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One day after Jeremy Maclin was lost for the season to a torn ACL, Riley Cooper took part in practice at Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday as the leading candidate to replace Maclin in the Eagles' offense. (AP)
Three years ago, he was a rookie fifth-round pick, and he just wasn’t ready.
Two years ago was the lockout, and he missed the entire preseason, as did everybody.
Last year, he broke his collarbone a week into Lehigh and didn’t get back out on the field until the middle of October.
This year, there are no more qualifiers. No more excuses. This is Riley Cooper’s chance, and he knows it.
Cooper, who spent most of the last few years as a backup wide receiver, is the next guy in, now that Jeremy Maclin is out presumably for the year with a torn ACL in his right knee.
Maclin got hurt at the NovaCare Complex on Saturday, during the team’s second full-team practice session of training camp.
“I’ve got to play Riley Cooper’s game,” Cooper said. “I’m not Jeremy Maclin by any means. We have different styles of play. Am I confident in my game? Absolutely.”
Cooper only caught seven passes as a rookie, but in three starts in 2011, he averaged 80 yards per game with a touchdown, and over the second half of last season he had 23 catches for 248 yards and three TDs.
Nothing great. But there were flashes. Enough flashes from the 6-foot-3, 215-pounder to keep the former Tim Tebow roommate around.
He’s asked: Isn’t it about time for you to blossom?
“I’m in my fourth year now,” he said, agreeing with the question.
Left unsaid is that, like Maclin, he’s not under contract beyond this year, so he’s facing free agency and an uncertain future if he doesn’t come up big.
“I’m really upset about Jeremy,” Cooper said. “He’s one of my really, really good friends. He’s a great player, and for this to happen, I feel for him.
“I almost shed a tear out there on the practice field when I saw him go down. But … it’s an opportunity. It’s an opportunity for everybody, and we’ll see how it goes.”
It’s an opportunity for Damaris Johnson, the speedy second-year pro from Tulsa; it’s an opportunity for Arrelious Benn, the one-time Buccaneers second-round pick; and it’s an opportunity for rookies like Russell Shepard and Ifeanyi Momah.
But more than anything, it’s an opportunity for Cooper. It’s his job to lose.
“As far as Riley, he’s big, he’s strong, he can go up and get the football, he can block,” Eagles general manager Howie Roseman said.
“He had the lockout in 2011 and last year he broke his collarbone [at Lehigh], so he hasn’t really had a chance to have a training camp and an offseason where he could totally put that to use. So now it’s up to him.”
Cooper said he felt like by the end of last year, he was in a pretty good groove, even if the numbers didn’t quite show it.
“I felt like last year, with those last four, five, six games, I was targeted 3-for-3 in the red zone, three touchdowns, and felt like I had a pretty good year,” he said. “So I’m going to play that way, hopefully, the whole season.
“I just have to keep it going. But I feel really comfortable. I really do.”
Cooper was asked if he’s a good fit in Chip Kelly’s offense, and he paused for a moment, trying to figure out how to answer.
Then he answered pretty well.
“I’m not sure what kind of offense is suited for me,” he said. “If it’s an offense that needs someone that’s big, tough and strong and plays as hard as he can, then this is the offense for me. We’ll see.”