Eagles

Rethinking retirement, Darren Sproles mentoring Eagles' young RBs at OTAs

Rethinking retirement, Darren Sproles mentoring Eagles' young RBs at OTAs

As last season was coming to a close, with the Eagles set to miss the playoffs for a third straight year, Darren Sproles sounded resigned to retiring following the 2017 campaign. Now that it's May and the Eagles have a new lease on life, suddenly Sproles isn't quite convinced this year will be his finale in the NFL after all.

"We're gonna see," Sproles said in the locker room after practice Monday. "Right after we make the playoffs, then come back and ask me."

Sproles never said 2017 was definitely going to be his last but admitted there was mounting pressure from his family, specifically his two daughters. Five months later, he's joining the Eagles for organized training activities at the NovaCare Complex, a voluntary offseason program he chose to skip a year ago.

"[The Eagles] wanted me here for the young guys, so they could learn from me," Sproles said. "I said, 'Yeah, that's fine.'"

Sproles came into the league with the San Diego Chargers in 2005 and benefited from mentors such as Hall of Fame running back LaDainian Tomlinson and two-time Pro Bowler Michael Turner. Now the 13-year veteran wants to "give back" and set a similar example for his Eagles teammates.

“The main thing I tell them — it's really just the more you can do," Sproles said. "You want to show them you can catch punts, you can catch kickoffs, you can play receiver. It's just the more you can do. You'll be in this league a long time."

No doubt, the Eagles are hoping fourth-round draft pick Donnel Pumphrey can shadow Sproles and pick up a thing or two to help speed up his development this offseason. The rookie out of San Diego State is being groomed for a similar role as a "move" player who can take handoffs out of the backfield or line up at wide receiver.

"We want to get him in space," Sproles said. "We get him in space, he can do some things for us."

In addition to Pumphrey, the Eagles also have Wendell Smallwood and Byron Marshall entering their second season, as well as undrafted rookie Corey Clement. There are a lot of eager young minds in the running backs room.

Fortunately, Sproles is not alone. The addition of LeGarrette Blount in May puts the Eagles in the rare position of having two backs on the roster in their thirties who can impart wisdom and share their knowledge with up-and-coming players.

"They ask you a lot of questions, so we try to tell them whatever they want to know," Sproles said. "That's the good thing about having us in the room."

Sproles also believes Blount can play a pivotal role for the Eagles on the field.

"We need to close games out," Sproles said. "You need that pounder to keep the clock moving, keep the chains moving. He can do that."

While Sproles is focused on teaching the young guys and making the playoffs, he's also taken time to reflect on the career. Whether 2017 is his last season or not, the time to call it quits is approaching.

Sproles admits he has a different perspective now and is trying to enjoy his time at OTAs. With his 34th birthday approaching on June 20 and this being the final year of his contract with the Eagles, he also has goals on how he wants to walk away from the game.

"You don't want to be forced out," Sproles said. "You want to leave on your own terms.

“Once you get over 30 in this league, they try to kick you out.”

So far, the Eagles have shown no desire to give Sproles the boot. In fact, his 94 carries in 2016 were a career high, and he finished with 865 total yards from scrimmage and four touchdowns. The three-time Pro Bowl selection averaged 13.2 yards per punt return as well.

Of course, Sproles is essentially training his potential replacement with the Eagles in Pumphrey. As long as Sproles continues to produce at that clip, he should have no problem finding work in the NFL, regardless of age.

LeGarrette Blount advises Eagles to 'stay humble' after 5-1 start

LeGarrette Blount advises Eagles to 'stay humble' after 5-1 start

With a 5-1 record, the Eagles sit all alone atop the division and conference standings, and are tied for the best mark in the NFL. Their quarterback was recently given the best odds of winning the league’s Most Valuable Player award. So, yes, right now, a trip to the Super Bowl seems to be very much on the table for this squad.

But take it from LeGarrette Blount, somebody who’s won a couple of world championships — the Eagles can’t afford to get caught up in the hysteria right now.

