Eagles

Wendell Smallwood appears to be odd man out in Eagles' RB rotation

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Wendell Smallwood appears to be odd man out in Eagles' RB rotation

Despite the acquisition of Jay Ajayi, Eagles head coach Doug Pederson insisted on Wednesday he will continue to employ a rotation at running back.

"I think it's kind of the way it's been going," Pederson said. "There's certain things that (LeGarrette Blount) does, and there's certain things that Jay can do, and there's certain things that (Corey Clement) can do.

“We continue to embrace that and design our run game around their strengths.”

But there was one name that was conspicuous by its omission when Pederson went over the rotation — Wendell Smallwood.

Maybe that doesn't mean anything. Maybe Pederson was simply rattling off a few examples and left it at that.

Or maybe it's a sign of things to come. Maybe the Ajayi trade will finally butt Smallwood out of consideration for regular playing time, at least for the time being.

“Nothing changes with Wendell," Pederson said. "We just keep him coming and keep feeding him when we can.”

Smallwood has 38 carries and 10 receptions so far this season. But in the Eagles' last game, the second-year back only touched the ball twice, and it was the third time he finished with fewer than five.

If nothing changes, as Pederson claimed, we can assume Smallwood's role will remain limited, at best. And when pressed further on the issue, the head coach admitted he really wasn't sure how everything would play out.

“I can't tell you until I get to gameday, honestly," Pederson said. "I don't know. I'm not going to speculate until (Ajayi) knows our system how we're going to necessarily use him.”

Eagles offensive coordinator Frank Reich also tried to make the case that the club “loves” Smallwood.

“We are happy with all the guys that we’ve got in the building,” Reich said. “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.

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

A fifth-round draft pick in 2016, Smallwood did have an opportunity to earn a job as one of the Eagles’ primary backs in training camp. However, a hamstring injury sidelined the second-year player for a portion of the summer.

Smallwood also missed two games this season with a knee injury, and was sidelined multiple times during his rookie season as well.

The 23-year-old’s health has been one issue. Another, the Eagles seem hesitant to rely on him in pass protection, which can often conspire to sideline young backs. Nor has Smallwood seized a bigger role with his performance on the field, averaging a modest 4.0 yards per carry during his brief NFL career.

The bottom line is the Eagles clearly felt Ajayi upgraded the roster, and no matter how they spin it, at least somewhat at Smallwood’s expense.

"The message has never changed," Pederson said. "We're going to constantly look at bringing in competition at every spot.

“Competition makes us better. Competition makes each individual better. This is no different. Whether it's OTAs or Week 9, Week 8, whatever it is in the regular season, it doesn't change."

The Eagles are trying to make the claim nobody’s role has to change after the addition of Ajayi. Both Pederson and Reich also said the meager 13 snaps Smallwood played against the 49ers was simply the way the rotation worked out.

But between the Eagles signing Blount in May, trading for Ajayi on Monday, and Clement’s emergence as a viable option this season, Smallwood continues to lose ground in that competition.

Doug Pederson's preseason comparison doesn't look so ridiculous now

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Doug Pederson's preseason comparison doesn't look so ridiculous now

When Doug Pederson said back in July that the 2017 Eagles "probably have more talent" than the Super Bowl Packers teams of the 1990s that Pederson played on, more than a few eyebrows were raised.

Millions of eyebrows maybe.
 
The Eagles? Who hadn't won a playoff game since 2008 and were coming off a 7-9 record in Pederson's first season?
 
More talented than a team that went to the playoffs virtually every year from the early 1990s through the mid-2000s behind Hall of Famers Brett Favre and Reggie White and reached back-to-back Super Bowls in 1996 and 1997, winning one?
 
"I look back on my time in Green Bay as a player when we were making those playoff runs, those Super Bowl runs there," Pederson said on July 17.
 
"And do we have as much talent on this team than we did then? We probably have more talent, right?"
 
Seriously, Doug?
 
Six months later, Pederson's comments — which seemed so ridiculous at the time — don't seem so ridiculous, do they?
 
Because here are those 2017 Eagles, sitting 13-3 with a playoff win over the Falcons in the books and a berth Sunday in the NFC Championship Game against the Vikings despite a rash of injuries to some of their best players.
 
The Eagles haven't lost a game with postseason implications since Carson Wentz was lost for the season, and they're one home win from reaching their third Super Bowl.
 
Pederson, who had two stints backing up Brett Favre with the Packers — from 1996 through 1998 and 2001 through 2004 — was reminded of his comments Friday before practice.
 
"I don't have a crystal ball, obviously, and it's hard to predict," he said. "You'd love to sit here and go, 'Yeah, in the summer, (I thought we were) going to be 13-3 and win the NFC East.' You'd love to be in that situation, or 16-0, or whatever it might be.
 
"I did have a feeling back then when I made that statement that we could be, we had the potential to be a good football team because of the way we've practiced and the talent that we brought to the roster and the progression of Carson in his second year.
 
"And then defensively, the front, the way they performed, and the back end, I saw a lot of the same similarities. So you just have that gut feeling when I made that statement."
 
Back in July, when Pederson made those comments comparing the Eagles to the Packers, he tempered them by saying talent isn't always enough. It takes much more for a team to have success.
 
"I (said) it takes great coaching, teaching, mentoring to also have our guys prepared each week to be in this position," Pederson said. "So all of that has kind of culminated. I think you look back on it and you go, 'Wow, maybe it was a true type of thing.'
 
"But we just keep doing our jobs, keep doing what we've been coached to do. Players play what they can do and what's in their control, and we're here today."

Only 1 Eagle questionable for Sunday

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Only 1 Eagle questionable for Sunday

Veteran linebacker Dannell Ellerbe (hamstring) is the only Eagles player listed as questionable for this week's game. Everyone else on the 53-man roster is expected to be available. 

Ellerbe, 32, missed practice on Wednesday and was limited on Thursday and Friday. 

The Eagles' starting MIKE linebacker was also listed as questionable last week and was able to play, so expect him to be good to go. After all, this is the NFC Championship Game. There's no resting for anything else. 

In Minnesota, wide receiver Adam Thielen (lower back) and safety Andrew Sendejo (concussion) are both listed as questionable. 

Thielen, the Vikings' top receiver, missed Wednesday's practice and was limited on Thursday and Friday. Just like Ellerbe, there's no saving him for next week. 

Sendejo was limited on Wednesday and Thursday, was a full participant on Friday, but is still technically in the NFL's concussion protocol. He'll need to clear that before he's able to play, but Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer said he's optimistic Sendejo will be able to play. 

Meanwhile, third defensive tackle, Shamar Stephen (knee/ankle), missed practice all week and has been ruled out. While Stephen isn't a starter, he played just under 40 percent of the Vikings' snaps this season, so missing him is still a loss.

After practicing indoors on Wednesday and Thursday, the Eagles loaded up on buses and spent their Friday practice outside at Lincoln Financial Field. Head coach Doug Pederson likes to get his guys outside for at least one day per week. 

The Eagles will have a walkthrough on Saturday before they'll be back at the Linc for Sunday's 6:40 p.m. kickoff in the NFC Championship Game.