Eagles Wake-Up Call: Opportunity For Smallwood
Just about every time you looked up, there was Wendell Smallwood.
The Eagles are a bit short-handed at running back at the moment. Darren Sproles has been absent all offseason and Oregon rookie Byron Marshall is among those impacted by the NFL graduation rule. That left the likes of Ryan Mathews, Kenjon Barner, Cedric O’Neal and Smallwood to carry the load as OTAs got underway at the NovaCare.
“Duce [Staley] gave me a lot of reps. I was with the twos and the threes,” said Smallwood following Tuesday’s practice. “He’s telling me I’ve got to get my motor going. He wants me to be contributing to this team so I definitely think I’m going to have to get a lot of reps and have to get better.”
Just how much he contributes this season depends on a few different factors (including, of course, his own development). One is Sproles. NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport says his absence has something to do with trade discussions that were held over draft weekend. (Another report said that Sproles is in search of a long-term deal, but the back shot that down.) Doug Pederson told reporters that Sproles does not want to be dealt, that he’s spending time with his family and should be at the NovaCare in a couple weeks, presumably for the mandatory minicamp.
“It’s a decision that I’m sure has been well thought-out,” said his longtime teammate, Malcolm Jenkins. “Darren Sproles is a veteran. He’s somebody that we trust. If he’s not here he has a reason for it that he probably feels passionate about, and we’re fine with that.”
Even if this proves to be a non-issue, Sproles will be 33 in June. His yards per rush dropped from 5.8 in 2014 to 3.8 last year, and while he still flashed at times, it’s fair to wonder how much longer he’ll be able to play at a high level.
Mathews was the Eagles’ most effective running back last season. He averaged 5.1 yards per carry, scored six times and broke off six runs of 20-plus yards (on 106 attempts). But he was hampered by injuries. Missed three games and was limited in others. That has been the pattern over his career. Only once in six seasons has he appeared in all 16 games (2013).
Given the question marks surrounding this backfield, it seems entirely within the realm of possibility that Smallwood could find himself thrown into a significant role this season — perhaps sooner rather than later.
“It motivates me just to know I have the opportunity to be here and actually start making plays for a National Football team. It’s definitely a great position to be in so I’m going to take advantage of everything they give me and everything they need me to do I’m going to do it,” he said.
Smallwood led the Big 12 in rushing last season, posting 1,519 yards on 238 carries (6.4 avg.) with nine touchdowns. He had more modest receiving numbers (26 catches, 160 yards) but that seems to be more about West Virginia’s chosen offensive approach. Pederson has liked what he’s seen in that area in the early going.
“Here is a guy I think can be explosive, has shown some explosiveness. I really like the fact how he catches the football out of the backfield. I think that is something that is just a gift that he has. He’s a natural, a natural pass catcher. I like that part of him. Pretty good vision,” said Pederson.
“Again, he’s another one of those rookies that’s learning the game. I think today was a good lesson for him to be out there exposed to the bigger picture of everything. But I really like where he’s headed and the direction we can take him.”
Seems like it could be on an accelerated timeline. Unlike Carson Wentz and much of the 2016 Eagles draft class, Smallwood could be called on early, which would be just fine with him.
“I definitely think I can bring whatever they need to the table. We have guys right now who do everything well and I definitely think me being behind them and seeing how they’re playing and picking up and learning from those guys is going to help elevate my game,” said Smallwood, “so I can be in a position to help this team.”
WHAT YOU MISSED
“Everybody wants more money. Everybody wants this and that.” A different view from the inside on Bradford.
A look at the first day of OTAs through the lens of our photographer, Jeff Fusco.
Josh examines why Wentz will likely spend this upcoming season on the bench.
WHAT THEY’RE SAYING
David Murphy notes some early differences between Pederson’s operation compared to Chip Kelly‘s.
THERE WAS a moment during Eagles practice on Tuesday when Carson Wentz lined up in the shotgun and tentatively pointed toward the middle of the defense, the way quarterbacks often do when they are identifying the MIKE linebacker. Whether that is actually what Wentz was doing is besides the point: What’s relevant is that the young quarterback turned around and looked at coach Doug Pederson, who was standing behind him with a play sheet in his hand. Pederson nodded to confirm that the rookie was correct in whatever he was pointing at, and the play commenced.
There would be nothing extraordinary about such an interaction between a new coach and a new player, except that the new coach was replacing Chip Kelly, and, in Kelly’s practices, you rarely saw that kind of thing. The eccentric run ‘n’ gun aficionado structured his workouts so that the vast majority of corrective coaching took place in the film room after practice. Kelly prioritized tempo in everything he did, and he thought that limiting disruptions during reps would enable him to maximize the number of reps each player got during a session. It might be a bit of a leap to fault that one aspect of Kelly’s style for the plethora of breakdowns that plagued the Eagles last season, particularly on the offensive line. But it also would not be a surprise if it was a contributing factor.
Tommy Lawlor offers his perspective on Bradford following his press conference.
Maybe the most interesting thing to me was when Bradford talked about A.J. Feeley. Bradford was asked whether he would help out Carson Wentz. He then told the story of Feeley being the veteran starter when he was drafted and how helpful Feeley was to him, despite the fact Bradford was there to steal his job.
I believe Bradford when he says he will help Wentz. Veteran players usually do help younger guys. That’s a football tradition. And the help Bradford gives Wentz isn’t likely to make much of a difference right away. The hints and tips are probably more about development than playing well immediately.
Bradford gave a smart answer when asked about the fans anger at him. He said he understood and that there’s nothing he can say to change that. He talked about the key being his actions from here on out. And he’s right. If Bradford plays well, all will be forgiven. If he struggles, fans will be relentless.
We’ll take a spin around the web to get the latest buzz on the Eagles.