PHILADELPHIA -- Be reliable.
Is that so hard? Is that too much to ask?
That's all Jeremy Maclin wants. He does what he says he will do. He says he's going to work, and he works. He says he's going to train and study and watch film and prepare so he can give his Philadelphia Eagles the best chance to win each week, and he does.
He says he's going to beat you in Madden or dominoes or pingpong or hoops, and he usually does that, too.
"No matter what you do as a person, the No. 1 thing you can do is be reliable," the 26-year-old wide receiver said.
A year after he tore the ACL in his right knee for the second time in training camp, Maclin has emerged as the Eagles' most reliable wideout in 2014.
Through eight games in coach Chip Kelly's explosive scheme, Maclin has racked up 45 catches for 790 yards and eight touchdowns, and he's on pace to break the franchise record for receiving yards in a season held by Mike Quick, who had 1,409 yards in 1983.
No one who knows Maclin is surprised by his comeback.
"I felt, someday, in the right situation, he would be one of those elite guys," said Kansas City Chiefs assistant head coach David Culley, Maclin's former position coach in Philadelphia. "He has that kind of talent."
Maclin became a two-time consensus All-American at Missouri after suffering his first ACL tear before the start of his freshman season. In the 2007 and '08 seasons, he piled up 182 receptions, 2,983 yards from scrimmage and 33 total touchdowns. With little left to prove in college, Maclin, then 20 years old, entered the NFL draft.
Projected by some as a high first-round pick in 2009, Maclin fell out of the first half of the round. He watched Oakland take Maryland's Darrius Heyward-Bey at No. 7 and San Francisco pick Texas Tech's Michael Crabtree at No. 10. With Maclin still on the board at No. 19, the Eagles traded up to grab him. During the pre-draft evaluation process, Culley loved Maclin, but he never dreamed Maclin would slide as far as he did.
"We did not expect him to be there at that point, when we got him," Culley said. "That's how good of a player I felt he was at that time."
As a rookie in 2009, Maclin missed the start of Eagles training camp because of a contract dispute. When he finally arrived in early August and became veteran receiver Kevin Curtis' backup, Maclin told Culley he should be on the field.
"I'm better than him," Maclin told Culley.
"Maybe you are," Culley responded. "Maybe you will be. But on this team, you earn the right to start here."
"I'll make you better," Maclin said.
After Curtis was injured in Week 3, Maclin quickly emerged. In the next game, he caught six passes for 142 yards and two touchdowns against Tampa Bay and became the first Eagles rookie to post two 40-plus-yard touchdown receptions in the same game. Maclin finished the season with 56 catches for 773 yards and four touchdowns.
"He talked all the time about being in St. Louis and watching [former Rams receivers] Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt," Culley said. "He'd say, 'I'm going to be like that someday.' This was expected of him [by Eagles coaches and scouts], and I think he expected it of himself."
A few months ago, a text arrived through "the network," and Sean Weatherspoon knew.
Mac was back.
Weatherspoon, a linebacker for the Atlanta Falcons, is one of Maclin's best friends, along with former NFL players Danario Alexander and Kevin Rutland. The four were teammates at Missouri -- Weatherspoon and Maclin were also roommates for three years -- and they communicate regularly in group text messages.
In May, Maclin sent a video to the group. It showed him going over the top of a defender to make a catch at an Eagles training session.
"He looked better than ever," Weatherspoon said.
Maclin has never doubted his ability. For his first four seasons with the Eagles, he played alongside mercurial receiver DeSean Jackson and, as a result, never had a 1,000-yard season or made the Pro Bowl.
In 2011, during the NFL lockout, Maclin became ill. Inexplicably, he lost 20 pounds. At first doctors thought he had mononucleosis. Then they feared he had lymphoma.
"That might've been the one point in my life that kind of scared me," Maclin said, "because of the fact of not knowing. I think that is probably one of the scariest things."
