Eagles

With no feature back, game-planning will determine Eagles' RB rotation

With no feature back, game-planning will determine Eagles' RB rotation

Donnel Pumphrey received a phone call from a Pennsylvania number Saturday and feared the worst. 

After all, the fourth-round pick was coming off an extremely disappointing preseason, in which he had trouble holding the ball and averaged a paltry 1.9 yards per attempt. When he answered the phone and heard Eagles de facto GM Howie Roseman on the other line, those fears didn't go away. 

Roseman, though, called with some good news and words of encouragement. He told Pumphrey he knew the transition from college had been tough, but they still believed in him. Roseman called to tell Pumphrey he made the 53-man roster. 

The most surprising part of final cuts wasn't that the Eagles kept Pumphrey; it was that they kept five running backs on the roster, which is highly unusual. Pumphrey, LeGarrette Blount, Wendell Smallwood, Darren Sproles and rookie Corey Clement all made the roster. 

"Yeah, I didn't think we were keeping five," Smallwood said. "I don't know no team that's done that before. I'm glad everyone's still in the room. I'm glad we didn't lose anybody. It's good to have everybody in the room." 

How the heck are the Eagles going to use five running backs this season? 

"I'm not 100 percent sure," Blount said. "I just know they kept all of us for a reason. We're all excited about it. None of us wanted any of the guys to leave. They kept us all together." 

Pederson stressed game-planning when asked if Blount will be the Eagles' featured back. It seems like he isn't ready to give any one running back that title. He did, however, mention he wants to get all three (meaning Blount, Smallwood and Sproles) involved each week. 

"It goes back to the game plan, quite honestly," Pederson said. "We understand that LeGarrette might be a little different runner even than Sproles or Wendell. I think it's game plan specific. It's hard to go into a game saying, ‘LeGarrette, you're going to get X number of touches,’ because you never know what the game, what circumstances might be posed during the game."

Pederson said the Eagles obviously won't take five running backs into each game; either one or two will be inactive each week. And it'll all be based on game plan and injury status (not merit) when he decides who will play in each game. 

Going into Week 1, Pumphrey said he's sure he'll be inactive, which shouldn't be much of a surprise after the preseason he just had. But he plans on working with the scout team, which means plenty of reps against the Eagles' first-team defense. He just has to prepare like he's going to play, even if he knows he isn't. 

Because if something ever happens to Sproles during the season, the Eagles will probably call on Pumphrey to take his role. 

"That’s probably one of the reasons they drafted me, to fit his role," Pumphrey said, after knocking on his wooden locker when he thought about the possibility of Sproles' getting injured. "I’m just going to continue to progress each day and keep my head in that film and be ready for it if they do call my number."

With Pumphrey inactive, that means Clement might either have a small role or might be pulling up a seat next to his fellow rookie on many game days. 

Clement clearly outplayed Pumphrey during the preseason and it seems safe to say if roles were reversed and Clement was the draft pick, Pumphrey would be gone. But after investing a fourth-round pick in the small back from San Diego State, the Eagles don't want to give up on him just yet. 

"I feel like they know the potential I do have," Pumphrey said. "I'm not going to say they're taking their time but they want to continue to develop me."

Developing Pumphrey means keeping him on the roster but not using him on game days. With just 53 roster spots available, that's a risky idea. It's also a risky idea to keep five running backs, especially because the Eagles elected to roll with just eight offensive linemen. It's all a little unorthodox. 

Smallwood was one of many who was surprised to see the Eagles keep five running backs, but he's confident there was a reason.

"I think with them doing that, they have a plan for this team, they have a plan for the running back position," Smallwood said. "Whatever they're throwing at us, I believe we're going to be ready for it. I believe us keeping five running backs, they think there's an element to our room and everyone can contribute in some way."

Stay or Go — Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles

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USA Today Images

Stay or Go — Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles

As we continue our offseason series examining the future of the world champion Eagles, Reuben Frank and Dave Zangaro try to figure out who will be on the roster in 2018. 

We go alphabetically — Part 1 was Nelson Agholor to Derek Barnett, Part 2 was De'Vante Bausby to Brandon Brooks, Part 3 was Billy Brown to Vinny Curry, Part 4 was Ronald Darby to Zach Ertz. Today is Nick Foles to Corey Graham. 