“We could lose 10 in a row,” Blount said Tuesday. “We could go 6-10, so we don't want to jump the gun, jump to conclusions. We want to make sure we take it week by week, day by day, keep a level head and make sure we're going to be ready for whoever the next opponent is.”

Blount is one of only five Eagles players with a Super Bowl ring and the only member of the roster who owns multiple. The veteran running back won two of the last three years with the New England Patriots organization, which has been a perennial championship contender for the better part of the last two decades.

In other words, Blount knows better than anybody inside the Eagles’ locker room exactly what it takes to not only reach the big game and come away victorious but also how to sustain that success.

“You have to stay grounded,” Blount said. “You have to stay humble and make sure that all the guys that are in the building are on the same page. The coaches, the staff, everybody is on the same page, ignoring the noise, not worrying about what other teams are doing, what other teams' records are – just worrying about ourselves and locked into us.”

Easier said than done given the week the Eagles just had.

After going to Carolina and upending a tough Panthers squad on Thursday night, the Eagles watched as massive blows were being dealt to some of their stiffest competition over the weekend. Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers suffered a broken collarbone on Sunday, potentially crippling one of the NFC’s elites for the remainder of the season. And Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott is awaiting word on the status of a six-game suspension that could seriously hamper the division rival.

But the noise can also be Eagles fans and their exponentially rising expectations, or a media that’s quick to point out any tiny flaw and raise controversy.

Blount has experienced the latter firsthand. Two weeks into the 2017 campaign, he finished a game without a carry — an Eagles’ loss — and was averaging 3.0 yards per carry going back to the preseason. The constant questions coming from reporters about his role easily could have become a distraction.

In the four weeks since, Blount has 344 yards on 56 carries for a 6.1 average. He never allowed the noise to get to him, instead becoming a big reason behind the ongoing four-game winning streak.

“We know what we've been doing to get to this point,” Blount said. “We know what it takes, so we just have to buy in to continue to do that, and continue to do every that it takes to continue winning games.

“A big part of it is just making sure you ignore the noise, don't listen to the outsiders, everything that is in house stays in house, and that you make sure and know that everybody that you see on TV isn't in your corner. Sometimes that can discourage the younger guys. Every now and then you'll hear them say, 'Oh, did you hear them say this,' or, 'Did you hear them say that? Or, 'Did you see this,' or 'Did you see that?'

“The big part is making sure that everybody ignores that stuff.”

Blount has been through extraordinary highs and lows in his football career and learned to maintain an even keel. But Eagles leadership has also done a tremendous job insulating players from the kinds of rumblings that have a tendency to create discord and cause entire seasons to come off the rails.

For evidence, look no further than rumors that defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz was trying to undermine head coach Doug Pederson — and how quickly such talk dissipated.

“The veteran groups have a lot to do with it,” Blount said. “I also think the coaches have a lot to do with it — keeping the guys grounded, keeping the guys to where we have to continue to come here and work if we want to continue the success.

“Most of the young guys, all of them have bought into the program, and everybody's locked in and knows their role and what they want to do.”

While Blount wouldn’t go so far as to draw parallels between the ways the Eagles and the Patriots handle distractions, it’s clear he’s been able to quickly establish a bond with his new teammates and coaches since signing in May.

“Every team is different,” Blount said. “I can't compare this team to the New England teams, or any other team. We have a really close-knit team. We believe in each other. Everybody loves each other and we have each other’s backs.”

As far as Blount’s performance on the field is concerned, the best may be still to come. He’s finished with at least 12 carries in each of the last four games and looked explosive and elusive while doing it. And with extra rest between a Thursday night game in Carolina and this Monday’s contest at home against Washington, the bruising runner said he’s feeling refreshed.

Most of all, it sounds as though Blount is in a great frame of mind and feeling comfortable with all of his surroundings. And if you’re looking for a great read on the Eagles’ situation through six games, just listen to the guy who’s come to expect confetti and parades in February.

