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."

Sidney Jones practices with Eagles for 1st time following Achilles injury

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USA Today Images

Sidney Jones practices with Eagles for 1st time following Achilles injury

Sidney Jones went out for his first practice rep as a Philadelphia Eagle and had to resist the urge to break out in a huge smile.

"It was kickoff return," he said. "I was just so happy. I just looked around and couldn't believe it."

Jones, the Eagles' rookie second-round pick, practiced Wednesday for the first time since he blew out his Achilles during his pro day at the University of Washington back on March 11.

He probably won't play this year, but just being out there and practicing after 10 months of rehab was … indescribable.

"I can’t even describe how happy and excited I am," he said after practice. "It’s been a long road. I’m just happy to be back with my team.

“It’s been a long road to even play football. I haven’t played football since my last college game, which was approximately a year ago. It was a first step, and I can’t wait for the future."

The Eagles have a three-week window in which Jones is allowed to practice. After that, they have to either shut him down or activate him.

But Jones wasn't worried about any of that Wednesday. He was just thrilled to be on the field with the teammates who've helped him through this endless grind.

“It’s been a long journey," Jones said in his first interview since draft weekend in April. "I’ve had a great support system around me, everybody’s been helping me, telling me this, telling me that. 

"A few guys I reached out to or reached out to to me and gave me advice, people who’d hurt their Achilles before. Jason Peters helped me out a lot, Jordan Hicks helped me out a lot as well. Everybody’s been supportive."

The Eagles' defensive coaches threw a lot at Jones, treating him like a member of the active roster. He was in all the meetings, all the film sessions, out at practice watching. He prepared to play, even though he knew he couldn't.

It was all about keeping him engaged, keeping him involved, building toward 2018, when he'll presumably be a key member of this secondary.

"I think we'll see pretty quickly that he has a good grasp of what he's expected to do," defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said. "Keeping his ears open and his eyes open has been his No. 1 job description over these last six months.

"I've been really proud of what he's done there. I would be very surprised if he can't go in and execute what we're asking him to do. There's certainly a lot of rust that goes into it. With all due respect to our trainers, they are not a challenge to cover, and he's only been working with those guys. 

"So we've got to take each step along the way. It's almost like the first week of OTAs for him. It's not even really a first week of training camp. It's more like first week of OTAs for him." 

Jones said that when he was drafted, he didn't expect to get so much support from his teammates, but he said the other defensive backs have made sure he's felt a part of things throughout his rehab.

"I didn’t expect the league to be like this, but my teammates, my DB squad, they’re awesome, they’re terrific," he said. "Those are my brothers. 

"It’s a real brotherhood around here, and they’ve had my back every step of the way."

Jones, projected as a high first-round pick before his injury, said the past year has really taught him to appreciate the game more than he ever did.

“I was always grateful," he said. "In college I would go out and just every day think how grateful I am but now that it actually happened … and I got injured, I really have to be grateful because it could happen again. You never know when it’s going to happen. Just have to take every day like it's your last and go out there and give everything you’ve got."

Jones said his surgically reconstructed Achilles felt 100 percent at practice and he said he actually wasn't even thinking about it when he was out there running around.

He said he feels further behind physically than mentally.

“Just got to take it slow," he said. "I’ve got to get into shape first, that’s the biggest thing, so I don’t hurt any other body parts and stuff. Just trying to get better every day. It’s just a process.

"Just trying to get my feet wet so next year I’ll have some feet on the ground. Something to work with."

Nate Sudfeld has reasons to feel 'very confident' as Eagles' new backup QB

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AP Images

Nate Sudfeld has reasons to feel 'very confident' as Eagles' new backup QB

Nate Sudfeld stood by his locker on Wednesday afternoon, early in his first week as the Eagles' backup quarterback, and claimed his game-day responsibilities won't change. He'll still be helping the starter to see coverages, go through plays and diagnose pressures. 

The only difference is he'll now wear a helmet and shoulder pads. 

Well, actually, there's one more difference. 

"I won't be dead tired when the game starts," Sudfeld said. 

During the first 14 weeks of the season, when Sudfeld was the Eagles' third-stringer, quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo would put him through an intense 45-minute workout before each game. Sudfeld is grateful for those workouts, which helped him with throwing and footwork, but said DeFilippo "kills" him each week. 

Those workouts are over. Because come Sunday, thanks to Carson Wentz's torn left ACL, Sudfeld will be dressing for each game as the Eagles' backup quarterback behind Nick Foles. 

He's now just one play away from being the Eagles' starter. 

"I feel very confident," Sudfeld said. "I mean, I wasn't just sitting back, watching practice all year, just expecting to never play football. I was definitely getting ready in case something like this happened. It's my responsibility as a 3 to be ready to be a 2. One play away and then one more play away. So I definitely feel prepared being here however many weeks, 14 weeks, has really helped. But I've treated each week as if I was going to play. I feel very confident."

But the difference between Foles and Sudfeld is glaring. Foles has been a starting quarterback in the NFL before and even in Philadelphia (see story). He's been to a Pro Bowl. His experience has been lauded all week (see story).

Meanwhile, Sudfeld is 24. A sixth-round pick to Washington last season, he's never played in an NFL game. Heck, Sunday will be his first time dressing for an NFL game. He didn't even join the Eagles' active roster until early November, when the Birds signed him from the practice squad. And that was just to prevent the Colts from poaching him. 

Has the Eagles' faith in him as the backup validated his decision to stay? 

"I mean, I've always wanted to be here since I got here so I'm just very excited that they do think enough of me to give me the opportunity," Sudfeld said. "I'm looking forward to if my name does get called, being ready to go." 

Since joining the Eagles' active roster, he's been inactive every week. But the fact that they were willing to use a roster spot on him, knowing he would be inactive each week, speaks to the way the organization feels about him. 

Foles didn't hesitate during his press conference on Tuesday to include Sudfeld every time he mentioned the quarterback group. The two have grown extremely close during the last few months. 

"Nate's a tremendous player," Foles said. "I'm excited about his future. Really smart, works his butt off, he's got all the tools to be a great player in this league. He's been there. I'm always going to include Carson, me and Nate. That's just sort of how it's been every single day going to work. We're going to lean on that. I'm going to lean on Nate through this process and we have the kind of quarterback room where you can do that, so it's sort of awesome. He's a tremendous player and I'm excited about his future in this league."

While not much will change for Sudfeld on game day — unless of course something happens to Foles — his workload during the week is very different. With Foles now taking all of the first-team reps at practice, Sudfeld gets all the scout team reps. 

While he got a few scout team reps over the course of the last few months, most of his reps with the Eagles have been mental. Sudfeld has been in the building with Wentz and Foles every day to watch film at 6 a.m., the trio would prep for each team and go through everything together, but when they got onto the practice field, the top two guys got to play and Sudfeld became a spectator. 

Fans probably don't know much about Sudfeld. Until this week, there's a good chance most Eagles fans had never even heard of him. Well, Sudfeld was a sixth-round pick out of Indiana last year. He spent the entire 2016 season with Washington, but was cut on Sept. 2. The Eagles signed him to their practice squad the next day. 

What kind of quarterback is he? 

"It's hard to assess yourself," Sudfeld answered. "I'm very confident in my game and I think I can make all the throws. I think I can move if I have to. I think I know the game pretty well. I'm continuing to improve. I'm a work in progress, but excited what I know I can do."

Perhaps the thing Eagles fans might know best about Sudfeld is that he's tall, white and lanky, and folks would probably say he looked like Wentz if he didn't look exactly like Foles. He and Foles look so much alike that their teammates razz them for it and fans confuse the two (see story).

Just last week in Los Angeles, fans got the two confused. Fans thought Sudfeld was Foles, even though the Real Nick Foles was walking in uniform right in front of him. 

When it was pointed out to Sudfeld that no matter how well Foles plays, he'll probably feel it too. 

"True," Sudfeld said. "Hopefully he keeps doing what I know he can do so people love me walking down the street."