Riley Cooper shows rust in 1st preseason game

Riley Cooper shows rust in 1st preseason game
August 23, 2014, 9:00 am
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Riley Cooper had three catches for 25 yards and three first downs in his first preseason game Thursday night vs. Pittsburgh. (AP)

It was the kind of play that a year ago would have gone for a 30-yard touchdown.

This time, Riley Cooper not only was called for offensive pass interference in the end zone, he didn’t even make the catch.

This is what happens when you make your preseason debut after just three practices.

“That drop in the end zone … the ball was on me so fast, it was hard to locate, see the speed, see the spin, all the stuff that goes into catching it,” Cooper said.

“It was tough for me to get it because it was so fast, but Nick [Foles] threw a perfect ball. … The timing was great, everything, just getting back in the swing of things.”

Cooper, one of the most important guys on the Eagles’ 2014 roster, caught three passes for 25 yards Thursday night in his first game of the summer. Cooper had missed nearly three weeks of practice with a foot injury before returning Sunday.

He said he wasn’t rusty, but the way he described that missed connection with Foles sure made it sound like he was.

Either way, Cooper and the other starters probably won’t play against the Jets next Thursday, so the 43 snaps he played in the Eagles’ 31-21 win over the Steelers at the Linc will likely serve as his entire preseason.

“It was big,” Cooper said. “It felt good being out there with Nick and the guys and finally having our first group in there running around and playing football.

“Had a lot of fun. I felt like I did some good things out there and some stuff obviously I’d like back, but that’s every game. I’ve only had three practices, so I’m getting back into it, but I felt really good.”

Cooper caught a short pass from Foles and ran 11 yards for a first down on the Eagles’ second offensive snap, then added receptions of seven and six yards before leaving the game at halftime.

All three of Cooper’s receptions went for first downs.

“I feel like I’m right there,” he said. “Every day you want to get better, but I feel like I’m right there, just continue making strides and getting back to 100 percent or as close to 100 as I can possibly be.”

The Eagles’ opener vs. the Jaguars is Sept. 7 at the Linc, just 16 days away.

Without any more games to play, these next two weeks of practice become more important than ever.

“Our practices are super important, really getting after it,” Cooper said. “I don’t know if I’m playing the next game — I’d love to, I’d love to play every game — but just getting more reps in practice.

“I felt great in the game, felt like our timing was fantastic. Just little things I need to work on.”

Cooper and Jeremy Maclin, the Eagles’ projected starting receivers, both missed the New England game -- Cooper with his foot issue and Maclin with a hamstring injury. So Thursday’s game was the only one this summer in which both will play.

Maclin looked good, with six catches for 43 yards before halftime. But he did give everybody a scare when he crumpled to the ground with what looked like another severe knee injury but turned out to be nothing much at all.

“Obviously, the worst of the worst went through your head when Jeremy went down,” Cooper said. “I was just thinking, ‘Oh, no, not again, this can’t be happening.’

“Then he got up and he smiled and I told him, 'Man, you have to quit doing that to me.' Since I’ve been with him, five years now, he’s done that four or five times. Scares me.”

With DeSean Jackson and Jason Avant gone, Maclin coming off an ACL reconstruction, Josh Huff out indefinitely with a shoulder injury and Jordan Matthews still unproven, there is a lot of pressure on Cooper to produce.

A year ago, he finished third in the NFL in yards per catch, and the Eagles need those plays even more this year with Jackson now in Washington.

“This is Coop’s first time being back in a game, and he’s been trying to get better, so it was great to see him in uniform ready to go,” Foles said. “Having those guys out there was great.”

Cooper had 10 catches for just 107 yards in six games last year that Michael Vick started. In the 11 games Cooper played with Foles — including the playoff loss to the Saints — he caught 45 passes for 796 yards and eight touchdowns.

Project those numbers over 16 games and you’re looking at 65 receptions, 1,158 yards and 11 touchdowns.

That connection between Foles and Cooper is one of the big reasons Jackson isn’t here anymore.

Cooper said he’s not concerned with the numbers. And not only that, he’s genuinely not concerned with the numbers.

“Honestly, everybody says it but I really live it,” he said. “I just play every game hard and what happens, happens.

“If I’m blocking on the perimeter, if I’m coming in motion and blocking the edge, if I’m making catches, if I am scoring touchdowns, whatever the case is, I’m going to do it and I think those are the type of guys Chip wants here.

“The whole numbers thing, if you play hard and put everything you have into it, the numbers are going to come. So I don’t worry about any of the numbers. Doesn’t even cross my mind. If you play hard, the game will take care of you."

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