Eagles

Wendell Smallwood expects larger workload in Year 2

Wendell Smallwood expects larger workload in Year 2

Eagles second-year running back Wendell Smallwood sat down Tuesday after practice with Derrick Gunn and Reuben Frank to talk about his goals for 2017, how he learned from his rookie season, what he loves about running backs coach Duce Staley and much, much more.

When you hurt your hamstring a couple weeks ago, did you have flashbacks to your injury-plagued 2016 training camp with the Eagles?
That’s exactly what I said to myself. Getting hurt in camp last year around the same time and having to miss those days, I knew how it affected me and I knew how much it hurt me last year. But this year, I took it as you gotta lock in now, you gotta be dialed into everything. I think when I missed camp last year I got away from the game a little bit and by the time I got back, I was rusty and I wasn’t in tune with the game as much. This year, I didn’t let it get to me as much as far as missing time out there. I had the playbook, I had the plays we were running every day in practice, I was in the film room even more, I got to meet with Duce (Staley, running backs coach) even more, because I had more time on my hands, so I definitely think I took advantage of it and by the time I got back, I don’t think I missed a step.

You got off to a real good start last year, with big games against the Steelers and Falcons. But you faded late in the year and then got hurt. What happened and what lessons did you learn from it?
I think I just kind of got out of it. It’s a long season and I wasn’t used to it. And I believe I hit that wall, man. I was doing all I could to rest and train but mentally I think I just wasn’t there. I wasn’t prepared to go through the season, how taxing it was on my body and on my mind. I don’t think I was in tune and I didn’t expect it and I definitely was not prepared as far as the way I attacked the offseason, the way I came into camp and the way I was supposed to sustain that and get through the season. But I think this year, this go-round, is totally different for me. I knew what to expect and I knew what I was going to have to put in, and I think I took this past offseason to a different level, and I think I’ll be able to surpass what I did last year.

Last year, you were the young, hungry rookie trying to win a roster spot, and now Donnel Pumphrey and Corey Clement are in that spot. How is your situation different? 
You look behind you and there’s a whole new class behind you, younger, eager and want to get better and want to get that spot, as hungry as I was last year. But that did nothing but step up my game. (Eagles head coach) Doug (Pederson) likes to bring around competition to this team, and that’s what he preaches about. He thinks he’s going to elevate us, and I think that’s all it did for me. It helped me elevate my game, helped me stay in tune, and I think when you got somebody chasing you, you run faster. Somebody who’s not worried about anything is just relaxed. I don’t ever want to get too comfortable, especially in this league, so I’m glad we got that.

You grew up nearby in Wilmington and still have a lot of friends and family in Delaware. Is it a burden playing so close to home or do you enjoy it? 
I love being close to home. When it originally happened, I thought, 'Man, I’m going to have to deal with a lot, I’m going to have a lot of people around me,' but I just tune it out. For all I know I could be in Texas right now or California right now. I tune it out and I don’t deal with certain things I don’t have to deal with. I know my family loves me, I know they want me to succeed. They know I’m working hard, so as much as they want to be around me, I just have to balance it out, and I don’t think it’s been a factor at all. I haven’t let it factor into my field of play.

Last year, you ran 77 times for 312 yards with one touchdown and a 4.1-yard average. Do you see your stats increasing dramatically this year?
Yeah, they definitely could. I believe this year the coaches have a lot of confidence in me, the coordinator (Frank Reich), Duce and the offensive line. I know this team definitely is expecting a lot out of me this year and I think this year I’m more prepared to get more carries than that. Way more carries. Two times that. So I’m definitely ready to take on that burden. I want to be a force as far as running the ball and catching the ball, and I want to be the force to this offense as far as running the ball and catching the ball. I want to do what they believe I can do and they’ve definitely given me that confidence since Day 1, when I got back from this offseason, that, 'You’re our guy, we want you to work, we want you to run the ball hard and keep doing what you’re doing,' and that confidence just took off from there. Just someone else believing in me and not seeing sometimes what I think I see or might not see, they see it. I know I have it in me.

