Eagles

Even with trade for Ajayi, Blount says Eagles stayed 'true to their word'

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Even with trade for Ajayi, Blount says Eagles stayed 'true to their word'

Howie Roseman said he's still the starter. Doug Pederson said he isn't going to play any less. And Carson Wentz said he's handling everything really well.

What does LeGarrette Blount think?

Immediately after the Eagles traded for running back Jay Ajayi, it was fair to wonder what Blount thought of the move. It was fair to wonder if it meant his role was going to decrease. It was fair to wonder if he was worried about his standing with the team.

So what was his initial reaction to the deal?

"There was no reaction," Blount said Wednesday afternoon by his locker. "I can only control what I can control. That's a decision that was made from up top. I can't say that I have any influence.

"I can't go up there and say 'don't make this trade (or) do make this trade.' I don't control any of that. I just control what I can do out there. Focus on what I have to focus on and make sure that I'm ready for the game on Sunday."

When asked specifically if he is concerned about losing snaps or carries with the addition of Ajayi to the roster, Blount said it was a question he couldn't answer.

He claimed he is just worried about what he can control.

"Just grind every day like I've been doing," Blount said, "and the touches will come."

Blount said he learned of the move from position coach Duce Staley, head coach Doug Pederson and de facto GM Howie Roseman. Blount said the Eagles are going to "welcome (Ajayi) with open arms."

After making the trade Tuesday, Roseman came out at his press conference and said despite the addition of Ajayi, Blount would remain the team's starter. Pederson didn't say anything to dispel that notion Wednesday.

"It means a lot," Blount said. "As far as respect-wise, just acknowledging the fact that I worked my tail off all offseason for this organization. It just shows a lot of character and they're true to their word."

Blount, 30, is off to a pretty good start this season. He has 467 yards on 100 carries (4.7 average) and two touchdowns.

Since the start of last season, there are seven players who have rushed for over 1,600 yards. With Ajayi and Blount, the Eagles have two.

On a one-year deal, this move could be bad for Blount in the long-term, especially because Ajayi is still cheap in 2018 on his rookie contract and is just 24 years old.

But Blount has been a "tremendous team guy," according to Roseman. And Wentz said Blount seemed excited about the move.

"You can never have enough depth," Blount said. "You can never have enough depth at any position. Obviously, [Ajayi is] somebody who can contribute to our team. He's somebody that can help us a lot." 

Doug Pederson, the unorthodox play-caller

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Doug Pederson, the unorthodox play-caller

In a key moment of the Eagles' 15-10 divisional round win over the Falcons, Doug Pederson dialed up a screen pass to Jay Ajayi on 2nd-and-10. It didn't really work, gaining just three yards. 

So he called it again. 

The next time, Ajayi caught the ball, got some tremendous blocks in front of him and ran for a huge 32-yard gain on third down that eventually led to an enormous field goal in the fourth quarter. In the biggest moment in the biggest game of the season, Pederson ran virtually the same play on consecutive downs. 

Why? 

"Back to back? There you go," the gutsy Pederson said with a smile. "Sometimes you can catch a group off guard when they don't expect two screens back to back."

When asked what he's learned about Pederson as a play-caller in their two years together, offensive coordinator Frank Reich said Pederson is "a little more unorthodox at times — in a good way."

Pederson was certainly unorthodox last Saturday at the Linc, but as he has all season, he just seemed to push the right buttons at the right times. In just his second full year as a play-caller, Pederson, aggressive in nature, has blossomed into one of the best and most unique play-callers in the NFL. 

The Eagles will need another gem from him on Sunday against the NFL's best defense if they hope to advance to Super Bowl LII. 

"I don't think I go in there consciously saying, ‘I'm going to be unorthodox,’" Pederson said. "I think you either have it or you don't. Listen, if you just look at what I've done in two years, you'd probably call me unorthodox with some of the decisions I've made on fourth downs and going for it, two-point conversions, things like that. And I've told you guys this before that sometimes you just don't do the norm, just don't do what everybody expects you to do and sometimes that can help you.

"I'm calculated about it but at the same time, I'm going to make sure that I'm putting our guys in a good position."

