WR Johnson reflects on debut with Eagles
BETHLEHEM, Pa. -- His last touchdown was a 67-yard run on Christmas Eve 2010, in Tulsa’s 62-35 win over Hawaii in the Hawaii Bowl in Honolulu.
That was 20 months ago. So you can’t blame Damaris Johnson for taking a moment to reflect on the sidelines Thursday night after his 70-yard touchdown catch.
“I didn’t know what to think,” he said. “I always just give the ball to the ref, but I didn’t know whether to celebrate with a teammate. I hadn’t been in the end zone in a while. It felt crazy, but it was a good crazy feeling.
“Once I got in the end zone and got to the sideline, I kind of sat down and had to meditate an close my eyes for a little bit. It kind of felt surreal. It felt great but at the same time it felt crazy just being in an NFL game and scoring a touchdown and helping our team win. That’s the most important thing.”
It was quite a debut for Johnson, the NCAA’s all-time total yardage record holder at Tulsa and now a rookie receiver trying to make the Eagles as an undrafted free agent.
Johnson missed his senior year of college football after an arrest that has since been expunged from his record (see story)
, so the Eagles’ preseason game against the Steelers Thursday night was his first since the end of his junior year of college.
“It was really gratifying, just going out there and getting the opportunity just to play,” the 21-year-old speedster said. “Felt really good just to take that first hit.
“[I didn’t feel] really rusty. A little nervous going out there, being out there in a big stadium, but if you’re not nervous you’re not having fun. Just felt great to be back out there.”
In all, Johnson caught four passes for 85 yards Thursday night, the best debut by a rookie in Andy Reid’s 14 years as Eagles head coach. Most impressive was the 70-yarder from Nick Foles, the longest preseason reception by an Eagle since Terrell Owens' 81-yarder from Donovan McNabb against the Ravens in 2004.
Foles eluded a couple defenders and bought himself time while Johnson broke free of two Pittsburgh defensive backs. Foles heaved the ball 45 yards in the air and Johnson did the rest, racing untouched to the end zone.
“Coach gave me an opportunity on the route, I knew I would have 1-on-1 coverage, and I was just trying to take advantage and make a play,” Johnson said. “Once I caught it, just tried to get to the end zone.
“It was a real great throw. He got moved out of the pocket a little bit but did a good job keeping his eyes down field and found me.”
Johnson, starting in place of Jeremy Maclin, also returned punts and kickoffs Thursday night for the Eagles. He seems to have a roster spot locked up as an undrafted free agent, but he doesn’t look at it that way.
“Not going to say that,” he said “Just trying to take advantage of every opportunity they give me.”
So far, so good.
“I’ve seen a kid who goes out and works extremely hard,” Michael Vick said. “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.”
If not for his legal problems, Johnson most likely would have been drafted in the third or fourth round, and the Eagles most likely wouldn’t have taken him.
But he went undrafted, the Eagles gave him a larger-than-usual $17,000 signing bonus, and it now looks like the Eagles may have gotten themselves a steal.
“Everything happens for a reason for me to be here as an Eagles,” he said. “I want to be a great player. I just go out every day and work on something and try to better my game and be a better player.”E-mail Reuben Frank at email@example.com