Eagles

'No doubt' Wendell Smallwood will have increased role after Darren Sproles' injury

'No doubt' Wendell Smallwood will have increased role after Darren Sproles' injury

It would be unfair to expect Wendell Smallwood to become Darren Sproles before Sunday's game in Los Angeles.

It's not going to happen. 

"I'm not sure you can ever replace 43 in that regard," offensive coordinator Frank Reich said Tuesday. "He's just a unique player. But feel good about Wendell stepping up."

While Smallwood won't become Sproles, the Eagles are definitely going to lean on him throughout the rest of the 2017 season. Of the three running backs they were left with after the injury, Smallwood's set of skills most closely resembles that of Sproles, and Smallwood is now the most experienced back in the offense.

Even with the addition of Kenjon Barner (see story), Smallwood is likely going to be the main piece to fill the void Sproles' injury will leave for the Eagles' offense, especially on third downs. 

"There's no doubt Wendell is going to have an increased role," Reich said. "He's the guy ... I think all the guys have some third-down ability, but Wendell has really improved in that area. He's shown natural aptitude for it early, both from a protection standpoint and from a route-running standpoint."

The Eagles already showed a glimpse into their plans after Sproles went down Sunday. After the 13-year veteran left the game early in the second quarter, the Eagles faced 11 third-down situations the rest of the way; Smallwood was on the field for eight of them. LeGarrette Blount got the other three, one of which was a 3rd-and-goal from the 1-yard line. 

An area in which Smallwood has improved greatly from last season is in his pass protection. Smallwood said pass blocking is something running back coach Duce Staley harps on. When they watched film of the Giants game Tuesday, Staley was impressed and got the impression that the focus on technique is working. Likewise, Reich was impressed with Smallwood's blocking on Sunday, saying Smallwood did a good job against Steve Spagnuolo's complicated blitz schemes. 

Having the ability to block is a big part of a guy's ability to perform on third down. That becomes even more important for Smallwood now that Sproles is out for the rest of the season. 

"Yeah, it's huge," Smallwood said. "I'm just glad that I watched behind Darren and I learned his role in the third downs and the calls. And the things he's been getting, I've been learning it since I got here, behind him. Not saying I'm going to be required to do it as much as he was. But now he's gone, so someone has to step in and do it and I think I'm going to have to take on that role."

But pass protecting is just part of the duty for a running back on the field for third downs. Another important part is being able to catch the ball out of the backfield. It seems like Smallwood has the ability but has just nine catches in 16 career games. 

During his time with the Eagles, Sproles has averaged nine catches about every three games. He has 532 career catches and is one of the best receiving running backs in NFL history. 

While Smallwood won't become Sproles, he admitted he'll take on some of the burden of trying to replace him. After all, he's really close to his 34-year-old teammate. The two actually lived next to each other during Smallwood's rookie season last year and on Tuesday, Smallwood said he's been in near constant communication with Sproles since the injury. 

While Sproles hinted toward a possible comeback, Smallwood said the two hadn't talked about it. 

"He's doing good," Smallwood said. "He's a fighter and a competitor. I'm like, 'You had an ACL and you just walked off the field?' He was like, 'Man, I'm a fighter, I'm a bully.' I'm like, 'Yeah, you right.' And even when he thought he did something he was just like, 'Hey, check my knee out,' or something like that. He's a tough guy and I admire that guy to death."

Quite a Christmas present coming for Jordan Hicks

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USA Today Images

Quite a Christmas present coming for Jordan Hicks

It won't be a surprise, but Jordan Hicks is going to get a pretty great Christmas present this year. 

He won't find it under his tree either. 

Hicks, who has been recovering from a torn Achilles tendon and surgery, will hit another big milestone in his recovery on Dec. 25. That's the day the walking boot comes off of his right foot. 

"Real good present, right?" Hicks said. 

Hicks, 25, tore his right Achilles on the second play from scrimmage against Washington on Oct. 23. Having already torn his left Achilles in college, Hicks knew immediately that his season was over and a long recovery was ahead of him. 

But Hicks has no doubt he'll return to being the same player he was before. He thinks he'll be even better. 

