TWO DAYS after the first costly blunder of his young NFL career, Josh Huff approached Cedric Thornton with a request.
"Try to get the ball from me," the rookie receiver said.
This was just before the Eagles took the NovaCare Complex practice fields Tuesday for their first practice of the week. Thornton, a starting defensive end, relayed Huff's message to the rest of the defensive linemen, and for the rest of this past week they hounded No. 11 in green whenever he touched the ball.
"We haven't gotten him yet," nose tackle Bennie Logan said after Thursday's practice. "And that's a good thing."
Ball security was a major focus this week for Huff, whose fumble at Arizona's 6-yard line in the second quarter of Sunday's four-point loss proved crucial. It came on his second career reception, on a 5-yard pass from Nick Foles, and the first-year player from Oregon was trying to make a play. He had already broken Jerraud Powers' attempted tackle and was readying to make a move on Tyrann Mathieu.
But all the while, he was unaware of Arizona defensive lineman Frostee Rucker, who came from behind to strip the ball. Safety Deone Bucannon fell on it on his team's 2-yard line and a productive Eagles' drive destined for points was suddenly halted.
Huff, also flagged for a pass interference penalty on Sunday, said he moved past his fumble as soon as he picked himself off the ground, sans the football. Sure, he said this week, he was mad at himself for costing the team points, but he tried not to dwell on the mistake.
"I think Josh is fine," Eagles coach Chip Kelly said this week. "I think he obviously put the ball on the ground in the red zone. They made a good play stripping it from behind, wasn't aware of where the play was coming from, but I thought he bounced back and played really well for us after that.
"When you watch him, the contributions he's making not only in the run game, from the physical presence he has out there, but you watch what he's doing for us from a special teams standpoint. I think for a guy who has missed the first couple games of the season with that injury, I think he's coming along and progressing and we are really excited about him."
Tomorrow's game against his hometown Houston Texans could set up well for a bounce-back game for the 23-year-old Huff. The third-round draft pick grew up about a 25-minute drive from Houston's NRG Stadium. Ten years old when the Texans played their first game, Huff rooted for them from the days of David Carr and a single-season record-setting 76 sacks allowed in 2002 to the team's first playoff win in January 2012.
Evidence of his erstwhile Texans fandom can be found on his right leg, where this week after a practice he rolled up the sleeve of his compression pants to reveal a tattoo of the team's logo. The Astros and Rockets are represented elsewhere on his body. Houston's skyline is inked on the inner part of his left bicep.
"I think it's every child's dream growing up to either play for his hometown team or play against them," said Huff, who late on the same night the Eagles made him the draft's 86th pick tweeted, "NOVEMBER 2nd." "Luckily, I'm playing against them and I'm looking forward to going out there and leaving it all on the line."
After missing the season's first four games with a shoulder injury sustained in the preseason, Huff has played a shade more than 24 percent of the Eagles' offensive snaps over the last three games. He's caught only two passes for a combined 16 yards but performed well as a blocker and on special teams. He, last week, resumed his duties as the primary kick returner, Kelly explaining this week that Huff has more "long speed" than running back Chris Polk.
Huff is well aware he needs to hold the ball high and tight in traffic and said he's learned from Sunday's mistake. During Thursday's practice, he jumped in to take scout-team snaps at running back for more reps protecting the football while running through a pack of defenders. He admitted he should've been more aware of Arizona's Rucker, who came back into that first-down play from behind after a thwarted pursuit of Foles.
"I'm just patiently waiting again for my number to be called," Huff said, "and once my number is called again, I'm going to make a play and I'm going to hold onto the ball."
Safety Nate Allen, who injured his hamstring in the loss to the Cardinals, is listed as questionable to play tomorrow. He did not participate in practice Wednesday or Thursday but fully participated in yesterday's walkthrough . . . Wide receiver Brad Smith (groin) is also listed as questionable. He's missed the last two games . . . Center Jason Kelce (hernia), inside linebacker Mychal Kendricks (calf), right guard Todd Herremans (biceps), running back Darren Sproles (knee) and nickel corner Brandon Boykin (hamstring) are among those listed as probable.