UNTIL HE was hit by friendly fire earlier this month, Jordan Matthews had been the picture of health during his athletic career.

Oh, sure, he had suffered his share of bumps and bruises. But none of them ever prevented him from answering the bell.

"I had never missed a sporting event,'' the Eagles wide receiver said. "High school, college, pro, little league, I had never missed anything for injury, ever. So, the last two weeks have been kind of weird.''

Matthews suffered a bone bruise on his left knee on Aug. 5 when rookie cornerback Jalen Mills hit him low during a full-contact training-camp practice. The third-year wideout had to sit out the first two preseason games and is expected to miss the last two as well.

But he has assured anyone who has asked in recent days that he will be able to play when the Eagles open the regular season at the Linc on Sept. 11 against Cleveland.

"I promise you I'll be ready for the first game,'' he said confidently Tuesday. "I don't like to put percentages on anything, but at the same time, I'm definitely feeling good. I'm doing a lot better. I'm running around, moving, lifting, jumping. I'm back doing pretty much all of that stuff.

"The coaches want me to be patient because if there ever was a time to be patient, this is it. We're just being smart with it so that when I go back out there, I can be Jordan. Because they want me to come back and be the guy they know I can be.''

If the Eagles are going to surprise all of the glass-half-empty pessimists (of which I am one) who look at them and see no more than six or seven wins, they absolutely, positively need Jordan to be Jordan.

The 6-3, 212-pound wide receiver is coming off a season in which he caught 85 passes for 997 yards and eight touchdowns, all team-highs. He had a team-high 44 receiving first downs, a team-high 23 third-down catches and a team-high 16 third-down catches for first downs.

He and tight end Zach Ertz were quarterback Sam Bradford's go-to guys in the second half of the season. Bradford's 97.4 passer rating over the last nine weeks was the eighth best mark in the league.

In the Eagles' last three games, Matthews and Ertz combined for 51 catches for 669 yards and five touchdowns. That represented 53.6 percent of Bradford's completions and 63.1 percent of his passing yards in those three games.

"I hope we can pick up right where we left off,'' Bradford said. "The time that me and Jordan have spent together, the route sessions that we've put in, I think that helps considering that we have a lot of reps together and have spent a lot of time together.

"It would be nice to get him back for a couple of days just to get some of that timing back before Week 1. But if that doesn't happen, I'm still really comfortable with the chemistry that me and him have.''

During the offseason, Matthews and Ertz spent bonding and throwing time with Bradford at his home in Oklahoma City. The three also were part of the quarterbacks-and-receivers group that worked out together in San Diego during the team's pre-training-camp hiatus.

"With all of our players who've missed time, you don't like it,'' Eagles offensive coordinator Frank Reich said. "Every rep is so important. There are only so many reps out there.

"But these guys have been around the block a little bit. They have continued to talk. Jordan hates not being out there. But he's still so into it. He's so into practice, even when he's not getting reps. He's so into the meetings. He's engaged and asking questions. Talking to Sam all the time. So, you make the best of a tough situation.''

Matthews said he expects to return in time to participate in "a pretty good amount of ''practices before the Week 1 opener against the Browns.

"That's why you want to have those days (throwing in Oklahoma and San Diego with Bradford), those workout sessions built up for times like this,'' the wide receiver said. "If anything, I'll be able to come back extremely fresh after this and be able to jump right back in it.''

With the exception of his healing knee, Matthews said he has never felt better. The one positive to being sidelined for most of training camp and the preseason is your body isn't taking the punishment it would if you were playing.

"Since I've had this time off, my body feels great,'' he said. "Putting on socks in the morning never felt so good. It's crazy. Getting into my car never has been easier. And mentally, I'm getting to watch the games from a different angle.''

While Matthews certainly isn't happy he got hurt, he said the timing of it actually wasn't awful.

"The crazy thing is, I truly believe it happened right when it was supposed to,'' he said. "I don't believe I'll ever be put through something I can't handle. I feel mentally, the maturity level I've reached after playing in the league a couple of years and playing in college for four years and seeing what I've seen, if something like this was ever going to happen, it had to happen now.

"Two or three years ago, I probably would've been upset about how it all happened. But now, it's, these things happen. It's part of the game. I've been around enough veterans. I've seen them handle injury well. Go attack rehab and come back even better.

"Guys have taught me, OK, I'm not playing right now, but how do I take mental reps? How do I still motivate my teammates? How do I not come in here talking every day when I'm not out there running with the guys?

"Until I'm able to play again, it's (a) more businesslike (approach). I've got to come here, do my job, speak when I need to, then get in and get out and get rested so that I can come back and play. Mentally, it hasn't affected me at all in a negative way. I've taken it all in stride and try to find the positives.''

And if he's back on the field on Sept. 11, it will be like it never happened.

@Pdomo Blog: ph.ly/Eagletarian.com