You only had six catches last year. Why do you think you weren't part of the passing game last year?
I think last year going into the game plan, they weren't all the way right with my pass protection. Around here, hey, you’ve got to pass protect, then we have a route. So most of the time I was in the game I was getting the ball [on a run]. I think this year, being that I can do it all and I’m more comfortable with things, I can get out there, I can go empty, and I can run some routes, and I can run routes out of the backfield. So I definitely think I added more to my playbook seeing that I could handle it more than last year, when they thought they might not have been able to put that on my plate, me going out there and running routes, pass protecting, things like that. But I definitely think this go-around they think I’m the guy for it and I can do it. 

Let's talk about your position coach, Duce Staley. What's he like as a coach? Does he keep things light?
Our meeting room, it’s fun at times. There’s a lot of jokes going on in there. It’s amazing how serious he is but also how much he laughs. I’ll be listening to other [meeting] rooms, because we can hear Stout (offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland), we can hear other rooms, and no group laughs as much as we laugh. We might make a mistake and Duce might make fun of you for five minutes. He’ll turn the film off and turn the light on and just laugh at you. He definitely brings that fun to the running back room. He can get serious, he can get deep on us real quick, but he also knows there’s a time and a place and we have a lot of fun in that room.

But knowing Duce, I'm guessing he also drives you guys really hard as well?
He’s great for me. I wouldn’t have rather gone anywhere else or been with any other coach than Duce Staley. Just knowing how I gravitate toward him and watching him play and seeing what he’s done, he knows how to get it done and what to get out of a game, so I think having him in the room has just been amazing for me. He drives me every day, he pushes me hard, even when I think I’ve been pushed to my limit, he tells me, 'Hey, I’m expecting so much more out of you, I see so much in you.' Just that fire. Him lighting that fire under me, it drives everyone in that room. He creates competition, he tells us exactly what we’re doing and how we’re doing and he’s never sugarcoated anything for us. He’s never going to downplay it and he always says if he gets to that point, he’ll leave football.

Give us three goals for this year.
My first goal is to stay on the field, stay healthy. I want to play every single game during the season and in the playoffs, championship, where we may go, and I want to be a force in this offense. I want to get us going, be that spark, be that guy they can count on to carry the load and do whatever they need me to do, offense, defense, special teams. I want to get everything done to help this team win. And my third goal, hey, be a Pro Bowler. I want to do it. If I’m on the field enough to do it and I take advantage of my opportunities, it can happen.

Do your teammates even know where Delaware is? 
Shoot. Maybe like two, and that's because I took them there. Nobody. Brandon Brooks always asks me, 'Let's go to Delaware, man. What's out there?' They act, man, like it's a different country. I gotta get the guys out there one day, all of them. Delaware, 302 (area code), all the time they make fun of me. So I'm going to have to let them see that it's an actual place and there's people there!

Finally, this. One of the most popular guys on the team, Jon Dorenbos, was traded Monday. What did Jon mean to you and to this locker room?
He meant everything. As far as me personally, just coming in my rookie year, he kind of got a spark to me. He made me happy out there when I was starting special teams. I was starting punts. He always just brought that fun. We could be out there drenched in sweat, he just came out to practice and he's fresh, he'd crack a joke and he'd settle us down. It was amazing. Then off the field, just hanging out with him and seeing him around a bunch of people doing the things he does. He's an amazing guy and just how in tune he was to this team, trying to teach us things as far as being a magician and being a great football player and telling us what he got out of this game and how he's worked for everything he has. So he's definitely been inspiring to me and he's been inspiring to everyone in the locker room. He amazes us every day, shows us new things every day. I think we definitely kind of felt that one.

When you see a Jordan Matthews get traded and then Dorenbos gets traded, is it a reminder that as much as you guys love playing, it really is still a business?
We love everything about it, but it's the business part and a lot of us don't like it, that it's a business. Doug told us after practice [Tuesday] he hates that it's a business. It's about football but it's business and tough decisions have to be made. Everyone's been there, everyone's eventually going to get there. If you play in this league long enough, you'll experience it first-hand, and you've just got to take the good with the bad.

Nelson Agholor focused simply on having fun in midst of turnaround season

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Nelson Agholor focused simply on having fun in midst of turnaround season

Don't talk to Nelson Agholor about his stats. Don't even try.

He doesn't want to hear about it.

Here we are in Week 7, and Agholor needs 45 yards Monday night against the Redskins for a career receiving high. For a full season.

His four touchdowns are already more than his combined career total of three from his first two years. His 16.1 yards per catch is 10th-best in the NFL and light years above his career high of 11.0 coming into the season.

Impressed?

“Not really," Agholor said. "I just look at how much fun I’m having and team success, and that’s the best part about this situation.

"If somebody came in and told me all my numbers and statistics, all that type of stuff? The best part of it is we’re winning a lot of football games right now and we’re having a whole lot of fun doing it."

Six games into the season, Agholor has 20 catches for 321 yards.

Compare that with the last seven weeks of last year, when a disappointing career turned into a disaster and he caught just 11 catches for just 108 yards.

Agholor just shrugs.

“That’s a great thing," he said. "I’m having so much more fun this year, so that’s the best part. I’m having more fun than my first two years in the league.

"They go hand in hand. The more fun you have, because winning is fun, making plays is fun, but there’s just a feeling about stepping on the field and enjoying the moment and enjoying the opportunity."

In his first two years, Agholor's best games went for 57, 62 and 64 yards. Already this year, he's had games with 55, 58, 86 and 93 yards.

So in just six weeks, he's produced four of his seven-best games as a pro.

We heard about it all spring, and we heard about it all summer, and Agholor has backed up all the talk about becoming a different guy with production.

He really has become a different guy.

Head coach Doug Pederson noticed it the first day of OTAs.

"Part of my message to him, specifically to Nelson, after the season, was just get away," Pederson said. "Get away, clear your mind, clear everything, and when he came back in the spring for OTAs, he was a changed football player. He was a changed person. His confidence level was higher. 

"I would say it wasn't like through the roof as it is now, but it was beginning to build at that point of the spring, and each day that he got a little more comfortable in his new role of playing in the slot helped that. And I think, too, the addition of Torrey (Smith) and Alshon (Jeffery) on the perimeter also took a little of the pressure off of him and diverted it to all three of them."

The move to the slot gave Agholor ownership of a specific position and created matchup problems for defenses that just don't have the speed to cover Jeffery and Smith outside and Agholor inside.

“It’s a great opportunity for me to just run different routes and give a different look," Agholor said. "I like playing outside, inside, wherever. I just like being a guy that you can get the football to, so I want to know as much as I can in terms of the route tree to help myself be a better football player, and Doug decided this was a great place for me to get those targets, and I’m very appreciative."

This time last year, Wentz wasn't even looking Agholor's way. Now, other than tight end Zach Ertz, he's become his favorite receiver.

"A guy like that, I’m just so happy for him," Carson Wentz said. "He’s one of the hardest-working guys I’ve ever been around. And so to see him kind of take that step? And really the biggest thing I think we’ve all seen is just his confidence is just through the roof, and that’s really been exciting for him, exciting for this team, exciting for this whole city."

One of the biggest differences in Agholor this year is his ability to make plays after the catch.

With his new-found confidence, he actually looks faster. Through six games, Agholor has 143 yards after the catch, or 7.2 yards per reception. He had 113 YACs all last year, just 3.1 yards per catch.

“It’s a want-to thing," he said. "First is securing the catch and then just the want-to after that.

"I’ve just been in position. Been in position to catch the ball and then grass in front of me and making plays. I just hope to be in position or often."

Here we are six games into the season, and Agholor and not Jeffery or Smith leads all Eagles wide receivers in yards so far this year.

And Agholor and Tyreek Hill of the Chiefs are the only NFL receivers with more than one 50-yard touchdown catch. Agholor had a 58-yarder on opening day against the Redskins and a 72-yarder against the Cards.

None of this surprises Agholor.
 
"I expected to keep on trusting the process and keep on getting better each day and then letting opportunity meet preparation," Agholor said. "And for me, I think like I have a lot more to do and I want to keep on getting better as a football player."

5 key matchups Eagles need to win to beat Redskins again

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5 key matchups Eagles need to win to beat Redskins again

The Eagles finally snapped the five-game losing streak to Washington in the season opener on Sept. 10. 

Now they have a chance to start a streak of their own. 

Both teams have found success after that 30-17 Eagles win in the opener. The Eagles are 5-1 with the best record in the NFC, while Washington is 3-2 and second in the NFC East. 

With a win on Monday night at the Linc, the Eagles would be 6-1 and would put another game between them and their closest division opponent. So it could be a big boost (see story)

But remember, these division games aren't normally easy and until this season's opener, Washington had their number. 

Here are five matchups to watch on Monday night: 

Zach Ertz vs. Washington's safeties 
Washington hasn't been able to stop Ertz yet, so this is still a huge matchup problem. In the opener, he caught eight passes for 93 yards. That game kicked off what has already been an incredible season for the tight end. 

In nine career games against the division foe, Ertz has 54 catches for 531 yards. Ertz likes playing against Washington and it's not just his crazy numbers (see story)

And it's not just Ertz. Washington has struggled against tight ends all season. They lead the league in yards surrendered to opposing tight ends with 407 on 29 catches, with two touchdowns. 

Brandon Scherff vs. Fletcher Cox
Washington coach Jay Gruden admitted his team was beaten physically in the first meeting between these two. That started with Cox, who had a huge strip sack on Kirk Cousins in the first quarter. Because Scherff is a Pro Bowl guard, there's a good chance Cox will actually see plenty of 1-on-1 against him on Monday. He'll need to beat Scherff again. 

Scherff has been really good since Washington used the fifth overall pick on him in 2015, but this is his biggest test. And he'll get it twice per season in the next few years. 

"I think the Redskins have a fine offensive line," Eagles DC Jim Schwartz said. "It's going to be one of our biggest challenges." 

Morgan Moses vs. Brandon Graham 
For what it's worth, Moses is ProFootballFocus' 17th ranked offensive guard. That's not great but he's not usually a liability and he's not a bad right tackle. But Graham absolutely spanked him the first time these two teams met. 

In that game, Graham had two sacks, two tackles for loss and a forced fumble. If he has that kind of impact again, it's going to be a long day for Moses. 

LeGarrette Blount vs. Redskins' run D
Blount had just 46 yards on 14 carries in the first meeting but since then, he's really come on and Doug Pederson has shown a devotion to finding balance in his offense. 

Washington has been pretty good against the run, giving up 88 yards per game (eighth in the league). But they'll be without first-round pick Jonathan Allen, one of their top defensive linemen. 

Eagles' WRs vs. Washington's banged up corners
If Blount isn't heavily involved in the game plan on Monday it might be because Pederson sees opportunity in the passing game. Washington's starting cornerback Josh Norman (rib fracture) has been ruled out and Bashaud Breeland (knee) is questionable. 

Even if Breeland plays, he won't be 100 percent and they'll definitely miss Norman. Even though the backups have played pretty well, Carson Wentz will probably test this banged up Washington secondary early and often. 

If Washington is without both of their starting corners — or even if Breeland plays — expect Pederson to attack their backups. It could be a big day for the Eagles' passing game.