When Jeremy Maclin tore his ACL on Saturday, Riley Cooper said that he didn’t have to be told he was the next wide receiver up.
“It was just kind of understood,” Cooper said.
Now in his third season, Cooper has an established place in the Eagles offense, even if there is an entirely new coaching staff.
But will Cooper, who has ten career NFL starts, be able to make the jump from reserve to starter without the Eagles missing a beat?
“I don’t know,” Cooper said. “It’ll be just like last year when [DeSean Jackson] went down.”
It’s a long way until the season opener, and the Eagles may elect to add a veteran free agent – although signs suggest that is unlikely – but Cooper would appear to be the odds-on favorite to replace Maclin on the outside.
Eagles general manager Howie Roseman echoed coach Chip Kelly’s recent statement, however, that the depth chart is written in sand.
“When you talk about Riley you talk about traits,” Roseman said. “He’s big, he’s strong, he can go up and get the football. He can block. And for a big guy he can drop his weight and run routes.”
There are other candidates. Jason Avant is the third receiver right now, but he’s destined to remain at his usual spot in the slot. Damaris Johnson has NFL experience and will likely be featured in the offense, but it would be difficult for Kelly to have the even-smaller Johnson (5-8, 170) opposite Jackson (5-10, 175).
Arrelious Benn, 6-7 Ifeanyi Momah and rookie Russell Shepard are other options.
Cooper has some heft. He’s 6-3, 222 pounds and has shown that he can break a tackle or two and that he hasn’t been afraid to mix it up on special teams. Kelly likes players with size. Could Cooper’s size give him the nod?
“I hope it does,” Cooper said. “They say I’m tough. … I kind of pride myself on that, just trying to be as tough as can and as physical I can be. That’s just what I have to do. I’m not a very quick, side to side, little guy. So you have to play to your strengths.”
Cooper caught three touchdowns last season, one more than Jackson, who started in six more games. Two were of the fade-into-the-corner-of-the-end-zone variety. But he didn’t exactly explode when he filled in for the injured Jackson. Cooper caught 13 passes for 138 yards and two touchdowns in five starts.
The season before, he posted better receiving numbers in three starts – 13 catches for 240 yards and a touchdown.
Cooper said that he feels like he’s fit into what Kelly is trying to accomplish on offense.
“I feel like I’m fitting in,” Cooper said. “I’m a big body. That’s a little different. The whole blocking scheme and blocking the perimeter, and bubble screens that we run, I can do that. That’s a strength of mine.”
The 25-year-old Cooper missed almost all of training camp last year and was out for the first five games after he broke his collarbone. He said that it didn’t set him back.
“I don’t know if it hurt me,” Cooper said. “I felt like last year I had the best year I’ve ever had since being in the league. … I felt so comfortable last year. So I felt like it didn’t hurt me at all, and that’s weird because going into your third year normally, that camp is the most important.”