Nick Foles
Roob: Fascinating one right off the bat. I don't think the Eagles can afford to trade Foles until they have some assurances that Carson Wentz will be 100 percent healthy and ready to go by opening day, and it's still too early for that. Unless they get bowled over with an offer — say a first-round pick and a third-round pick — they need to keep him around for one more year. It's tough to imagine the Super Bowl MVP starting the season running scout team with Greg Ward, Shelton Gibson and Marcus Johnson, but that's the reality. Foles will hit free agency in a year and pick his next stop. But for now, the smartest route is to keep him around another year.

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: What should the Eagles do with Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles? It still seems crazy to type that. Well, there are probably a lot of fans who want the Eagles to trade Foles now when his value couldn't possibly be any higher. That's not a crazy idea. The possibility to get a high draft pick back and save over $5 million is definitely appealing. The problem, of course, is that Wentz is coming off an ACL and LCL tear and, even though his goal is Week 1, no one knows when he'll be ready. Having the Super Bowl MVP is a helluva insurance policy. It seems pretty clear the Eagles have the ability to win another Super Bowl with either quarterback. They can't be in a situation where they don't have either of them starting. 

Verdict: STAYS

Nathan Gerry
Roob: Gerry, a fifth-round pick last year, seems to be a decent prospect as a young late-round linebacker. He was a core special teamer — his 180 snaps were sixth-most on the team — and on a roster where the linebackers are generally older guys (with the exception of oft-injured Jordan Hicks), Gerry is in a position where a roster spot will be there for the taking if he has a good training camp. I figure Gerry is here at least one more year just as a special teamer, especially with Trey Burton likely to leave and Corey Clement likely to play less on special teams next year as his role on the offense grows.

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: As a rookie, Gerry switched from safety to linebacker but didn't get a chance to play much on defense as a rookie. That's still a work in progress. But on special teams, Gerry found his role. He played in 10 regular-season games and then played in every game in the playoffs, including Super Bowl LII. For now, he's just a special teams player, but that's good enough. 

Verdict: STAYS

Shelton Gibson
Roob: Gibson, a fifth-round pick last year, got only 17 snaps on offense all year after a mostly disappointing training camp, and he caught just two passes for 11 yards all year. His lack of impact on special teams along with the Eagles' young depth puts his roster spot in jeopardy. Gibson will certainly be invited back to training camp, but for once, the Eagles have depth at wide receiver, and young guys like Mack Hollins and Johnson are well ahead of Gibson in the Eagles' eyes. Even if Torrey Smith doesn't return, Nelson Agholor, Alshon Jeffery and Hollins have spots locked up in 2018, and Gibson will be fighting an uphill battle.

Verdict: GOES

Dave: After a really terrible training camp, Gibson began to pick it up enough late in the summer and made the team. He was inactive for the first 10 games of the 2017 season before he began to play a small role on special teams down the stretch. His special teams ability was what gave him the eventual edge over Johnson to be active down the stretch. He still hasn't shown his potential as a fifth-round speed receiver, but he'll get another chance. 

Verdict: STAYS

Najee Goode
Roob: Goode was one of those underrated pieces that every Super Bowl team seems to have but nobody ever talks about. He's a terrific special teamer — he was third behind Kamu Grugier-Hill and Burton with 294 special teams snaps — and also got 200 snaps at linebacker and held his own defensively. Goode is a free agent, but he's been around since 2013, and you can probably keep him at minimum wage. There's tremendous value in that as well.

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: It's pretty wild to think that Goode has been with the Eagles since 2013 and has appeared in 61 games with them. He isn't the best linebacker, but he's still a solid special teamer. He was on a one-year deal in 2017 so he's an unrestricted free agent-to-be. Goode is a 28-year-old who isn't a viable option on defense, but I never thought he'd be here this long and here we are. 

Verdict: STAYS

Brandon Graham
Roob: Next year, this could become a very interesting situation. Graham has developed into one of the NFL's top outside pass rushers and had a career-high 9½ sacks this year and made his first Pro Bowl. But he turns 30 this spring, and the Eagles have Derek Barnett under contract with modest cap figures through 2020. It's clear the Eagles can't afford to keep both Vinny Curry and Graham, and Graham is obviously the superior player, but how much money is he looking for and how difficult will it be for the Eagles to keep him? I expect Graham to look for a long-term deal in the $12-13 million per year range. He'll get it. I'm just not sure where.

