Marken Michel Hopes to Make Training Camp ‘Interesting’
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) — Marken Michel was so happy north of the border in Calgary he had to contemplate on whether being the big fish in the small pond was the way to go.
Competition fuels pro athletes, however, and that mentality had the older brother of Patriots star running back Sony Michel in Philadelphia this spring opening the eyes of the Eagles coaching staff as both a slot receiver and punt returner.
At 25 Michel is again trying to carve out his own NFL career. He had a cup of coffee in Minnesota as an undrafted free agent out of UMass back in 2016 before making his way to Canada and earning a second chance by being a difference maker with the Stampeders, first as the CFL’s West Division Rookie of the Year and then as a Grey Cup champion.
Last season a broken scapula limited Michel to 11 games with the Stampeders and he was unable to play in Calgary's championship win but he again showed off significant playmaking skills -- catching 31 passes for 435 yards and five touchdowns -- before the injury.
“It was my love for the game,” Michel answered when asked about the move to the CFL. “I had the mindset to just keep playing, not to be stagnant, not to stand still, and it was a great opportunity for me up there."
There are differences in the CFL game. An extra man is on the field for each side, the playing surface itself is wider and one receiver can get an Arena League-like running start before the ball is snapped, but the playing time and an ability to hone one's craft when the real bullets are flying is valuable in any league, according to first-year receivers coach Carson Walch.
“It doesn’t matter what league you are in, there are certain standards to how you get open and the techniques you coach at the beginning of a route, the top of the route and how you make a contested play or catch,” Walch explained. “I think there’s a lot of carryover [to technique] no matter what league you’re in.”
Michel agreed with that assessment.
“When you run your route and the ball is in the air, you catch the ball and you score,” he smiled. “That’s all you’re thinking about. You’re not thinking about what league you’re in, you’re not thinking about the size of the field, you’re not thinking about different opponents, you’re just thinking about when the ball is in the air, catch it.”
When the Eagles came calling Michel seriously weighed staying in Calgary because he enjoyed it so much. He didn't even tell his family and friends about the contract offer. They found out the same way most people did, when they checked the transaction wire.
"God opened the door,” Michel said of his decision, “let me see what I can do with this.”
What Michel has done to date is open those eyes, as both an explosive slot receiver and potential complementary punt returner to DeSean Jackson, even earning some first-team reps at minicamp when Nelson Agholor was down with a lower-body injury.
Typically bottom of the roster receivers don't get a ton of time with the starting quarterback but Michel showed off enough to get plenty of opportunities with Carson Wentz and the two got familiar, connecting on several throws including some big plays down the field.
The signature moment for the 5-foot-11, 190-pound Michel came Wednesday in what would have been a 90-plus yard touchdown when the offense was backed up, as he found himself leaking out to the left and wide open on the back side of the formation before splitting the defense, showing off some really impressive speed.
"Carson just throws a damn good ball,” Michel gushed. “... As a receiver you can put a blindfold on, put your hands up and the ball’s probably going to hit you in the hands. He’s a great quarterback.”
The competitions remains steep, however. The Eagles are loaded at WR with a starting lineup that features proven players like Alshon Jeffery, Jackson and Agholor, as well as 2019 second-round pick J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, Mack Hollins, Shelton Gibson, Braxton Miller, who was once a third-round pick in Houston, and two players who have also taken advantage of their own minor-league experience with the AAF, Greg Ward and Charles Johnson.
And Michel? He's already accomplished the first step, getting noticed by the most important eyes at the NovaCare Complex.
"[A] young explosive player that I really didn't know a whole lot about him and started getting him in the mix and working him and both those two guys [Michel and Greg Ward] in the slot," Doug Pederson said when asked about Michel by 973espn.com "... they've both flashed and done a really good job. It's part of that competition and depth we talk about around here a lot. It's going to be an interesting camp with some of those decisions we have to make."
973ESPN.COM EXTRA -- Michel disccuses his relationship with younger brother Sony.
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen