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."