Damaris Johnson Impressive in Debut; Will He Make the Team?
Based on the fact that he went undrafted, you might have forgotten that Damaris Johnson is also the NCAA leader in kick return yards for a career and total yards gained for a career.
One play he made in the Eagles' preseason opener against Pittsburgh served as a reminder.
In the third quarter, Nick Foles lobbed up a deep pass down the middle of the field for a wide-open Johnson, who made the defensive back look silly. The 5-foot-8 receiver put-a-move on his defender and perfectly broke out of his route to find open space down the middle of the field.
The 70-yard score gave the Eagles their first points of the 2012 season.
“When Jeremy [Maclin] went down, he worked in as that third receiver," explained Eagles head coach Andy Reid. "That normally would be [Jason] Avant when [Jeremy] Maclin is in there. [Johnson] has been playing well in practice, and I wanted to give him an opportunity. That’s what we did.”
Said Mike Vick on the play of Johnson: “Well I seen a kid who goes out and works extremely hard. He wants to make this football team. He’s very bright. He puts himself in the right positions and he does everything the coaches ask him to do and that’s all you can ask for out of a young player. I’m pleased to see him playing as well as he is and it was great to see him get into the end zone.”
It was the type of play the Eagles had in mind when they signed Johnson as a non-drafted rookie free agent deal following the draft. The Eagles are hoping he could be the big-play threat that made him the NCAA's all-time leader in all-purpose and kick-return yardage. With DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin and Jason Avant assured of the top-three spots, the Eagles now have Johnson, Chad Hall, Marvin McNutt and Riley Cooper competing for what could be two roster spots.
Cooper didn't play Thursday, having broken his collarbone. Neither did Maclin or Avant, who were both nursing injuries. That meant plenty of playing time for Johnson. He finished Thursday's preseason opener, corralling four passes for 85 yards and a touchdown.
It was a strong start for a guy who's trying to put a forgettable year 2011 behind him.
Johnson pleaded guilty to felony embezzlement and received a one-year deferred sentence. He was sentenced and was ordered to pay a $500 fine and perform 80 hours of community service after his girlfriend charged him less than $14 for $2,610 worth of merchandise at the Tulsa department store where she worked.
“I don’t think that being undrafted changes anything," said Johnson after the opener. "I want to be a great player, so I will go out every day and work on something new. I am going to try and better my game and become a better player every day.”
If he continues to make big plays, he might just find his way on to the Eagles 53-man roster.