Eagles' Cooper a full-practice participant

DAVID M WARREN / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Riley Cooper intends to play his first preseason game Thursday, when the Eagles host Pittsburgh.
DAVID M WARREN / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Riley Cooper intends to play his first preseason game Thursday, when the Eagles host Pittsburgh.
Posted: August 19, 2014

WHEN THE EAGLES take the field Thursday night for the third of their four preseason games, they could feature as close to a fully stocked wide-receiving corps as we'll see before the Sept. 7 season opener.

A foot injury cost Riley Cooper most of training camp, but the Eagles' No. 2 receiver said yesterday he "felt good" after fully participating in practice and plans to make his preseason debut against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Lincoln Financial Field. Jeremy Maclin's status for the game is still to be determined, but he is slated to return to practice today after missing Friday's game in New England with hamstring tightness.

"[Cooper] looked really good, just conditioning-wise and getting down the field," quarterback Nick Foles said. "He's been out for a little while, so it's just getting back out there, getting the cobwebs off, but [he is] definitely a huge threat to have back on the field."

Maclin hasn't fully participated since Wednesday's joint practice with the Patriots in Foxborough, Mass., when he exited early from a rain-soaked session after beating safety Devin McCourty for a deep touchdown. If this were the regular season, Maclin could have played, coach Chip Kelly said. The Eagles are playing it safe, especially knowing that minor injuries such as these also offer an increased look at the less-proven players fighting to make the 53-man roster.

After shedding his walking boot, Cooper had been running routes for the last week or so, but yesterday marked his first day competing against a secondary. He said the plan is to "gradually get back into the swing of things. A couple plays to start every series and then off. That's kind of the routine we're following."

If Maclin also returns, Thursday's game will mark the first this preseason in which Foles has his top two receivers on the field together to go along with touted rookie Jordan Matthews and the likes of Brad Smith, Ifeanyi Momah, Arrelious Benn and Jeff Maehl. Although Matthews repped mostly with the second-team unit throughout training camp, he also has taken snaps with Foles under center.

"It's one of those things where when I'm not in, I'm watching them," Foles said. "I'm watching their routes. I'm talking to them, and I'm able to see film on them. So I get a feel for them and I know their personalities, how they like the ball. If they go out there and play together, I'll feel comfortable. I trust each and every one of those guys."

Foles and Cooper displayed great chemistry last season, during which Cooper set career highs in receptions (47), receiving yards (835) and touchdowns (eight). It doesn't sound as if reforming that rapport will take much time.

"He just has such a natural feel and knack for what I'm doing, for whatever reason," Cooper said. "He does a good job being able to read what I'm doing and when I'm doing it, so give all the credit to him."

With Cooper on the shelf for the first two preseason games and Maclin missing last Friday's, the receivers fighting for the fourth, fifth and possibly sixth receiver spots have seen more opportunities. No Eagle played more offensive snaps against New England than Momah, who caught three passes for 12 yards but also fumbled on the Eagles' first possession and couldn't haul in his other target in the end zone, the ball bouncing off his hands and into Benn's for a circus catch. Maehl also fumbled in the game, while Benn impressed on special teams with a blocked punt.

The only receiver most likely out for Thursday is rookie Josh Huff, who suffered a shoulder injury on a kick return Friday. X-rays came back negative, Kelly said, but Huff was wearing a sling yesterday. Damaris Johnson, who also is battling for a roster spot, has served as the Eagles' backup kick returner.

"You're getting great effort out of [Benn]," Kelly said. "It was good to get Jeff [Maehl] healthy and back out on the field. I thought besides the fumble that he did a nice job. He's got a good skill set in terms of being able to release and not getting caught on the line of scrimmage. [Momah] gets better and better. The one thing with Mo is, how many reps can you get him because he needs them all? As he gets them, he improves.

"So [those players are] fighting to see who those last four, five, six [receivers] are going to be. It's a matter of just getting those guys back out . . . It was just getting them healthy and getting them back out on the field. But I've seen improvement out of all those guys and these next few weeks will be huge."

The third game of the preseason often features extended playing time for the starters, who typically play only sparingly or not at all in the final exhibition contest. Thursday likely will be Foles' last game until the opener against the Jacksonville Jaguars, so it's certainly worth watching how he performs, possibly with his top two receivers on the field together.

"I want us to play clean football," Foles said. "I want us to move the ball. I don't want any turnovers. I mean, if they do happen, you have to overcome them. But I really want us to play clean football and I want us to move the football and do a good job of that, do a great job of communicating.

"We're home at the Linc. We haven't played here in a long time, so it will be exciting to be back in front of our home fans. [We're] really just working to improve and start the game out a little faster. That would be my goal for this week moving forward."

On Twitter: @jakemkaplan

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