Judge grants Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott reprieve, cleared for 49ers in Week 7

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USA Today Images

Judge grants Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott reprieve, cleared for 49ers in Week 7

NEW YORK -- Dallas Cowboys star Ezekiel Elliott was granted another legal reprieve Tuesday night in the running back's fight to avoid a six-game suspension over domestic violence allegations.

A New York federal judge issued a temporary restraining order blocking the league's suspension, clearing Elliott to play Sunday at San Francisco.

U.S. District Judge Paul Crotty's ruling came five days after a federal appeals court overturned a Texas court's injunction that had kept Elliott on the field.

Crotty granted the request for the restraining order pending a hearing before the presiding judge, Katherine Polk Failla, who is on vacation.

The NFL was ordered to appear before Failla on or before Oct. 30 to argue why the suspension should not be blocked by a preliminary injunction -- the next step in the legal process -- until the court can rule on challenges the players' union brought against the suspension.

"We are confident our arguments will prevail in court when they are taken up again later this month," NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said.

Elliott, last year's NFL rushing leader as a rookie, was barred from the team's facility Tuesday as players returned from their off week. The NFL placed him on the suspended list Friday, a day after the league's favorable ruling from the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans.

The 22-year-old Elliott was suspended in August by Commissioner Roger Goodell after the league concluded following a yearlong investigation that he had several physical confrontations in the summer of 2016 with Tiffany Thompson, his girlfriend at the time.

Prosecutors in Columbus, Ohio, decided not to pursue the case in the city where Elliott starred for Ohio State, citing conflicting evidence, but the NFL did its own investigation. Elliott denied the allegations under oath during his NFL appeal.

The suspension's announcement in August led to weeks of court filings, with NFLPA lawyers contending that league investigators withheld key evidence from Goodell and that the appeal hearing was unfair because arbitrator Harold Henderson refused to call Goodell and Thompson as witnesses.

In an opinion accompanying the ruling, Crotty agreed with the Texas judge who had backed the claims of Elliott's attorneys. Crotty wrote that Henderson's denial of testimony from Goodell and Thompson was significant because of credibility issues related to Thompson.

"In effect, (Elliott) was deprived of opportunities to explore pertinent and material evidence, which raises sufficiently serious questions," Crotty wrote.

Attorney Daniel Nash, arguing for the NFL, accused Elliott's legal team of seeking relief from courts in Texas to evade courts in New York and the effect of the April 2016 ruling that reinstated a four-game suspension of New England quarterback Tom Brady in the "Deflategate" scandal.

Nash warned Crotty that allowing the union to continue to delay the suspension would invite "every player who's suspended" to go to court for relief.

"They know under the Brady decision they have no chance of success. None," Nash said.

Attorney Jeffrey Kessler, representing the players' union, said the harm to a player's short career was serious when a suspension is served.

"He can never get that back," Kessler said, arguing that the irreparable harm -- among issues of law considered before a temporary restraining order is granted -- faced by a player is much greater than harm claimed by the league when a suspension is delayed. In his opinion, Crotty agreed.

Nash suggested during the hearing that the union was overstating its claims of irreparable harm.

"In their view, an NFL player missing six games is the end of the world," he said.

Brady managed to delay his suspension for a year through the union's court challenges. He served it to start last season, when the Patriots went 3-1 without him and later won the Super Bowl.

Elliott's case shifted to New York after the appeals court ordered the Texas court to dismiss Elliott's lawsuit, which Judge Amos Mazzant did earlier Tuesday.

A three-judge panel of the New Orleans court ruled 2-1 last week that Elliott's attorneys filed the Texas lawsuit prematurely because Henderson had yet to decide on the running back's NFL appeal.

Elliott's legal team indicated it intended to pursue rehearing before a larger panel of the appeals court while also filing for the restraining order in the Southern District of New York.

The NFL filed in the New York court after Elliott's NFL appeal was denied because the league considers it the proper venue as the home of its headquarters and the site of the hearings before Henderson. It's also where the NFL won the Brady case in the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

The Eagles visit Dallas in Week 11 on Sunday night, Nov. 19. They host the Cowboys in Week 17 on New Year’s Eve.