Think about what Chip Kelly wants in an offensive player. And then think about Damaris Johnson.
Playmaking ability? Check.
Johnson, who showed some flashes as a rookie receiver and returner last year, is back for his second season with the Eagles and looking for a bigger role in Kelly’s high-voltage offense.
And he seems like a perfect fit.
“I’m kind of expecting to have a bigger year and help my team out more than last year,” Johnson said after a recent OTA practice.
“I want the guys to know they can depend on me and be comfortable that I can go out there and take more reps and contribute more and be accountable. I want my teammates and coaches to trust me and know they can count on me.”
Johnson wasn’t bad last year, although it took him a while to get comfortable with the speed of the NFL -- especially in the punt return game.
He caught 19 passes for 256 yards, the second-best season by an Eagles undrafted rookie in the last 60 years -- Hank Baskett was 22 for 464 in 2006. He was third among undrafted rookies, behind the Browns’ Josh Gordon and the Raiders’ Rod Streater, a native of Burlington Township in South Jersey.
Punt returns took a while to come together. But Johnson's 98-yard touchdown against the Cowboys in Week 10 -- tied for the third-longest punt return in NFL history -- showed what he’s capable of accomplishing.
“I think it took me a while last year to get comfortable and get used to the speed of the game,” Johnson said. “I already feel more comfortable. I think I can just go out and play now and not think about it.”
So where does Johnson fit in?
Anywhere. He left Tulsa as the all-time leader in total yards in NCAA history, and he believes he can be the same kind of player on this level.
“I can carry the ball for this team, I can work in space, I can definitely go outside and play outside, return punts or kicks -- whatever the team needs, I’m down to do,” he said. “I feel versatility is definitely a strength of mine.
“Coach Kelly puts us in great positions to make plays. He has everybody doing things that they’re good at. It’s kind of like musical chairs. Everybody does different things.”
Johnson rushed for over 1,000 yards in college, had nearly 3,500 yards in kick returns and almost 3,000 receiving yards. He finished with 7,796 yards in 39 games -- 200 yards per game.
“I learned a lot last year and I feel like I should be a lot better this year,” he said. “I feel I can do more, and I just need the opportunity. Just going to go out there every day in these minicamps and OTAs and show what I can do and see how it all plays out.”
Johnson didn’t play his senior year at Tulsa while he dealt with some legal issues that have been well-publicized, so his slow start last year is understandable.
That’s all far behind him now. He’s kind of a wild card for the Eagles, who have proven wide receivers, tight ends and tailbacks but nobody quite like Johnson, who can do just about anything at any time from anywhere on the field
It’s going to be fun to watch how Kelly uses him.
“They’re throwing everybody in at different positions just to see what we can all do, how you learn on the fly, how you respond when you get tired, are you willing to dig deep and keep pushing through it,” said Johnson, who’s just 23.
“Just from being in Louisiana and dealing with the heat and humidity down there, I’m ready for anything. You just have to want it and I want it a lot.
“I’m definitely trying to go out there and prepare as hard as I can every day so whatever they throw at me, I’m ready for it.”