Smallwood And the Importance Of Pass Protection

Plus: Smallwood says he will play Saturday against the Colts.

Wendell Smallwood, Kenjon Barner, and Ryan Mathews. (Jeff Fusco)

Wendell Smallwood, Kenjon Barner, and Ryan Mathews. (Jeff Fusco)

There were many positives for the Eagles’ coaching staff to take away from their shutout win last week in Pittsburgh, at least on the defensive side of the ball. On offense, the starters managed to score just three points in the first half, while the backups scored only one touchdown in the second half.

But Frank Reich, who’s trying to figure out the running back depth chart behind an injury-prone starter, was especially excited about the pass protection, both from the offensive line and from the running backs.

“You don’t want to be just a first- and second-down back,” Reich said. “I can’t emphasize that enough. I’ve said it before over the last couple weeks, but it’s just so important in any offense that the backs fully understand all the protection calls, what’s going on, because it all starts in the passing game with protecting the passer, and the backs are a big part of that.”

One back absent from pass protection duties was rookie Wendell Smallwood, who missed the last two preseason games with a quad injury. Smallwood, who said he’ll make his debut Saturday night against the Colts, noted that he’s never missed a game in his football career before this preseason. But according to him, missing those live reps are not setting him back.

“It would’ve if I would of let it get to me mentally,” Smallwood said. “I just stayed focus and stayed in the film room and kept watching the guys and seeing what they were doing, kind of being more dialed in to the off-the-field stuff instead of being in actual reps studying guys. And I think that just takes my study to another level when I’m not able to go out there and perform.”

It’s difficult for Reich to evaluate Smallwood when the rookie running back is hurt, but pass protection will be a significant element of the game to observe once Smallwood returns.

“Even though he was a great runner in college, you could see glimpses of it in the pass game,” Reich said. “You could see it in protection that he was a willing blocker and that he had the aptitude when you talked to him in the interviews and watched film with him. You could see that he sees it and he processes it. That’s a very important part of it. So, his continued progress to get on the field, it’s going to have to come in the passing game as well.”

Smallwood says he’s been progressing “very well” with pass protection, adding that he answers questions randomly thrown at by running backs coach Duce Staley during practice. Reich added that Kenjon Barner has been “really good” this offseason, in part because of Barner’s improved pass protection.

According to Ryan Mathews, learning how to protect the passer is one of the toughest challenges young running backs face.

“It’s a lot different when you actually get out there and start firing,” Mathews said, “and they’re coming from each which way, they’re reading reads and everything.”