Eagles

Jay Ajayi wastes no time asserting himself in Eagles debut

Jay Ajayi wastes no time asserting himself in Eagles debut

Jay Ajayi looked confused. 

With his backpack hoisted over his shoulders and a beanie cap holding down his black and blonde dreadlocks as he walked through the Eagles' locker room, Ajayi needed some directions. 

He didn't know how to get out of the stadium. 

He didn't look nearly as lost on the field. Just five days after a trade brought him north from Miami for a fourth-round pick, Ajayi carried the ball eight times for 77 yards, which included a 46-yard touchdown in the second quarter in the Birds' 51-23 win Sunday over the Broncos (see breakdown)

"[The touchdown] was special," Ajayi said in his delightful British accent. "First off, it was my first touchdown of the season. And it's exciting for it to have been in Philly in my first game as an Eagle. I don't think it could have been written any better than that." 

Not only was Ajayi's touchdown the first of this season, it was also the first rushing TD the Broncos had given up all year.

Once Ajayi busted through the line, he thought he had a chance to score. He had a couple blockers in front who were able to lead the way. The touchdown run was the Eagles' second-longest of the season and the fourth-longest run of Ajayi's career. He capped it by diving head-first into the end zone. 

"I saw him hauling ass and then I saw him diving for the pylons," right tackle Lane Johnson said. "Fantastic run, man."

"We saw it on the big board," fellow running back Corey Clement said. "It's hard to miss it. He did a great job of getting into the end zone. Couldn't be happier."

He was also pretty happy to be playing in front of the home fans at the Linc for the first time (see Roob's observations). Every carry he got, the crowd got pretty loud. He called the atmosphere "electric" and was excited to experience it. 

While the Eagles haven't given Ajayi the entire playbook just yet, they did want him to feel comfortable with 10-15 plays. Before he was given a handoff, Ajayi was on the field as what looked like a decoy. It seemed pretty clear Denver expected him to get the ball when he was in. 

Ajayi led the Eagles in rushing Sunday and put together the second-best individual rushing performance against the Broncos all season. Only the Giants' Orleans Darwka rushed for more. In fact, Ajayi rushed for more yards on his own Sunday than four teams have against the Broncos this season (see report card). The Broncos came into Sunday with the second-best rush defense in the league. The Eagles — led by Ajayi — put up 197 yards against them. 

"I'm excited to have [Ajayi] here because I've been a fan of his all the way back to last year," said LeGarrette Blount, who had 37 yards on nine carries. "He is a really good player and is an exciting and dynamic player to watch."

In the days since the trade brought Ajayi to town, he and running backs coach Duce Staley "had some long nights" trying to teach Ajayi the playbook. 

"It's impressive," Carson Wentz said. "Hats off to him. He came in with a 'I want to work' attitude right away. That was great to see. Great communication he fits in well in the locker room and everything as well. He's a smart kid and he picked up on things pretty quickly."

The 24-year-old Ajayi thinks the bye week is coming at the perfect time for him. He'll be able to finally breathe and have some more leisurely time to learn the playbook before the Nov. 19 game in Dallas against the Cowboys. 

Things have been pretty hectic for Ajayi over the last week. 

"It was just about coming in and getting ready for Sunday," Ajayi said. "That was the main focus. Then I can focus on finding my place and getting my life situated out here." 

And getting out of the building.

Eagles Stay or Go — A few easy choices for once

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Eagles Stay or Go — A few easy choices for once

Reuben Frank and Dave Zangaro continue our series examining the future of the world champion Eagles.

Mack Hollins
Roob: Hollins wasn't really a factor later in the season, once Torrey Smith got going, but he did show early in the year what kind of player he can be, notably with that 64-yard TD catch in the second Redskins game. Depending on what the Eagles do about Smith, Hollins should be either the Eagles' third or fourth receiver this fall. Either way, he'll be here, and I expect him to make a big jump in Year 2.

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: Hollins caught just 16 passes as a rookie and it seemed like he just never started producing the way he seems capable of. Even when Smith struggled, Hollins got more playing time and didn't produce. The good news is he's still young and plays a role on special teams. The Eagles will probably bolster their receiving corps in some way, but if they don't, Hollins will have a shot at starting if Smith is gone next season. 

