Riley Cooper missed the first two preseason games and probably won’t play in the preseason finale. So it’s imperative, in his mind, that he plays Thursday night against the Steelers.
“Yeah, that’s our goal,” he said about the upcoming preseason game at the Linc. “I’m pretty excited. I’ve been out a while. Two weeks. It feels like a long time.”
It’s been quite a long time. Cooper, who injured his ankle just a few days into practice, was supposed to return “shortly” after his injury, head coach Chip Kelly said a few weeks ago.
But Cooper didn’t return until last week, and even then he didn’t do everything. Actually, he didn’t do anything other than position drills. Cooper sat out all 7-on-7s and 11-on-11s last week, including the joint practices against New England.
On Sunday, two days after the second preseason game, Cooper participated in the scrimmages for the first time since suffering the injury.
“It felt good, it felt good,” he said. “It felt good to get back out there running around stuff. My ankle felt great. I kind of missed on a couple balls, but all in all, it was a good day.”
With wideout Jeremy Maclin (hamstring) slated to return to practice Tuesday, quarterback Nick Foles should have his projected starting receiver tandem on the field with him for the first time in the preseason -- and probably the last.
Starters don’t usually play in the preseason finale, so Foles, Cooper and Maclin aren’t likely to sniff the field against the Jets next Thursday.
Which is exactly why Cooper is looking forward to Thursday’s game. Get some live action, then get some rest as the season opener against the Jaguars bears down.
“Yeah, for sure. I didn’t want to be out and get back against Jacksonville,” he said. “I want to get a couple weeks of practice in and get the timing down with Nick (Foles). It’s something I need, and it will be beneficial. That’s the plan.”
Cooper broke out last year in his fourth season, setting personal bests with 47 catches, 535 yards and eight touchdowns. He emerged into one the NFL’s best deep threats, averaging 17.8 yards per catch, third-best in the league. He had six catches for 68 yards and a touchdown against the Saints in the playoffs.
In the offseason, the Eagles kept the 6-foot-4 wideout from hitting free agency by signing him to long-term extension and then re-signed Maclin right after. Then they cut DeSean Jackson and Jason Avant, ensuring that Cooper and Maclin would again play a pivotal role in the offense.
But so far Cooper and Maclin haven’t stayed healthy, though it’s just the preseason. Their injuries have given Chip Kelly a chance to evaluate some backups fighting for the last spot or two, but now’s the time for Cooper to get his snaps back.
Sunday was the first step. Thursday night is another.
“I felt great. I didn’t go obviously all the reps,” he said. “They’re gradually putting me in little by little, a couple plays here, a couple plays there to start series off. I felt good. I didn’t feel rusty because I’ve been running around for the last week or so.”