By ROB MAADDI
PHILADELPHIA — Riley Cooper is now sharing plenty of high-fives and hugs with teammates.
Cooper has come a long way since leaving the Philadelphia Eagles for three days after using a racial slur. He’s having the best season of his career and has developed into one of the top deep threats in the NFL.
Cooper has five touchdown catches in the past two games and seven overall, including four of more than 30 yards. He’s second in the league with an average of 19.8 yards per catch and third with five receptions of at least 40 yards.
“I’m having a blast,” Cooper said. “I love football, but it feels so good when you are contributing to the team and winning games.”
The Eagles (5-5) have won two in a row and can take sole possession of first place in the NFC East with a victory over Washington (3-6) on Sunday.
When Cooper left the team briefly in training camp after a video that showed him using the N-word surfaced on the Internet, many wondered if he’d stick around long. Not just with the team, but in the NFL.
Cooper seemingly didn’t have the pedigree to warrant the headache. A fifth-round pick out of Florida in 2010, Cooper had 46 catches for 679 yards and five TDs in three seasons. He’s already topped the touchdown total in 10 games and has 28 receptions for 555 yards.
“I’m playing the same football that I have always played,” Cooper said. “I’m getting a little bit more opportunity, which is great, but it starts from the quarterback. When he’s spreading the ball out like he is, everyone is going to get touches, everyone is going to get numbers, and everyone is going to get touchdowns.”
Cooper, who became the starter after Jeremy Maclin tore an ACL, ranked among the worst starting receivers after five games. He had just eight catches for 83 yards and one TD. But since Nick Foles replaced an injured Michael Vick at quarterback, Cooper has thrived. He has 20 receptions for 472 yards and six TDs in the last five games, including three 100-yard performances.
“He has great poise,” Cooper said of Foles. “He’s going to sit in the pocket and kind of dissect the defense. He trusts in his guys. If it’s man-to-man coverage or something, he’s going to throw it up to you.”
After tying the NFL record with seven TD passes in a 49-20 win at Oakland, Foles threw three more in a 27-13 victory at Green Bay last week. He clearly has a certain chemistry with Cooper, though he distributes the ball well. DeSean Jackson leads the Eagles with 54 catches for 903 yards and also has seven TDs.
“I believe in Riley, and he’s getting an opportunity,” Foles said. “Just so happens that when I’m reading out plays that he’s getting open and he’s making plays.
“He’s a big physical receiver, and I love the fact that he’s a receiver that does a great job blocking.”
Who would’ve thought Cooper would be getting such high praise just a few months ago?
Several teammates were bothered by Cooper’s remark to a security guard at a Kenny Chesney concert. Cary Williams even traded punches with Cooper during a practice scuffle that both players insisted had nothing to do with the incident.
“I don’t think the issue will ever go away because I think we all have valuable lessons that we can learn from it,” coach Chip Kelly said. “Riley, obviously, because he was at the forefront of it, but I also think the guys understanding what he was about and what he was like as a human being in the locker room.”
There are no signs of lingering animosity in the locker room or on the field. Cooper is one of the guys, and he’s playing at higher level than anyone could’ve expected.
“Riley’s doing everything he needs to do to really just be in a position,” Jackson said. “Early in the season he just really wasn’t getting as many opportunities.”