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Practice squad makes perfect? Eagles could use another Josh Perkins or Greg Ward this week

At least one more receiver seems likely to be promoted before the Washington game, with Alshon Jeffery out and Nelson Agholor's status uncertain.

Eagles wide receiver Greg Ward (84) makes a catch in front of Miami Dolphins cornerback Ken Webster on Dec. 1.
Eagles wide receiver Greg Ward (84) makes a catch in front of Miami Dolphins cornerback Ken Webster on Dec. 1.Read moreTIM TAI / Staff Photographer

Josh Perkins was Giants standout tight end Evan Engram last week at practice, Perkins still working with the Eagles’ scout team a week after being promoted from the practice squad to the 53-man roster.

When Monday night’s game arrived, Engram ended up not playing – he remained sidelined by a foot injury. Perkins did get to play, catching five passes on five targets for 37 yards, in the Eagles’ 23-17 overtime victory. So the practice week wasn’t wasted.

Such is life for the guys who don’t have big-money contracts or weren’t high draft picks. Monday night, Perkins was among a trio of offensive players who have endured Eagles practice-squad limbo this season but who ended up figuring prominently in the victory. The group accounted for 199 yards and a touchdown.

The most productive call-up was running back Boston Scott, who was promoted to the active roster back on Oct. 11. Until Monday, fans knew Scott mostly as that stubby guy who watched kickoffs sail over his head for touchbacks a lot. Scott had 24 offensive touches going into the Giants game. He carried 10 times for 59 yards and a touchdown and caught six passes for 69 yards, all while playing just 39 snaps.

Offensive coordinator Mike Groh said he wasn’t surprised to see Scott step up, “but it certainly was exciting to see. He brought an energy, got out there and made people miss. Made some exciting, loud plays. Got the fans energized and excited, got his teammates excited. He really provided the spark, and I think people fed off of that, I really do.”

Given the Eagles’ struggles this season, one obvious question would be why Scott (and Perkins and wide receiver Greg Ward, who has 11 catches for 79 yards in the last three games) didn’t get a longer look before this. Deepening that mystery was Eagles coach Doug Pederson’s assertion Tuesday that he wasn’t surprised to see some of the plays they made because their teammates have seen them make such plays in practice.

The subject figures to get more scrutiny this week, with Alshon Jeffery (foot) presumably headed for injured reserve and at least one and possibly two more receivers needed before the team heads down to Washington. Wide receivers Marcus Green, Marken Michel, and Robert Davis currently serve on the 10-member practice squad.

Perkins, Scott, and Ward are among six Eagles on the roster who have spent time on the practice squad this season. Five other Eagles either have been on the practice squad before this season or have marked time on another team’s practice squad, including nine-time Pro Bowl left tackle Jason Peters, a practice-squad tight end for part of his 2004 rookie season in Buffalo.

Base practice-squad pay is $8,000 a week, $136,000 for the season, which is more than a lot of people just out of college are making, but way less than the $480,000 rookie minimum for being on the actual roster. Some players have contracts that pay them more than the standard practice-squad figure; that’s how you get a player to choose your practice squad over a similar opportunity elsewhere.

Other teams are free to sign your practice-squad players, providing the new team is willing to keep the player on its 53 for at least three weeks. Sometimes teams opt to promote players rather than lose them when another team offers a roster spot, as happened last week with the Eagles when rookie offensive lineman Sua Opeta had a chance to sign with Miami.

After Monday’s game, Perkins acknowledged that he was not in a good frame of mind when he started the season on the practice squad; he’d made the roster and played in the Eagles’ first nine games of 2018 before going on injured reserve with a knee problem. This was a step back, at age 26, in his fourth NFL season.

“It’s tough waiting, but God’s timing is always perfect; I can’t question that,” Perkins said Wednesday. “I think I played well, so hopefully, I can get in there some more.”

Perkins, who was both a tight end and a wideout in college at Washington, played quite a bit at wide receiver Monday night after Jeffery went down, with Nelson Agholor (knee) already out.

“I think I’m pretty comfortable playing both,” Perkins said. At 6-foot-3, 223, he lacks the bulk of a typical NFL tight end.

Ward, 24, was a star dual-threat quarterback at Houston before switching to wide receiver his senior year. He was Russell Wilson on the scout team the week the Eagles hosted the Seahawks. Even having a year of wideout work before tackling the NFL didn’t really give him all the knowledge he needed to succeed, Ward said Wednesday.

Ward spent last season on the Eagles’ practice squad, then joined the Alliance of American Football’s San Antonio Commanders, before returning to the Eagles for training camp.

Groh said that last year with Ward, “you could see the skills of a receiver, but obviously making the transition at this level and everything that that entails, it's been a lot of fun to watch him develop and his confidence grow.”

Groh noted that the college QB-to-NFL WR transition is often attempted, rarely successful.

“I feel like I have a long way to go – an extremely long way to go. … I’m here to get better, I’m here to stay,” Ward said Wednesday. He said he learned a lot from his AAF wide receivers coach, Keith Williams.

“I’ve had to ask a lot of questions, watch a lot of film,” Ward said. “I watch Nelly a lot. I ask Alshon a lot of questions, I ask [DeSean Jackson]. Anything that I can do to get better, you know? … I’ve got to always do extra.”

Alex Singleton, a linebacker who plays special teams, came up from the practice squad Oct. 16. Singleton has played in the Canadian Football League and spent time with Seattle, New England, and Minnesota. He said that with the Eagles, you don’t feel ignored, even if you’re out at practice giving the starting offensive players a defensive look they might see from the coming week’s opponent.

“They tell you they evaluate every week, and they’ll bring the best guys up to play in the game. [The Giants game] was a great example of that,” Singleton said. “All those guys – Boston, G. Ward, they did exactly what anyone in this locker room would have told you they would have done, the second they got to play in the game.”

Ward came up to play on special teams in the Week 3 loss to Detroit, then went back to the practice squad for seven games. There were times when he might have been exasperated over not seeing his work in practice pay off.

“I definitely wasn’t going to quit. Whether I was here or somewhere else, I was going to make it,” Ward said.