Eagles

Even with Jay Ajayi, Eagles still 'counting on' LeGarrette Blount

Frank Reich's message to LeGarrette Blount was a simple one.

"'Keep doing what you're doing,'" Reich said. "'You're a big reason we're 7-1. You're a big reason we've made the strides we've made in the running game.

"'Your tenaciousness running the football, the attitude that you've brought, the toughness that you've brought, the unselfishness that you've brought, is a big part of our identity.'"

Blount, the Eagles' leading rusher the first half of the season, suddenly found his role up in the air Tuesday when the Eagles made a trade-deadline deal to acquire Pro Bowl running back Jay Ajayi from the Dolphins in exchange for a fourth-round pick in 2018 (see story).

Other than the Chiefs game, when he mysteriously had no carries, Blount has gotten between 12 and 16 carries in every game this year. Blount and Ajayi rank 10th and 12th in the NFL in rushing yards, although Blount's 4.7 average is much higher than Ajayi's 3.4.

But Ajayi ran for nearly 1,300 yards in his 2016 Pro Bowl season, and the Eagles didn't bring him here to ride the bench.

So what happens to Blount?

And what happens with promising rookie Corey Clement, second-year pro Wendell Smallwood and veteran Kenjon Barner? Not to mention injured rookie fourth-round pick Donnel Pumphrey?

There are a lot of backs and only one football.

"LeGarrette continues to be our starter and [we're] just really excited to have that group and add a good player," Eagles executive vice president of football operations Howie Roseman said.

"We like our running back group. This was an opportunity that came to us. We thought [he] was a good player who could add to our team. He’s a young player who's under contract for the next couple years (through 2018).

"At the same time, everyone has seen the way LeGarrette has run. Wendell has had really good games for us. Corey. We brought Kenjon back, as well. It just adds to the group, and all that stuff with playing time is sorted out by the coaches.”

Roseman said he spoke to Blount as soon as the deal was finalized to reassure him that he wasn’t being replaced.

“LeGarrette's awesome,” Roseman said. “He wants to win. He's won. He's all about winning. He's been in situations before where there have been productive backs on the team. He's been a tremendous team guy since he's walked in the building and a leader for this football team. Nothing changed today.”

The Eagles, who own the NFL's best record at 7-1, have the fourth-ranked running attack in the NFL, although they've been held to 3.8 yards or lower in each of the last four games.

Smallwood has 143 yards and a 3.8 average, Clement 131 yards and a 3.6 average and Barner 34 yards and a 2.8 average (see story).

"LeGarrette has been productive when he's gotten the ball," Roseman said. "He's a warrior. He's a two-time Super Bowl champion and we're really glad to have him.

"So, you know, I really shouldn't get into starter roles. That's really up to the coaches, but we are counting on LeGarrette going forward here.

"This [trade] is no reflection of any of those running backs. This was a good opportunity for the Philadelphia Eagles, and our job is to add good players who fit what we do and we believe Jay Ajayi does that."

Blount, who turns 31 in a few weeks, wasn't available for comment on Tuesday. The Eagles return to practice on Wednesday.

But Reich said he isn't concerned at all about Blount.

"The guy is a pro, man," Reich said. "He's a big part of why we are where we are right now, the leadership, his attitude.

"I really give him a lot of credit. Because you understand, personally — you can say all you want about team, but we all know [running backs want the football]. We all know. So a lot of credit to LeGarrette."

So what does the rotation look like moving forward? Reich wouldn’t speculate but insisted the Eagles are happy with all the backs on the roster (there are seven, including injured Pumphrey and Darren Sproles).

"We’ll have to see how it all plays out," Reich said. "I think that’s the only fair way to say it. We are happy with all the guys that we’ve got in the building.

"This business is a very competitive business. To get a spot in this building is not easy, and when you get a spot in this building, it means we love you and you're ours. You're our family and you get treated like that, with the respect that you've earned your way here.

"So every person, whether it's the top guy or the quote-unquote bottom guy on the roster, every spot is valuable."

And how do you keep five running backs happy?

"Keep winning," Reich said. "Winning has a way of keeping everybody happy."