Thursday, April 17, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Undrafted Eagles rookies to watch

While the Eagles have nine drafted rookies in training, they also have 15 other rookies hoping to stand out for the coaches. Four, in particular, appear to have the best chance of making the team.

Undrafted Eagles rookies to watch

Wideout Damaris Johnson is currently penciled in as the Birds´ top punt returner. (Yong Kim/Staff Photographer)
Wideout Damaris Johnson is currently penciled in as the Birds' top punt returner. (Yong Kim/Staff Photographer)

While the Eagles have nine drafted rookies in training, they also have 15 other rookies hoping to stand out for the coaches. Four, in particular, appear to have the best chance of making the team.

Damaris Johnson is a 5-foot-8, 175-pound wide receiver who was the NCAA’s all-time leader in all-purpose yardage and kickoff yardage in just three seasons at Tulsa. The Eagles wasted no time penciling him in as the No. 1 punt returner heading into Thursday’s game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. 

“It feels great to go out there and get a chance,” Johnson said. “The Eagles gave me a chance and I’m going to take advantage of it.”

Special teams coach Bobby April has been impressed with Johnson’s fundamentals as a returner. “You can see he catches the ball really well,” April said. “He is in position all the time and is really quick.”

 

Running back Chris Polk similarly has turned heads throughout camp with both his running and his blocking. During Monday’s practice, he pancake-blocked defensive back Philip Thomas to the cheers of his teammates and the crowd. 

And at Friday’s workout, he showed game-changing speed with a burst up the middle and deep into the secondary. He’s currently the fourth-team back, behind LeSean McCoy, Dion Lewis, and Bryce Brown, but it would be a surprise if the Eagles don’t find a way to keep him at this point.

 

Cliff Harris, a 2010 All-America as a return men at Oregon, figured to be the Eagles’ free-agent steal when training camp opened, and he certainly looked impressive going against the rookies. 

But when the veterans arrived and the reps diminished, Harris, who missed the team’s Organized Team Activities in the spring, has faded somewhat. 

“Cliff is a competitor. He is still learning our system,” said defensive coordinator Juan Castillo. “The hard thing is that when you miss those OTAs, it’s hard, so he is just trying to get a complete understanding [of the defense]…. But he’s got ball skills. You can see him make some plays that are hard to make. That’s what’s impressed me.”

 

Fullback Emil Igwenagu is the only other free agent listed at second team or better on the depth chart. He’s behind Stanley Havili, and has looked solid as a blocker. 

The best shot for the rest of the undrafted free agents is to become a special teams standout. Among current Eagles who were undrafted are five-time Pro Bowler Jason Peters, starter Cullen Jenkins, special teams star Colt Anderson, Joselio Hanson, and Chad Hall.

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For news, stats, video, live chats and more, Red Zone is the place to find Eagles coverage you can't get anywhere else. Reach Jimmy at jkempski@philly.com.

Jimmy Kempski Philly.com
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