Verdict: STAYS

Alshon Jeffery
Roob: Jeffery really played better than his stats this year. He made every big catch, caught every big third-down pass, made huge plays in the end zone. Jeffery was a star receiver without a star receiver's stats. His unselfish attitude carried over to the rest of the receivers and throughout the roster. And he did it all with a rotator cuff injury that required post-season surgery. Can't wait to see what Alshon can do healthy.

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: Jeffery didn't put up eye-popping numbers during the regular season, but if you needed any proof he's a No. 1 receiver, go back and watch Super Bowl LII, when he made that ridiculous catch in the end zone for a huge touchdown. The good thing about Jeffery is he really doesn't care at all about his numbers. There are a lot of diva receivers in the NFL, but Jeffery clearly isn't one of them. All he cared about last year was hoisting the Lombardi Trophy and he certainly helped get the Eagles there. 

Verdict: STAYS

Malcolm Jenkins
Roob: Jenkins has so many roles on and off the field — community activist, NFLPA organizer, locker room leader — it's easy to forget just how good a player he is. Jenkins has been here four years and has had four very solid, very consistent, very productive seasons. He made his second Pro Bowl this year and joined Bill Bradley (3) and Dawk (7) as only the third Eagles safety since 1960 to make multiple Pro Bowls. Jenkins is signed to a cap-friendly deal through 2020 and should be an Eagle for many years to come.

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: As important as Jenkins is to the Eagles as a safety and defensive back, you could make a legitimate argument that he's even more important to the team as a leader and man. There's a reason he became the guy to follow up Doug Pederson's postgame speeches. He isn't just the leader of the defense; he's the leader of the entire team. And on the field, he's still playing at a really high, Pro Bowl caliber level. He's 30 now but is still signed through 2020 and maybe outside of Fletcher Cox is the Eagles' most important defensive player. 

Verdict: STAYS

Eagles Stay or Go — 2 young linebackers

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Eagles Stay or Go — 2 young linebackers

Reuben Frank and Dave Zangaro continue our series examining the future of the world champion Eagles.

Darrell Greene
Roob: The Hall of Fame cornerback is now 58 years old and 21 years removed from his last Pro Bowl season with the Redskins. Oh wait … wrong Darrell Green. This is Darrell GREENE, and he's a 6-foot-3, 320-pound guard out of San Diego State who's been on the Eagles' practice squad most of the last two years. The Eagles liked Greene enough to keep him around the last couple years, and unless they see something in Chance Warmack that I missed, Greene has a chance to stick around as a young O-line prospect.

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: Greene has been around now for the last two seasons. He was without a team for most of 2017; the Eagles didn't bring him back to the practice squad until December. The offensive guard had some real potential coming out of San Diego State, and the Eagles paid him a lot of guaranteed money to sign as an undrafted free agent before 2016. But he's never really impressed them enough to stick around for good. 

Verdict: GOES

Jordan Hicks
Roob: With Hicks, it's always about durability, not ability. Hicks has played more than half a season only once in his three NFL seasons, and since he's under contract for 2018 with a modest $2.068 million cap figure, he's obviously not going anywhere. The question is what the Eagles do with him after 2018 when he's due to become a free agent. Hicks can play. We all know that. He needs to prove this year that he can stay healthy in order to get a big-money deal a year from now.

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: Losing Hicks was a problem in 2017 and his absence started showing up late in the season. He's a big-time playmaker. It's a shame he got hurt last year because if he didn't, he'd be in line for a payday. For now, he'll be back in the final year of his four-year rookie contract until he can prove he's the same player he was pre-injury. 

Verdict: STAYS

Kamu Grugier-Hill
Roob: Grugier-Hill must be Howie Roseman's dream. He's signed at the minimum through 2019 but is an awfully valuable member of the roster — a reserve linebacker and emergency kicker and maybe the team's best special teamer. Kamu's not going anywhere.

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: He really doesn't play at all as a linebacker, but Grugier-Hill has become one of the best special teams players in the NFL and had a real chance to be named a Pro Bowler in 2017. He led the team in special teams tackles with 19 last season. He's still young, cheap and is a big part of Dave Fipp's group. 

Verdict: STAYS