Eagles' backup receivers will get to make case

Eagles rookie Jordan Matthews is likely to get his chances Friday night against New England . Riley Cooper and Jeremy Maclin are expected to sit out.
Eagles rookie Jordan Matthews is likely to get his chances Friday night against New England . Riley Cooper and Jeremy Maclin are expected to sit out. (DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff)
Posted: August 16, 2014

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. - The Eagles started stretching Thursday morning in the shadow of Gillette Stadium, and Jeremy Maclin stood a few yards away wearing a baseball cap. Those who wore helmets were going to practice. Those without helmets would not.

Considering that the Eagles were getting ready for a game Friday night against the New England Patriots, wearing a baseball cap was an ominous sign for the receiver's chances of playing. Maclin, who tweaked his hamstring Wednesday, was one of seven players not wearing helmets.

The others were cornerbacks Nolan Carroll (hamstring) and Jaylen Watkins (hamstring); running backs Chris Polk (hamstring), Matthew Tucker (hamstring), and David Fluellen (calf); and linebacker Jake Knott (hamstring).

Add wide receiver Riley Cooper (foot), who was limited in practice and won't play Friday, and the Eagles enter the second preseason game with a crowded injury report. Coach Chip Kelly did not address reporters Thursday, but the Eagles are likely to be without their top two receivers, two of their seven cornerbacks, and three of their six running backs.

"It looks bad when your two starters aren't practicing," Cooper said. "We've got to get healthy and get out there. I know Mac, he's good. He'll be fine."

Cooper said he plans to practice Sunday and hopes to play in the third preseason game. Maclin did not take questions after practice, but as he walked to the bus he said he was "getting better."

The top three receivers Friday will likely be Arrelious Benn, Ifeanyi Momah, and Brad Smith. They are competing for what could be the final two spots at wide receiver. Smith is expected to make the team because of his versatility, experience, and special-teams ability. Momah and Benn are intriguing players who have shown marked improvement from last year.

Momah, who at 6-foot-7 has rare size for the position, did not make the roster or the practice squad last season, admitting that he "wasn't good enough." The coaching staff has noticed a dramatic difference this summer, and the 24-year-old started in the preseason opener.

"Last year was more like don't make a mistake," Momah said. "This year it's go out and play. Just shake it off and go and make the next play, because the ball could come to you. It's all confidence."

Benn, a former second-round pick, might have the most intriguing skills of any of the roster hopefuls. But a torn anterior cruciate ligament last year combined with a track record of injuries hurt his prospects. Benn, who said he might have worn down if not for Kelly's sports science program, has not missed any time this summer.

"I'm showing them I can go out there and make plays, stay healthy, block, do all those things," Benn said.

Friday's game is also important for second-round draft pick Jordan Matthews, who dazzled early in training camp before dropping two passes in the preseason opener. Matthews, whose maturity has earned praise from the coaching staff, refused to believe that the miscues were the by-product of first-game jitters.

"I think to say that would be kind of an excuse," Matthews said. "The game happened. . . . We're just trying to move on. There's no reason to make excuses."

Matthews remains behind Smith as the second-team slot receiver, but he is expected to eventually become more of a factor with the starters. A positive performance Friday will boost his chances.

The most important preseason game for the starting unit is usually the third one, which will be Aug. 21 against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Lincoln Financial Field. That game will provide a better indication of how the Eagles will appear when the regular season opens Sept. 7 against Jacksonville. With Cooper out Friday and Maclin also unlikely to play, it could be the first chance to see the starting receivers together. Friday's game will offer more information on the reserves.

"I definitely need to play [in the preseason]," Cooper said. "I can't just jump in Week 1 against Jacksonville and start playing."


zberman@phillynews.com

@ZBerm

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