Eagles rookie running back Wendell Smallwood will finally make his NFL debut on Saturday. After missing out on the team’s first two preseason games with a quad injury, Smallwood can’t wait for his first action.
“I’m really excited, ready to go,” Smallwood said Tuesday. “It’s been a while since I’ve been in a game.”
Smallwood held out some hope that he would play against the Steelers, but said he never cleared the final hurdle.
“The trainers and coaches didn’t feel like I had my last burst,” he said. “I didn’t feel like I was up to full speed, I was about 85 percent running. I didn’t feel like I had that last gear … this week, I’m back to full speed.”
As he discussed last week, Smallwood has maintained his focus and tried to learn from watching his teammates while on the sidelines. Given his desire to impress as a rookie and the fact that he’s never missed a game before in his football career, that’s obviously been a challenge. Running backs coach Duce Staley and veterans like Darren Sproles understand that and have paid close attention to Smallwood’s development.
“Darren talks to me all the time about it, he asks me every day how I’m doing and what I need to do,” Smallwood said. “I think just having him and the other running backs in my corner is definitely a positive.”
One facet that Smallwood has been constantly working on is his pass-blocking knowledge. Offensive coordinator Frank Reich on Tuesday stressed the importance of all his backs being strong in pass protection, and said he was encouraged by Smallwood’s progress in that phase of the game.
“Even though he was a great runner in college, you could see glimpses of him in the passing game, you could see him in protection, that he was a willing blocker,” Reich said. “And he had the aptitude when you talked to him in the interviews and when you watch film with him, you can see that he gets it and he processes it, and that’s a very important part of it. So his continued progress to get on the field is going to have to come in the passing game, as well.”
Smallwood is pleased with his understanding of the Eagles’ pass-blocking schemes, but he knows he always has to be on his toes, just in case a question flies his way.
“I think I’ve been progressing very well with [pass blocking,]” Smallwood said. “Just learning techniques and learning the system, all the calls the line has, and I think I’ve picked it up. Duce throws random questions at me and I’m right on time with them, so I think I’m doing very well in that area.”
On Saturday, he’ll be dealing with more than questions; Smallwood will have to pick up linebackers and safeties trying to hit his quarterback. He’s looking forward to it.
DL Martin (knee) day to day
Defensive lineman Mike Martin is another Eagle who has been frustrated by a lingering leg injury.
Like Smallwood, Martin has yet to play in the preseason. Since twisting his knee several weeks ago in training camp, Martin has mostly been on the sidelines. Now he’s back to practice, though Martin said he’s “just easing back into it, not trying to throw myself in there hard right off the bat.”
It seems unlikely that Martin will play against the Colts. While he classified his situation as “a day-by-day thing right now,” it’s hard to imagine him going from “easing back into it” to the heat of an NFL game.
While he’s been out, Martin, a third-round draft pick by the Titans in 2012, has aimed to learn as much as he can.
“Anytime you miss time and can’t be out there, it sucks, but I’ve been in my book and haven’t missed much on the mental side of it,” he said. “Every day I’m just trying to pick up where I left off.”
Once he returns, Martin can’t wait to play in Jim Schwartz’s defense and create chaos for opposing offenses along with Fletcher Cox, Bennie Logan and his other talented teammates on the defensive line.
“[This defense] is just an attack style, which is really great for me,” Martin said. “That’s the type of player I am and it fits me perfectly.”