Barring any setbacks, Thursday night will be the first time since the start of training camp that Riley Cooper, Jeremy Maclin and Jordan Matthews line up together on the first-team offense.
And since that’s the three-wide formation that could be a major piece of the Eagles’ offense this season, it’s not insignificant that all three are expecting to play against the Steelers at the Linc in a preseason game.
“Is it a big deal? I’d say yeah,” Cooper said. “This is the NFL, man. You’ve got to have great timing, you’ve got to have great accuracy and you’ve got to all be on the same page. When this guy’s out and this guy’s out and this guy’s out, it’s tough to build on that.
“That’s what training camp is for. Luckily, we have two more weeks to go get Jeremy back 100 percent, Brad [Smith] back 100 percent, Jordan Matthews, he’s doing well, and just to get everyone on the same page. So I think it’s extremely important for sure.”
So far, the Eagles haven’t had a completely healthy receiving corps for most of training camp, but they’re getting there at the right time.
Cooper just started practicing in pads this week after being sidelined more than two weeks with an ankle injury he sustained just a few days into camp. Maclin, coming off an ACL tear that cost him all of 2013, had been doing fine for the first few weeks, but encountered some recent bumps and bruises.
Maclin, who tweaked his hamstring Wednesday in a joint practice with the Patriots and missed last Friday's game, participated in some of practice Monday and expects to play Thursday. Brad Smith is dealing with an injury, which means more first-team reps for the rookie Matthews coming off his nine-catch, 104-yard effort against New England.
Right now, the only receiver already ruled out against Pittsburgh is rookie Josh Huff, who suffered a severe shoulder injury against the Patriots (see story).
The presence of Cooper, Maclin and Matthews on Thursday means Nick Foles will finally have his top projected targets on the field with him, along with tight ends Brent Celek and Zach Ertz and running backs LeSean McCoy and Darren Sproles.
“It looks good to have us all on the field together and playing,” Maclin said, “but as far as our relationship with Nick, I think each one of us have our own different type of relationship with Nick and it’s been building for years now.
“[You] want to continue to make that stronger, but I don’t think it’s put us behind or anything, because we haven’t been out there together.”
Maybe not, but the first-team offense hasn’t exactly started strong in either of the first two games. Foles, without Cooper and with Matthews still on the second string, came out against Chicago in the opener with Maclin and Ifeanyi Momah, a second-year free agent who’s never played an NFL snap.
Foles was picked off twice against the Bears and passed for 44 yards. He rebounded against New England, throwing for 81 yards, but Foles’ first pass was fumbled by Momah and his second series ended in a sack.
On his third possession, Foles marched the offense from his 20-yard line to New England’s 35, but threw consecutive misfires on second and third down to set up a 47-yard field goal that Alex Henery pushed wide right.
It’s not far-fetched to think the offense could have performed better at full strength.
“He’s throwing to different guys now, and every time he looks up there’s a new guy in there because some other guy is down,” Cooper said. “We’ve all got to be out there. We’ve all got to be healthy, all have to go that extra mile to be on the field every day.
“That's not a knock against any certain person. Not me. Just as a whole, we need to be out there. It helps the team and it helps Nick having familiar faces in there every single time. He knows what you’re doing. He knows the timing. It’s extremely beneficial.”