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What's left at wide receiver? Eagles dealing with undermanned unit

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 and he still must oversee football practices, and Cooper's indefinite absence while receiving counseling after shouting a racial slur at a June concert leaves an undermanned-wide receiver corps missing another important piece.

What's left at wide receiver? Eagles dealing with undermanned unit

Eagles wide receiver Jason Avant catches a pass thrown to him in a<br />drill during the first session of training camp open to the general<br />public Sunday July 28, 2013 at Lincoln Financial Field.  (AP Photo/The<br />Express-Times, Matt Smith)
Eagles wide receiver Jason Avant catches a pass thrown to him in a drill during the first session of training camp open to the general public Sunday July 28, 2013 at Lincoln Financial Field. (AP Photo/The Express-Times, Matt Smith)

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 and he still must oversee football practices, and Cooper's indefinite absence while receiving counseling after shouting a racial slur at a June concert leaves an undermanned-wide receiver corps missing another important piece.

The group that practiced Friday featured DeSean Jackson and Jason Avant, and a cast of seven players with little pedigree and tepid expectations of major contributions.

Damaris Johnson took snaps with the first-team. Deep reserve Greg Salas, with 27 career catches, had the most catches of the group. There were 50 total NFL catches among that group of seven.

"For August 2nd, yeah," Kelly answered, when asked if the depth on the roster is sufficient.

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How Cooper's absence affects the team long-term remains to be seen. After Jeremy Maclin sustained a season-ending injury last week, Cooper stepped into Maclin's spot as a first-team wide receiver. Kelly said Cooper's roster spot ôis not in question,ö yet there is no timetable for Cooper's return. Meanwhile, he's using a roster spot. A prolonged absence would stretch to Aug. 31, when the roster must be trimmed to 53.

"It's August 2nd," Kelly said. "We're way ahead of ourselves in terms of roster spots. Again, there hasn't been one question about a roster. This isn't a roster spot issue for us right now."

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 for the immediate future, and Benn has not practiced since he sustained 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. "If anything, [Cooper's absence] hurt us to have less receivers."

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-foot-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 rookie. Yet together, they would leave the team significantly undersized on the outside.

"In the ideal world, no;  I think I would love everybody to be MegaTron," said Kelly, who did not want to answer the hypothetical question of whether heÆd be comfortable with two small receivers as the starters.

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

"That's why I don't know," Kelly said. "If we get to September 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 former second-round pick who is 6-foot-2, 220 pounds and demonstrated impressive run-after-the-catch-ability with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers since he was a 2010. But Benn arrived with a reputation of being injury prone, and sustaining a knee injury on the first day didn't help. Kelly indicated on Wednesday Benn was on the verge of the returning, but that hasn't happened yet.

Plus, Cooper could be back by the regular season, if the organization maintains their stance of keeping him. Even though Kelly did not want to speculate, it makes little football sense to carry a wasted roster spot on a healthy player. In the mean time, 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.

 

Zach Berman Inquirer Staff Writer
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Birds' Eye View is the Inquirer's blog covering all things Philadelphia Eagles and the NFL.

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