FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – When Henry Josey was in the midst of a grueling rehab after undergoing three separate surgeries to mend his ravaged left knee, opportunities like this were no longer a thought.
“It was something that wasn’t supposed to be possible for me,” he noted late Friday in the visitor’s locker room at Gillette Stadium, “that I would get back out there.”
But there he was in an NFL preseason game, sporting a black No. 34 Eagles’ uniform, catching a Matt Barkley screen pass deep in Patriots territory and, seconds later, diving headfirst into the end zone for a 27-yard score.
Thrust into an increased role this week, Josey, undrafted out of Missouri, delivered an impressive performance in the second half of the Eagles’ 42-35 preseason loss to the Patriots. The 5-8, 194-pound running back led the Birds in carries (eight) and rushing yards (56) and scored on the aforementioned screen as the third quarter expired.
For Josey, who broke out as a college sophomore before his knee injury and returned to the field only last season, Friday was surely a special night. He saw the bulk of his work in the third quarter, the 22-year-old's longest carry going for 15 yards. He also had rushes of 14 yards and 9 yards.
“I am just happy to be able to do it again,” he said. “I am just thankful and I keep being thankful. I am thankful for all the people that helped me get to where I am and I know how blessed I am.”
The volume of carries came only because three other reserve running backs, Chris Polk, Matthew Tucker and David Fluellen, were sidelined with injuries. The Eagles know what they have in LeSean McCoy and Darren Sproles, so that duo's time in preseason games will be fleeting. That left Josey, with some help from 5-8 receiver Damaris Johnson, to take most of the second-half carries against New England.
“I thought he made the most of it,” offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur said. “It was a nice score on the screen play. He had a lot of other nice runs, as well. At the end of the game there with Henry and then Damaris, they did a good job kind of filling the role for us.”
Josey is considered a longshot to make the Eagles’ 53-man roster. Behind McCoy and Sproles, Polk and Tucker are the front-runners for the Nos. 3 and 4 running-back spots, respectively, presuming the Eagles keep four running backs. Josey could challenge Tucker, who was on the team last season, but likely has a better chance at playing his way onto the practice squad.
“A lot of people aren’t going to know too much about Henry, because he’s an undrafted free agent, but when [Missouri] came to the SEC, I knew about Henry when he was in the Big 12, before his knee injury,” said rookie wide receiver Jordan Matthews, the Eagles’ second-round pick out of Vanderbilt.
“He was, like, top five in the nation in rushing [as a sophomore]. So it might be a surprise to a lot of people, but I’m like ‘Oh, that’s just Josey.’ I already knew. I was excited when I heard that we got him on the team. I was like ‘Really? That’s a steal.’ So this isn’t a surprise to me. That’s just business as usual. He’s going to continue to get better, continue to do his job.”
On Twitter: @jakemkaplan