eventually worked him into a special teams role.
“Honestly, just being real,” Gibson said, “they believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself.”
That belief in Gibson is now paying off for the Eagles, because Gibson looks nothing like the guy who lacked confidence last year. Through the first week of training camp, he’s been making plays and turning heads. Sure, there’s an occasional drop, but now he’s confident enough to forget it and move on. He wasn’t able to do that last year.
Much like how the Eagles were once patient with Nelson Agholor, they were similarly patient with Gibson last year.
Head coach Doug Pederson agreed that Gibson looks like a different guy this year and credited that newfound confidence that Gibson said he built after his rookie season.
“He's really embraced the offseason,” Pederson said. “He's studied, he's worked hard, and he's done a nice job. He's off to a good start to this year's camp.”
In his first NFL season, Gibson got just 17 offensive snaps and caught just two passes for 11 yards. He was mostly used as a gunner on the punt team. While he was active for playoff games, he didn’t see the field on offense. Getting on the field is the next step forward, but it won’t be easy.
Gibson has been a pleasant surprise so far, but he’s just a small part of a very talented wide receiver room. It seems like there are at least five guys ahead of him: Alshon Jeffery, Mike Wallace, Nelson Agholor, Mack Hollins and Markus Wheaton.
So it’s not locked in stone that Gibson will even make the team, let alone pick up more snaps on offense in his second NFL season.
But if he keeps having days like today, the coaching staff is going to notice.