AMID THE HUBBUB stemming from DeSean Jackson's release, the much-anticipated return of Jeremy Maclin and the drafting of intriguing new weapons in Jordan Matthews and Josh Huff, a 2010 second-round draft pick is seldom mentioned when discussing the state of the Eagles' wide receiving corps.
"I'm kind of like a dark horse," Arrelious Benn said after practice on Monday.
That can happen to a player who misses most of consecutive seasons, including his first with a new team. But it's worth mentioning that when Maclin tore his ACL on the second day of last summer's training camp, Benn was a candidate to step into a much larger role. That prospect ended 10 days later, when, during a drill in a joint training-camp session with the Patriots, he blew out his left knee for the second time in 3 years.
Now, like Maclin, Benn is back to 100 percent and a full participant in organized team activities, of which the Eagles are in their second week. Come training camp, Benn, who's been taking second-team snaps, will likely find himself competing for a spot on the 53-man roster against the likes of Brad Smith, Jeff Maehl and Damaris Johnson.
The key for Benn, 25, is the same it was this time last year - to remain on the field. If healthy, the former University of Illinois star could provide the Eagles a versatile receiver with a 6-2 frame and special-teams experience.
"I've got to come out here and play. People haven't seen me in 2 years," said Benn, on a 1-year contract and 20 months removed from his last NFL reception. The Eagles actually recently released him, only to bring him back, presumably for less money, a few days later.
Despite knee and shoulder issues derailing the last two of his first four seasons, Benn's 59 career catches rank fourth among the 13 receivers on the Eagles' roster, behind only Maclin (258), Smith (103) and Cooper (93). The 39th pick of the 2010 draft, Benn made 24 starts for the Buccaneers from 2010-12 before Tampa Bay traded him to the Eagles last March.
"Nothing's wrong with [being a dark horse]," he said. "I've never been in that position, but I embrace it. I put the work in the whole offseason to be here and come out here and do it. So I'm just excited to just be out here and do it."
Benn said he first felt fully recovered from his most recent ACL tear in March or April, just before the start of the Eagles' offseason program. He said he feels stronger than before the injury, and although he's listed at 220 pounds, he said he's actually closer to 214. At the time of the injury, he said, he weighed about 225 pounds.
It was a difficult road back from a second major knee surgery, Benn said. Since he suffered the injury, he's barely left Philadelphia. He spent the offseason here, away from his wife and two kids in Florida, to rehab at the NovaCare Complex.
This recovery was more difficult than the first, Benn said, because he entered it knowing the difficulties of the road ahead. He is one of three Eagles back from ACL injuries suffered in last year's training camp; Maclin and linebacker Jason Phillips are the others.
"Football injuries happen. It was my second one. I was able to know what to expect going through it," Benn said. "But it was some very low times this offseason . . . For me to be away from my family, to be here the whole offseason, here at the facility, just rehabbing and rehabbing, it got tough sometimes."
In the two OTAs opened to reporters thus far in the spring, Benn has practiced with the second-team offense, quarterbacked by Mark Sanchez. During drills on Monday, Benn was grouped with Matthews, this year's second-round pick, and the 6-7 Ifeanyi Momah. Maclin, Cooper and Smith took the bulk of the first-team snaps with Nick Foles.
Benn said it feels good to be back on the field competing. It's been a couple of years, he noted, since he's felt this good.
So what does he think of his chances to make the team?
"To be honest with you, I'm just competing against myself," he said. "There's a bunch of good guys on this team, but for me right now I just need to compete against myself."
And, as he pointed out, to stay healthy.
The Eagles announced yesterday they signed reserve offensive lineman Allen Barbre to a 3-year contract extension through the 2017 season. He would have been an unrestricted free agent after this season.
Barbre, 29 and entering his seventh NFL season, is a primary backup at both tackle and guard. The former fourth-round draft pick has seven career starts and appeared in 15 games last season for the Eagles, his first with Philadelphia.
"Allen has great versatility and his ability to play both outside and inside on the offensive line makes him so valuable to what we do," Eagles coach Chip Kelly said. "He's been in this league for a number of years, and we know we can count on him to step up and fill in whenever he is called upon. When Jason Peters went down in Green Bay last season, Allen jumped right in, and our offense didn't miss a beat."