Nick Foles hasn't had the benefit of being under Pederson as a play-caller for as many games as Carson Wentz, but Foles said he's "absolutely" on the same page as Pederson. Whenever the play gets called into his headset, he said he knows immediately what Pederson is thinking. 

That includes the times when Pederson might call something that's just a bit unorthodox and aggressive. 

"I love it. I love it," Foles said. "That's how I think, too. I think just keeping a defense off balance in those situations. The fact that we're continuing to talk about the back-to-back screens is sort of shocking to me because it's just one of those things when you're in the game and you play, like you want to keep the defense off balance. You don't want them to hone in on what you're doing because if they do, especially [the Vikings'] defense. They are very good."

Of course there are other examples, aside from the back-to-back screen passes — which he had done once before in Kansas City — that illustrate Pederson's unorthodox style. There are all the times he goes for it on fourth down; Vikings coach Mike Zimmer noted the Eagles sometimes go for it on 4th-and-1 in a close game and 4th-and-6 in a blowout. 

There are even plays like the 21-yard Nelson Agholor run Pederson dialed up in the second quarter on Saturday. Reich explained that with a play like that, the way it often works is a coach will have an idea from watching film or from their past and the staff tries to debug it and figure out how that play or idea might fit with the Eagles. They work on it in practice until it's ready. If it isn't, they "keep it in the Crock-Pot for another week or start over with a new recipe." 

The influence of Andy Reid on Pederson's career is obvious, but on Wednesday, Pederson pointed toward two other guys who helped create his play-calling style. His former head coaches in Green Bay, Mike Holmgren, an innovator of the West Coast offense, and Mike Sherman, who was more creative in the run game. 

However Pederson's play-calling style developed, it has turned into a huge advantage for the Eagles and it's been one of his greatest strengths. 

"There [are] things that he's called that at the time I thought, that's unique, I'm not sure that would have hit my brain like that, and many times those things have worked out," Reich said. "So that's been fun to see and fun to work with."

Eagles' rookie schools veteran in intense practice

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Eagles' rookie schools veteran in intense practice

Rasul Douglas made a huge play during the special teams portion of Wednesday's practice. Going 1-on-1 against veteran special teamer Najee Goode, the Eagles' rookie plowed through him and sent Goode to the turf inside the practice bubble. 

Goode bounced up and locked down the next rep, but for a few seconds, there was pure exuberance on the practice field. A bunch of Douglas' teammates ran toward him and celebrated, while coaches gave him kudos. 

A couple hours later, Douglas didn't even remember it. 

"What play?" the rookie asked. 

After making sure he was serious, out came an iPhone to show Douglas this video: 

"Oh, I don't even remember that," he said. 

While Douglas might have been locked in and focused enough to forget about the most exciting play during the open portion of Wednesday's practice, it was the kind of play that got the whole team going. 

Without remembering the specific instance, Douglas rightly guessed that it was his defensive back teammates, who ran over to congratulate him and celebrate. 

"We get so happy when one of us makes a play because we work hard and we know our goals in our room," Douglas said. "And we know our energy transforms and just passes along to other people. You can get somebody energized and they get somebody else energized." 

Head coach Doug Pederson elected to have his team in pads Wednesday in an effort to keep the team's intensity and physicality high as the team gets ready for the NFC Championship Game. 

That play helped. 

"I think Coach Pederson talks about it all the time; match his intensity," linebacker Nate Gerry said. "So when you see something like that, I guess that's matching the intensity. It just kind of sets the tone for practice."

During the Eagles' first-round bye, the team's players council went to Pederson and asked for an extra day in pads. Pederson planned on one leading into the divisional round game against the Falcons, but his veteran leaders didn't want to go an extra week without that intensity, so the Eagles strapped on their pads. 

They did it again last week and they did it again Wednesday. 

All season the Eagles have believed they're going to play the way they practice, so it shouldn't be much of a shocker. Pederson and the Eagles — despite all the hoopla around the championship — tried to treat Wednesday like any other Wednesday. In part, that meant getting the pads on and going through a tough practice. 

"We ain't going to play on Sunday without pads, so you just have keep in tune with what you do," Douglas said. "I think pads are good."