— Injuries sometimes can help clarify situations as much as they complicate them. That's about the best thing the Philadelphia Eagles can hope for as they head into Friday nights' preseason road battle against the New England Patriots (7:30 p.m., Channel 6) with all kinds of bodies who won't be in motion at running back and wide receiver.
Among those expected to be out are receivers Jeremy Maclin (hamstring), Riley Cooper (foot) and Jeff Maehl (foot) and running backs Chris Polk (hamstring), Matthew Tucker (hamstring) and David Fluellen (unknown).
In their places will be strange and obscure names such as Ifeanyi Momah, Quron Pratt and Henry Josey.
Damaris Johnson, a long shot at receiver, has begun taking repetitions at running back.
Whether that decreases his chances or enhances them is not clear, but he's in no position to complain.
"I think it might take away from my reps [at receiver]," he confessed after Thursday's walk-through, no-contact joint practice with the Patriots. "But as long as I'm on the field just showing them I can do things, I'm comfortable with that."
What he is not comfortable with is the pass-protection responsibilities of the position. But it is doubtful he will be put in that kind of situation against the Patriots.
Josey, on the other hand, will have a chance to do it all. He's listed as dead last among the six running backs on the depth chart. But on Thursday, the undrafted rookie free agent from Missouri was in with the second team, getting ready for extended action.
"The main thing is to focus on the game and not worry about how long I'm going to be in there," Josey said. "Just focus on what I have to get done. It feels great [to be up with the second team]. Those guys know a lot. It's good to always be in there with the experienced guys and learn from them, listen in on what they're saying and what they're seeing. Just keep learning and keep practicing every day."
Momah, a 6-foot-7, 240-pound receiver, is back for his second tryout with the Eagles after failing to survive the final cuts a year ago and then not getting calls from any other team. That, following being idle since September 2011, when he suffered a knee injury while playing in the season opener for Boston College.
Momah said Thursday he wasn't ready last year, and he knew it. But he said he's ready this year, and it's up to him to make everyone around him know it.
"I'm more confident and more comfortable playing," he said. "Last year it was more like make sure I don't make a mistake. This year it's 'Let's go make a play.' If you make a mistake, you've got to shake it off and go make the next play because the ball can come to you at any moment.
"So it's all playing with that confidence in knowing that everybody is going to make mistakes, just make the next play. It's as simple as that."
Coach Chip Kelly and his staff have seen enough of those plays to have him working with the first team since Cooper and Maclin went down.
"He's made a lot of progress," offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur said. "I said it early on and I'll stick by it. I think he's one of the guys, especially in the receiving corps, that's made the most improvements since he kind of came on the scene last year. So he's steadily improving. He's more and more comfortable with what we're trying to do offensively and he's found a way to make some plays."
All healthy players will get long looks against New England, with the starters expected to be out of the game well before halftime.
Other emerging players to watch include a gaggle of rookies: nose tackle Beau Allen, defensive end Taylor Hart and outside linebacker Marcus Smith.
An injury to cornerback Nolan Carroll also will mean more time for rookie Jaylen Watkins and veterans Curtis Marsh and Roc Carmichael, who are battling for what will probably be just one opening at that spot. Carroll, slot specialist Brandon Boykin and starters Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher appear to be locks.
But beyond what the players who are fighting for roster spots do at their positions, it will be equally important to get noticed on special teams, the way rookie receiver Josh Huff did by taking a kickoff back for a touchdown against Chicago last week.
"If you're not the starter, because you only have 46 guys active on [game days] … your backup receivers, your backup running backs, your backup tight ends, your backup linebackers, your DBs, they have all got to contribute," Kelly said.
Only two preseason games left after tonight.
The battle continues.
EAGLES AT PATRIOTS
Where: Gillette Stadium, Foxboro, Mass.
When: 7:30 p.m.
TV: Channel 6.
Notable Eagles injuries: WR Jeremy Maclin (hamstring), WR Riley Cooper (foot), WR Jeff Maehl (foot) RB Chris Polk (hamstring), RB Matthew Tucker (hamstring), RB David Fluellen (unknown), C Julian Vandervelde (back) and CB Nolan Carroll (leg/groin) are unlikely to play.
Next week: Pittsburgh Steelers at Philadelphia Eagles, Aug. 21.