Eagles hurting at wide receiver

Posted: August 04, 2013

Chip Kelly insisted the Riley Cooper situation is a "life deal," not a "football deal." But the Eagles head coach still runs a football team.

So Cooper's indefinite absence from the team while receiving counseling for shouting a racial slur at a June concert leaves an undermanned wide receiver corps missing another important piece.

The group that practiced Friday featured veterans DeSean Jackson and Jason Avant and a cast of seven players with few achievements and even fewer expectations for major contributions.

Damaris Johnson took snaps with the first team. But deep reserve Greg Salas, with 27 career catches, has the most catches of the group. Overall, the seven have accounted for just 40 NFL receptions.

"For Aug. 2, yeah," Kelly said Friday when asked if the depth at wide receiver on the roster is sufficient.

The Eagles did not practice on Saturday.

How Cooper's absence affects the team long term remains to be seen. After Jeremy Maclin sustained a season-ending knee injury last week, Cooper stepped into Maclin's spot as a first-team wide receiver. Kelly said Cooper's roster spot "is not in question." But there is no timetable for Cooper's return.

Meanwhile, he's taking up a roster spot, and a prolonged absence could stretch to Aug. 31, when the roster must be trimmed to 53.

"It's Aug. 2," Kelly said. "We're way ahead of ourselves in terms of roster spots. Again, there hasn't been one question about a roster [spot]."

The deficit at wide receiver was apparent in Friday's practice. One week earlier, when the full team practiced for the first time, the roster included Maclin, Cooper, and Arrelious Benn among the top options.

Maclin will not play this year, Cooper will not play in the immediate future, and Benn has not practiced since he suffered a knee injury on the first day. Plus, the team already waived B.J. Cunningham, who was on the practice squad throughout 2012.

"As a wide receiver, we need any wide receiver to help us have reps," Jackson said.

The two wide receivers participating with the second-team on Friday were Ifeanyi Momah and Russell Shepard. Neither one was drafted. Neither one has played in an NFL game.

The good news is that Jackson has been perhaps the finest player in training camp, and he continued to haul in impressive deep catches in Friday's practice. There was a slight scare when Jackson left Thursday's practice early with a toe injury, but he was back on Friday.

It would seem problematic to pair Jackson with Johnson, both of whom are generously listed at 175 pounds. Jackson is listed at 5-foot-10, and Johnson is listed at 5-8. Jackson can pull it off as a dynamic presence, and the Eagles are intrigued by how they can use Johnson, a promising talent who had 19 catches as a rookie. But together, they would leave the team significantly undersized on the outside.

Kelly did not want to answer the hypothetical question of whether he'd be comfortable with two small receivers as the starters.

"In the ideal world, no," he said. "I think I would love everybody to be Megatron [Lions receiver Calvin Johnson]."

Kelly said it all depends on whether he has a full complement of receivers and what the injury situation was on a given day.

"That's why I don't know," Kelly said. "If we get to Sept. 9 and those are our two best guys, we're going to play with what we have."

There are variables that could thwart the hypothetical. Benn is an intriguing option, and he's a 2010 second-round pick of Tampa Bay who is 6-foot-2, 220 pounds. He demonstrated an impressive ability to run after the catch when he played for the Buccaneers.

But Benn arrived with a reputation of being injury-prone, and his knee injury didn't help. Kelly said on Wednesday that Benn was on the verge of returning, but that hasn't happened yet.

Plus, Cooper could be back in time for the regular season if the organization keeps him. Even though Kelly did not want to speculate, it makes little football sense to carry a wasted roster spot. In the meantime, the Eagles must make due with an undistinguished group.

"Whoever steps in, you have to expect they have the ability to get the job done," Jackson said. "It presents another opportunity for a young guy to step up."


Contact Zach Berman at zberman@phillynews.com. Follow on Twitter @ZBerm.

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