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Jason Avant welcomed Riley Cooper back to the team at the start of the Eagles-Patriots joint practice Tuesday at the NovaCare Complex. (AP)
Before practice began on Tuesday, Riley Cooper stretched on one of the three main fields at the NovaCare Complex. He wasn’t looking when Jason Avant came up from behind and surprised him by smacking him on the backside. Then the two embraced for a moment.
Though you couldn’t hear the words exchanged between the two, the message was obvious enough. After Cooper spent four days away from the team to undergo counseling (see story) following a racial slur he uttered, there was Avant -- quite literally waiting with open arms.
“I’m always happy to see him,” Avant said following a training camp workout with the New England Patriots. “Sometimes our schedules cross during the day, in there, out there, and I get a chance to see him. I just treat him the same way. That’s what I do as a player. As a teammate.”
That’s how it went on the field once practice was underway. During an 11-on-11 session between the Eagles’ first-team offense and the Patriots first-team defense, Michael Vick found Riley Cooper in the back of the end zone for a 20-yard touchdown. Cooper -- who leapt over defensive back Alfonzo Dennard to haul in the pass -- fell to the ground as he caught the ball. When he got to his feet, Avant was the first Eagle to congratulate Cooper on the play. The two jumped into the air and chest bumped to celebrate.
“As far as our team, guys are definitely over it,” Avant said. “We’ve talked. We’ve had dialogue. We’ve accepted his apology. The only thing he can do is apologize. What else can he do? When a situation happens like that, there aren’t too many things you can do but apologize and be sincere about it.”
If there were any players who disagreed with Avant’s position on Cooper returning to the team, they didn’t make their dissenting opinions publicly known on Tuesday.
Safety Patrick Chung said, “The situation is over with.” And DeSean Jackson -- who initially declined comment -- said, “We don’t talk about negative energy” when asked whether there were any players who didn’t welcome Cooper back into the fold.
“Yeah he’s a friend,” Jackson continued. “You know, so as far as whatever the situation is, it is what it is.”
Like Jackson, Chung and Avant, linebacker DeMeco Ryans said the Eagles have "put it behind" them.
“From our standpoint, it’s over with,” Ryans said. “As a team, we feel like we can get through anything. We talked about it like men and we’re ready to move forward.”
After Ryans spoke, Brent Celek was pressed on whether he or some of the other Eagles thought Cooper had returned too soon.
“Opinions are opinions, guys.” Celek said. “It all comes down to what Coach Kelly determines that he wants. That’s what he said so we go with it.”