The all-time leading receiver at the University of Hawaii, Greg Salas had 27 catches for 264 yards in 2011 with the Rams. (USA Today Images)
It didn’t work out in St. Louis. It didn’t work out in New England. Greg Salas hopes it will be different in Philadelphia.
Prior to training camp, the third-year wide receiver was a long shot to make the Eagles' 53-man roster. Then Jeremy Maclin blew out his ACL. Then Arrelious Benn did the same. Then the Birds' receiving corp was suddenly thinner than expected. Now things have changed.
If Salas initially faced long odds, his chances to grab a roster spot have improved because injuries and fate have intervened.
“I definitely feel like there’s an opportunity,” Salas said after practice at the NovaCare Complex on Thursday. “I hope those guys get better from their injuries. They’re great guys. Great teammates. But I definitely feel like there’s an opportunity right now.”
The Eagles don’t have much depth at the receiver position. DeSean Jackson, entering his sixth season with the team, has 274 career receptions. Jason Avant, starting his eighth year with the Eagles, has 259 career receptions. Beyond that, Riley Cooper is the longest-tenured Birds wideout. He has 46 receptions in three seasons. If you figure on those three -- along with Damaris Johnson, who factors into the Eagles’ special teams plans –- making the roster, that should still leave at least one other slot open for the remaining wide receivers.
“This definitely is a critical time in my career,” Salas said. “It’s year three. This is the first year I’ve had a full offseason. My rookie year I got ended by a broken ankle, so I didn’t have time to train in the offseason. This is really the first year I’ve had to train and have OTAs with the same team. I’m excited about it. I’m trying to make the most of it.”
Salas has done that so far in training camp, making several spectacular catches. One of his best grabs came during a scrimmage against the New England Patriots on Tuesday. During 11-on-11 drills, Matt Barkley launched a long pass of about 40 yards down the right sideline. Salas -– who was matched up one-on-one with Patriots cornerback Logan Ryan –- stopped his route and leapt into the air to haul in the ball with his right hand. He completed the acrobatic catch by tumbling to the ground. As he got up, Salas hooted while the NovaCare Complex crowd cheered.
“That was nice,” Salas admitted. “I enjoyed that. It’s about making the most of an opportunity. Matt put it up there and let me make a play on the ball.”
The 24-year-old hasn’t had many opportunities to make plays on an NFL field. Salas is the University of Hawaii’s all-time leader in receiving yards and holds a host of school records. His professional career hasn’t gone nearly as well.
Salas was selected by the Rams in the fourth round of the 2011 draft. He played six games that year and then broke his ankle. After being traded to New England, Salas appeared in one game for the Patriots, hurt his hamstring, was placed on waivers and claimed by the Eagles.
“It is a little difficult to deal with,” Salas said. “You kind of wonder what you’re doing wrong. But at the same time you try to use it as motivation. You want to prove those guys wrong, that maybe they made a mistake.”
In seven career games, the 6-foot-2, 210-pound receiver has 27 catches, 264 yards and no touchdowns. Despite his inexperience, Michael Vick has mentioned Salas a few times in training camp and complimented the receiver on his route running. That sounds like something all receivers should do -– run precise routes –- but the attention to detail becomes imperative when a player is trying to get noticed by the people who either give out jobs or pink slips.
“He’s bounced around, but he’s done a really good job for us in camp,” offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur said. “He’s got a good feel for running routes, he’s very competitive at the line of scrimmage and he does a good job of catching the football. He’s showed up very well in this camp. ... I think he’s like a lot of guys who have a good feel for the game, and that gives them a good chance to make plays. There aren’t very many guys who are going to run right by people, so you make up for it by being able to catch the ball in traffic and run good routes, and he’s been doing that.”
Like most of the players on the margin, Salas doesn’t know how much playing time he’ll see in Friday’s preseason opener against the Patriots at Lincoln Financial Field. It’s unlikely he’ll get any snaps with the first-team offense, but he should still be on the field for a good portion of the game.
“You have to go out there and perform and compete and play,” Salas said about his chances to land on the roster. “If you don’t do it in game situations, it’s going to be tough to make the team.”