Subsequent tests revealed Maclin did not have lymphoma. After several months, doctors determined he had an inflammatory infection. Eventually, the night sweats, fevers and headaches went away. Maclin regained the weight he had lost and played 13 games for the Eagles that season, catching 63 passes for 859 yards and five touchdowns.
Last year, after Kelly replaced Andy Reid as the Eagles' coach, Maclin appeared poised for a breakout year. Kelly loved Maclin's demeanor, commitment, versatility and willingness to block. Then came the torn ACL.
Weatherspoon had been there when Maclin worked his way back from his first knee reconstruction at Missouri. So to see Maclin in that video, healthy and strong and in the best shape of his life, was gratifying, Weatherspoon said.
"It's fun to watch, man," he said. "It's been a grind. He had to go through training camp. He'd text, 'Man, I'm beat up.' I told him, 'Stick with it,' as did everyone else in the group. He's always trying to push and push and push."
In February, with Maclin about to become a free agent, the Eagles offered him a five-year contract. The team had just extended its deals with center Jason Kelce and left tackle Jason Peters and re-signed wide receiver Riley Cooper to his own five-year pact. Maclin knew his situation. He was coming off a second knee reconstruction. The money wasn't indicative of what Maclin felt he was worth, so he asked for a one-year deal instead. The Eagles agreed to a $6 million contract for this season, with $3.5 million guaranteed. They then released Jackson, who was coming off a career year and still in his prime.
Maclin insists he isn't gambling on himself the way Joe Flacco did in Baltimore in 2012, when he turned down a long-term extension before the season because he felt he deserved more money than the Ravens were offering.
"I just think it was the right thing to do," Maclin said. "I think it was the smart thing to do. I think people may frown upon that, but I just think with everything that was being thrown around, the numbers and everything else, I just think the one-year deal was what was best for both sides."
Nevertheless, Maclin's teammates love that he risked long-term security -- such as there is in the NFL, without guaranteed contracts -- to prove his true value.
"He knew if he signed a multiyear deal and came back great -- which is what he was expecting -- he was going to be underpaid for the next few years," Kelce said. "I think he just wanted to get a one-year deal and prove he was back and the receiver he was before, one of the premier guys in the league. He's more than done that."
Said newly minted starting Eagles quarterback Mark Sanchez: "He picked a hell of a year to sign a one-year deal. He's playing his butt off, and he bet on himself. As a competitor, you just love to see when guys are like, 'I'll take my time and make sure I'm feeling good. I'll come back strong.' Coming off a major injury like that, that shows a lot of confidence."
Maclin has never lacked confidence. He can be reserved. He is polite. But inside, he burns to be the best.
"He's the most competitive player that I've met in everything, sports to off the field," said close friend LeSean McCoy, who was drafted a round after Maclin. "People don't know that about Mac because he's always smiling and kind of quiet. But he loves to compete. He's got that try-to-prove thing. When the whole D-Jax thing went down, he felt like it was his time to prove that, 'I've always been the better all-around receiver,' and he's showcasing that now."
If Maclin ends this season the way he started it, he will have significantly more leverage than he did just a few months ago. He could be worth $25 million guaranteed and more than $10 million per year, which would put him in the same pay grade as Kansas City's Dwayne Bowe, Tampa Bay's Vincent Jackson, Miami's Mike Wallace and the Jets' Percy Harvin.
Maclin insists he's not concerned about his contract. But when asked whether he wants to remain in Philadelphia beyond 2014, Maclin simply said, "Yes."
"The goal of the team is to hold that trophy up," Maclin said.
As for his confidence, it has always been intact.
"My whole motto is I respect everybody, but I fear no one," he said. "It doesn't matter who I'm going against, from the most talked-about corners to the least talked-about corners. I'm going to respect you, but I'm not going to fear you. I'm very confident in my capabilities and my skill set that I'm going to win that matchup. And I let my quarterbacks know that.
"As they feel, they'll come my way. And when they come my way, I'll be there, be reliable."