Eagles' Benn has healthy outlook on making team

DAVID MAIALETTI / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Arrelious Benn walks off field after yesterday's practice at Linc.
DAVID MAIALETTI / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Arrelious Benn walks off field after yesterday's practice at Linc.
Posted: July 30, 2014

ON THOSE RARE dark days when he would drop his guard and the self-pity would come rushing at him, Arrelious Benn would ask, "Why me, God? Why me?"

Many athletes are fortunate enough to play their entire careers without a major injury. Benn isn't one of them.

There have been not one, but two, torn ACLs. To the same knee. There has been a torn medial collateral ligament. There have been neck and shoulder injuries. There has been a concussion.

In four NFL seasons, the 25-year-old Eagles wide receiver has missed 27 of 64 regular-season games due to injury. Sixteen of those 27 came last year.

Acquired by the Eagles from Tampa Bay in March of last year, he tore his left ACL in training camp for the second time in 32 months and missed the entire season.

"I had to get over that," Benn said of the self-pity, of the feeling he was jinxed. "The hard part was the mental part. Physically, I was able to come back because of the body that I have. But the tough thing I had to get over was the mental part. I had to give myself the opportunity. I had to keep fighting."

The 6-2, 215-pound Benn tore his ACL for the first time late in his rookie season with Tampa Bay. The 2010 second-round pick recovered and caught 30 passes and three TDs in 14 games in 2011.

But after he missed eight more games in 2012 with knee and shoulder injuries, Benn was traded to the Eagles for next to nothing.

Jeremy Maclin's season-ending ACL injury on the second day of training camp last summer appeared to open the door for Benn to challenge for some significant playing time with his new team. But 10 days after Maclin went down, Benn tore his ACL again in a joint practice session with the Patriots.

"It was hard," he said. "Coming in here, a new guy. Then going through something like that. It was tough. You have high expectations and then that happens."

Benn said he knew right away that he had torn the ACL, but went into a very brief state of denial.

"I tried to run down on special teams right after that," he said. "I planted it and that's when I knew my knee . . . I knew I couldn't play. But you just have to deal with it. It's only going to make you stronger."

While DeSean Jackson was having a career year and Riley Cooper was having a breakout season that included eight touchdowns and the third best yards-per-catch average (17.8) in the league, Benn was on injured reserve for the third time in his career, spending months rehabbing his knee again.

"I stayed here [in Philadelphia] the whole time," Benn said. "It was tough because I was away from my family. I had to suck that up, be here and just grind it out. I had to put everything else out of my mind and focus on rehabbing and getting back to where I was."

If there was one small consolation, it was that he had rehab company this time - Maclin and linebacker Jason Phillips, who also had torn his ACL.

Both Maclin and Benn (and Phillips) are healthy again. But their circumstances are night-and-day different. Maclin, who averaged 65 catches and almost seven touchdowns per year in his first four NFL seasons, is one of the team's starting wide receivers.

Benn finds himself needing a strong training camp and preseason just to have a chance to make the team.

"Maclin's a guy who's been here for years," he said. "People know him. They expect certain things from him. I just want to come out here and play and help them win football games. My play will speak for itself. People will know."

Maclin and Cooper will be the team's starting wide receivers. Rookie second-rounder Jordan Matthews probably will wind up replacing departed Jason Avant in the slot.

Third-rounder Josh Huff, who played for Chip Kelly at Oregon, is pretty much a lock to make the team. So too, probably, is versatile jack-of-all-positions Brad Smith. That means Benn is essentially battling another player from the Duck Underground Railroad, Jeff Maehl, for the sixth and final wide receiver spot on the roster.

And Maehl would seem to have the upper hand at this point. During yesterday's practice at the Linc, with Cooper not participating in most of the 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 work, Maehl, who had just four catches for the Eagles last year, took the first-team reps in Cooper's place.

Asked for his reaction to the fact that the Eagles spent two of their first three draft choices on wide receivers, Benn said, "I don't care. I know my ability. It doesn't matter who they bring in. I'm just going to come out here and perform.

"The knee is feeling good. It gets sore sometimes, but that comes with two ACLs. Other than that, it feels real good. I'm happy with it based on how I felt last year at this time."

Eagles wide receivers coach Bob Bicknell has been impressed with the way Benn has battled back both mentally and physically from his second ACL injury.

"Mentally, he's done a great job of not letting [the frustration] show," Bicknell said. "You can look back at his [injury] history and think, 'Man, he's got to have some [negative] thoughts about what's happened to him. But mentally, he's come back every time, attacked it, worked hard."

Benn insists his knee is whole again. But he hasn't played in a game in 20 months, and his performance in the Eagles' first padded training camp practice yesterday was not particularly impressive.

"He looked good in the spring," Bicknell said. "But the hardest thing in the spring was we're in OTAs and not in pads and there's not the whole game atmosphere and all those things.

"We haven't really seen Arrelious do it. It's an important preseason for him. I think he knows that. But he's picked up the offense. It's coming easier for him."

If Benn isn't going to make the Eagles, it won't be because he's afraid to challenge his twice-repaired ACL.

"When I was out there running in OTAs, I knew [the knee] was good again," he said. "I felt like it was all the way back. I told myself, what's the worst that can happen? If I go full-speed, will I do it again? If I do [tear it again] it will be going full-speed."


On Twitter: @Pdomo

Blog: eagletarian.com

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