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: The Eagles didn't give Graham a new contract last offseason but they did make a showing of good faith when they added some incentives to the last two years of his contract. But it's not a new contract yet. He's still their most disruptive pass rusher. His strip sack on Tom Brady in Super Bowl LII was the biggest play of the game. The Eagles are going to have to figure out if they're going to break the bank to keep Graham around for another contract. For now, though, he'll be a huge part of the 2018 season in a contract year. 

Verdict: STAYS

Corey Graham
Roob: Corey Graham is another one of those one-year contract veterans who made a big impact this past season both on defense and special teams. He will turn 33 before camp opens, but he's in tremendous shape and takes great care of himself. He's played in 171 of a possible 176 games in his 11-year career and shows no sign of dropping off. Graham is also a terrific natural leader who was extremely vocal during the Super Bowl run. The Eagles don't really have any young safeties knocking on the door, so as long as Graham is willing to accept another cap-friendly contract, I don't see a reason not to re-sign him.

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: Signing Graham was one of the best moves Howie Roseman pulled off last summer. It was a pretty low-key move, but the team brought in a veteran safety who was great in the locker room and offered them a quality third safety. That allowed Malcolm Jenkins to slide into the slot when needed and allowed the Eagles to go with a smaller lineup in their dime package when necessary. That doesn't sound like a big deal, but without a ton of great linebackers, having the flexibility to go small was huge. Graham is a free agent again and the Eagles might try to go younger, but they should at least think about bringing Graham back. 

Verdict: STAYS

Rick Lovato explains why he got a huge Lombardi Trophy tattoo

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Rick Lovato

Rick Lovato explains why he got a huge Lombardi Trophy tattoo

After the Eagles beat the Patriots, 41-33, in Super Bowl LII, there will be a Vince Lombardi Trophy living in Philadelphia permanently. 

There will also be one on Rick Lovato forever. 

On Wednesday, the Eagles' long snapper tweeted out a photo of some new ink, a huge Lombardi Trophy on the left side of his torso. Lovato isn't the only Eagles player or fan to get a tattoo after the Super Bowl, but it looks like his tattoo might be one of the biggest. 

On Thursday, Lovato went back on Twitter to explain why he decided to get the trophy tattooed on himself. 

Two years ago, in April of 2016, Lovato visited the grave of Vince Lombardi, which happens to be in his hometown of Middletown, N.J. He said that's also where his grandfather is buried. 

"I still pray and thank Coach Lombardi to this day because of how my life has changed since the day I visited his grave," Lovato explained in his tweet. 

A couple months before Lovato's visit, MMQB's Jenny Vrentas took a trip to Mount Olivet Cemetery to learn a little bit about the legendary coach's unassuming grave.

When Lovato visited Lombardi's final resting place, the long snapper was still playing for the Packers. After a college career at Old Dominion, Lovato spent that first summer with the Bears but didn't make the team and wasn't signed by the Packers until December of 2015 when their long-snapper suffered an injury. 

Lovato spent the rest of the season with the Packers and was with them for the next whole spring and summer. But just a few months after his visit to the cemetery, he was released. 

During the 2016 season, he was signed by Washington to fill in for 10 days before he was again cut. Lovato was back working at his family's restaurant, "Joyce's Subs and Pizza" in Lincroft, N.J. after that, but Jon Dorenbos got hurt and the Eagles needed a replacement. Lovato did a good enough job at the end of last season to warrant a position battle this past summer. He won the competition and was the Eagles' long snapper in their Super Bowl season. 

It seems like the tattoo is a reward for finally making it to the pinnacle. 

Here's Lovato's full explanation of his new ink and what it means to him: 

"For those who want some more background on my tattoo, 2 years ago I visited Vince Lombardi's grave in my hometown of Middletown, NJ where my grandfather is buried. Not having a full time job in the NFL yet and not knowing where this career would take me, I trusted my passion and faith to keep reaching my dreams. Since then I was cut two more times and could've given up on those dreams, but it made me want it more than ever. After a heated battle with my friend Jon Dorenbos in training camp I had finally found my place in this league. Through the ups and the downs of my first full season in the NFL, I have fulfilled my dream of playing and winning the Super Bowl. It has brought me more joy in my life than I could've ever imagined. I still pray and thank Coach Lombardi to this day because of how my life has changed since the day I visited his grave. This tattoo means much more than just winning a Super Bowl. It represents my journey, everyone who's supported me and my faith in God."