With cuts looming, which Eagles’ WRs are in/out?

With cuts looming, which Eagles’ WRs are in/out?

August 28, 2014, 11:45 pm
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Arrelious Benn (left) and Damaris Johnson each scored a touchdown in the Eagles' 37-7 win over the Jets Thursday night. (AP)

It was a familiar scene, which didn’t make it any less awkward. It happens around this time every year. Certain players know they’ve made it. They’re safe. They’re comfortable. Other guys aren’t so fortunate.

After the Eagles beat the Jets, 37-7, at Lincoln Financial Field on Thursday evening in the preseason finale (see Instant Replay), Damaris Johnson sat at his locker. He’s been with the Eagles for two seasons. He might not make it to a third. Johnson is fighting for a job with several other fringe receivers. Jeremy Maclin isn’t one of them. He’s safe. He’s comfortable. He’s fortunate. While Johnson answered questions about whether he thinks he’ll make the team, Maclin was one stall over answering questions about the bubble guys in his position group.

“I don’t really go into games thinking I’ve got to go out and prove something to anybody because I’m my hardest critic,” Johnson said. “Sometimes when I catch a ball, I’m like ‘oh, I ran a route maybe two yards short.’ But they don’t really see that. So I don’t go out and try to prove anyone wrong. I just go out and play.”

He went out and played well on Thursday (see 10 observations). It was unquestionably his best effort of the preseason. Johnson returned three punts for 52 yards (17.3 average). He had a kickoff return for 20 yards. He caught two of his four targets for 19 yards. And, most surprisingly, he carried the ball five times for 69 yards and a touchdown.

Despite the effort, Johnson is probably still a longshot to make the team. So there he was, talking about the unfavorable roster numbers, while Maclin stood next to him and did the same thing, only from a much different perspective.

“That’s the way of the game,” Maclin said. “[Damaris] can play football. The one thing that D really has going for him, if it doesn’t work out here -- which I hope it does -- if it doesn’t, I think he’s very, very talented and I think someone will come snag him. All of the guys at the receiver position have had moments where they’ve shined.”

The Eagles must trim the roster to 53 players by Saturday at 4 p.m. In their roster projections, Geoff Mosher and Reuben Frank both predicted the Eagles will keep five receivers. (You can find Mosher’s here and Roob’s here.) If that’s the case and Chip Kelly doesn’t keep six, the unit might already be selected. Maclin, Riley Cooper, Jordan Matthews and Josh Huff are locks. Brad Smith, who is one of the Eagles' best special teams players, didn’t play on Thursday. When Kelly was asked why, the head coach said the Eagles have seen enough of Smith and indicated he’d be around on Monday. That’s five. The rest of the group better hope they keep one more.

Ifeanyi Momah barely played on Thursday. He caught one pass on two targets for 12 yards. Unless something really unlikely happens, he’s gone. Same goes for Will Murphy and Quron Pratt. That leaves Johnson, Arrelious Been and Jeff Maehl.

Benn caught two passes for 55 yards against the Jets, but one of them was a 43-yard touchdown. It was a nice play, even though New York cornerback LeQuan Lewis helped him quite a bit by essentially not covering Benn. Benn is a big body and a good receiver, but he’s had a variety of injuries that caused the 25-year-old to miss 27 games in his career.

“You can’t control what they think,” Benn said about the pending cuts. “I don’t care about that. It’s a blessing to be here, especially the things that I’ve been through in my career, being injured and stuff. I’m just happy to play football. Whatever decision they’re going to make, they’re going to make.”

That brings us to Maehl. Last season, he had four catches on nine targets for 67 yards and a touchdown. He’s spent his entire NFL career waiting for the other cleat to drop but hoping it doesn't. Maehl had arguably the best performance of any receiver on Thursday, catching all four passes thrown his way for 84 yards. He might have caught a touchdown, too, but Matt Barkley just missed him in the corner of the end zone.

“I feel like I took advantage of the plays when I had opportunities,” Maehl said. “That’s what this game is about for guys like me: fringe players. You just have to go out there and take advantage of every opportunity. If it doesn’t work out here, at least you’ve got some good film for other places.”

If they keep six guys, which is a big if, Maehl might have the advantage given his (limited) history with the Eagles and the fact that he went to a certain college in the Pacific Northwest fancied by Kelly. None of that will help him sleep well between now and Saturday. Maehl is well aware that his odds aren’t great.

“This is my fourth year in the league, and I’ve had to play in every one of those [fourth preseason] games,” he said. “It’s always been an important game for me. … All you can do is give your best effort. And the waiting game starts.”

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