By Kevin McGuire
Name: Damaris Johnson – WR – #13
Height: 5′ 8″
Weight: 170 lbs.
Hometown: Norco, Louisiana
Experience: 1 year
Chip Kelly’s new offensive style in Philadelphia tends to rely on tall wide receivers. The Eagles have already been hit hard with a pair of season ending ACL injuries to speedy receiver Jeremy Maclin and physical receiver Arrelious Benn before the first preseason game. Second year receiver Damaris Johnson is now in a position to thrive in Kelly’s new game plan.
Signed as an undrafted free agent in 2012, Johnson has been working hard to earn his place on the roster under new coach Chip Kelly. He may have already been a player worth keeping around on the roster anyway, but with the losses of Maclin and Benn, it appears more likely he will be able to win a roster spot at the end of training camp.
Johnson is more noted for his speed, which of course was also a staple of Kelly’s offensive system at Oregon and one area the coach hopes to implement in the NFL this season. Johnson could be explosive if given room to work with, and could wind up helping older receiver DeSean Jackson get some more room to run wild as well, if all goes well in the preseason for Johnson.
Having two speedy, although small receivers may not be ideal for any NFL offense, but if the Eagles can get a productive running game unleashed and the tight end position properly utilized, then it may be something the offense can overcome with clever play calling.
“I’m definitely more confident,” Johnson recently said on PhiladelphiaEagles.com. “Now my feet are wet and I know what to expect when I go out on the field.”
Johnson played a small role in the Eagles offense in 2012 under Andy Reid, recording 19 catches for 256 yards while picking up 14 first downs in the process. Although it doesn’t look like much, those statistics are huge for Johnson, who wasn’t even assured if he would play in a game last year at this time. With growth and improvement, it’s a very real possibility for those numbers to increase.
Talent on the field is vital, however, due to recent offseason issues with the Eagles. The best way to make an impact is to be an athlete with high character and the right attitude. One thing can be said for sure, Johnson is saying all of the right things when it comes to how he views his growing role on the team this training camp.
“I definitely think I can [be more than a return specialist],” Johnson said during an interview on the Eagles website. “Even in the offseason I went out and prepared, my mind is always focused like that. I want to be that guy, I just want to be that guy that my team can count on.”
Last season, in addition to his limited role on offense, Johnson was assigned special teams duty. He may maintain a role on special teams in 2013 under Kelly, but he is looking to take on more responsibility for the new head coach.
During a time when everyone is getting a clean slate to work with, Johnson is approaching his opportunity with vigor. With an offense that can rely on speed, there is little doubt Johnson will find a role emerging with his name on it.
“It’s faster,” Johnson said of the offense. ”[With] my skill set, I think I can play in any offense. But definitely with this one, with the speed, getting the ball out quick, getting the ball in my hands, I think it suits me more.”
The success of the Eagles offense will still rely heavily on the performances of starting quarterback Michael Vick or Nick Foles, the elusive running back LeSean McCoy and explosive wide receiver DeSean Jackson, but there has to be a supporting cast in place to do much of anything this fall.
Johnson looks to be a player that can fill one of those key roles.
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Kevin McGuire covers college football for Examiner.com and is a member of the Football Writers Association of America and National Football Foundation. Follow him on Twitter (@KevinOnCFB). His work can be found on Examiner.com.