"Oh there's no question about that," Hicks said on Friday, speaking to a group of reporters in the Eagles' locker room for the first time since the injury. "There's no question about that. I'll be fine. I did my left Achilles in college and came back better. I know more, the advancements are better. There's no doubt in my mind I'll be a better player when I come back."

Hicks said the normal recovery time from an Achilles rupture is six to nine months. The six-month mark will be April. He expects to be back for training camp and be completely ready for next season. 

Before suffering this Achilles tear, Hicks had been dealing with an ankle injury on his left leg. Hicks, who has been labeled as an injury-prone player since college, was very proud of playing all 16 games in 2016. So when that ankle injury popped up earlier this season, he tried to play through it. That ankle injury led to a calf injury in his right leg and then the Achilles popped. Hicks thinks overcompensating for the initial injury led to a more serious one. 

"I think a couple weeks could have helped me, but it's always easy to look back," Hicks said. "Hindsight is 20/20. I wouldn't change anything just because it's my personality. It's who I am. All I want to do is be there for my teammates. Every time I step out there, the biggest goal for me is to have my teammates know that I'm their leader and I can be accountable. For me to sit here and say I shouldn't have been out there those weeks, it's hard for me to say that because all I want to do is be out there."

Hicks lasted just a couple plays in that Washington game before his Achilles popped, which put him right back on that road to recovery. And initially, it wasn't easy. Jason Peters joined him in the locker room a quarter later with his own season-ending injury and tried to raise his spirits, but that didn't change the fact that Hicks' season was over.

And for the second time in his three-year career, he knew he would end the season on injured reserve. 

"The grief set in," he said. "For the first week or so, it was tough, but man, there's no time for that. There's no time to sit here and sulk. There's no time to think about what could have been. ... All I'm focusing on is making sure I'm better and ready next year for my guys. That's all it is. For me, it's about accountability."

While Hicks made a rare appearance in the Eagles' locker room during media time on Friday, he's been around the building plenty. He and the Eagles' other injured players have remained involved despite their injuries. In fact, every week, Hicks studies opponent film to see how they handle blitzes. And every Friday, he gets in front of the defense to present it. 

After the injury, Jim Schwartz came to him and asked him to do this. 

"It's easy to isolate yourself in situations like this," Hicks said. "For him to come up to me and ask me to do that was big. I try to keep guys' spirits up and share my perspective." 

For the last month and a half, Hicks has been around the team but has been forced to watch games on TV, which he said is really tough. He hopes that's about to end. He'll be in North Jersey this weekend for the Giants game and hopes he'll be back on the sideline. 

"It's tough," Hicks said. "It's never easy to go through something like this. It tests your patience, this tests your character. You learn a lot through these times because it is so difficult. You have to really grind through some hard times. Put your head down and I think your character is really shown through this."

Nick Foles may not have full protection vs. Giants

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Nick Foles may not have full protection vs. Giants

The Eagles will have a new quarterback this weekend, but they might not be able to protect him as well as they hope. 

Starting left guard Stefen Wisniewski will officially be listed as questionable for Sunday's game because of an ankle injury. 

Wiz had to leave the Rams game in the first half and did not return. He missed practice on Wednesday and was limited on Thursday. 

"We'll see where he's at today," head coach Doug Pederson said on Friday. 

After Wisniewski came out of the Rams game, he was replaced by Chance Warmack, who was then replaced by Isaac Seumalo. 

It sounds like Warmack will have the first chance to play this weekend if Wisniewski can't go. 

"We've worked Chance at that position this week," Pederson said. "Isaac has obviously gotten some reps really at all the positions but that would be the most logical."

Seumalo actually began the season as the team's starting left guard after he won the position in the offseason. From there, Warmack got the first crack at replacing him when he was benched, but Warmack couldn't keep the job, eventually giving way to a rotation before Wisniewski simply took over. The line has been much better since Wiz took over the starting job in Week 3. 

Alshon Jeffery and Steven Means, who both missed Thursday's practice with illnesses, will be back on the practice field on Friday. Both should be fine for this weekend's game. 

The Eagles will practice outside in 28-degree weather on Friday as they prepare for Sunday's outdoor game at MetLife Stadium. 

No word on the condition of the recycling can Jason Kelce kicked inside the bubble after getting cleated on Thursday. At least the outdoor practice will give it another day of rest.