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.

Looking back at trio of Eagles' 2016 extensions

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Looking back at trio of Eagles' 2016 extensions

Back in early 2016, just after Howie Roseman had been reinstated to his post of power, he pulled out some moves from the classic Joe Banner playbook. 

He tried to find value in projection. 

Within a nine-day span in early 2016, the Eagles signed Vinny Curry, Zach Ertz and Lane Johnson to lucrative five-year extensions. Since then, Ertz and Johnson have grown into Pro Bowl players, rendering their contracts relative bargains. 

Curry simply remained a good player, which is why he was cut on Friday afternoon

While Curry finally became a starter in 2017, he had just three sacks and the team drafted Derek Barnett and traded for Michael Bennett who was cheaper and better. It’s certainly not really a knock on Curry, who had his best professional season during the Eagles’ Super Bowl year. 

When Curry signed his five-year, $47.25 million extension in February 2016, he was just two years removed from his nine-sack season and was seen as a much better fit in the 4-3 scheme Jim Schwartz was bringing to town. So the Eagles paid Curry like he was going to play at a Pro Bowl level and it never happened. In that first year, the Eagles tried to peg him in as a starter opposite of Connor Barwin, but Brandon Graham outplayed him. After Barwin was gone, Curry became a starter, but was just good; not great. 

Meanwhile, the two other big contracts handed to Ertz and Johnson have clearly worked out. Cutting Curry really speaks more to the nature of NFL contracts these days than it does to the level of his play. 

Sure, Curry never played to the level of his contract, but the deals for Ertz and Johnson look much better. And unlike Curry, both of them had one year left on their rookie deals when the Eagles tried to gain value in re-signing them early. It’s worked out. 

Ertz was the first of the three to sign his five-year extension. His was worth $42.5 million and as a Pro Bowler in 2017, he’s beginning to outplay it. He’s now the fifth-highest-paid tight end in the league and he’ll continue to drop on that list as he plays out the next four years of that deal. The best part of Ertz’s contract is it wasn’t heavily backloaded, which has allowed the Eagles to restructure with him the last two offseasons to create some cap room. 

The second of the three big five-year extensions based on projections went to Lane Johnson. His deal was worth $56.25 million. Of course, Johnson’s suspension in 2016 was tough, but he rebounded to have an incredible 2017. He’s the highest-paid right tackle in football, but he’s 10th among all offensive tackles, which is a good value. 

Twenty days after Curry signed his deal, Malcolm Jenkins also got a five-year deal, but at that point he had already been a Pro Bowler, so his deal was more based off of production than projection. 

During that entire offseason, every single time Roseman was asked about the moves he made that offseason, he continually said the most important ones were the moves they made to keep their own players. That obviously included the projection deals for Curry, Johnson and Ertz. 

Sure, only two of the three ended up being bargains with tenable contracts. But even Curry was useful during the two years he played of his extension before the Eagles took the out they built into the deal. That’s not a bad hit rate. 

Eagles move on from Vinny Curry

Eagles move on from Vinny Curry

Vinny Curry grew up an Eagles fan in New Jersey and helped bring the first Super Bowl championship to Philadelphia. He’ll always have that.

But the Eagles have released the veteran defensive end.

Even though Curry had his best season in 2017, the five-year extension worth $47.25 million he signed in 2016 became untenable pretty quickly. Curry is still a good player but just wasn’t worth the $11 million cap hit that faced the Eagles in 2018, especially not after the team traded for Pro Bowler Michael Bennett.

"We want to thank Vinny Curry for his contributions to our organization over the last six seasons, including the important role he played in bringing our city its first Super Bowl championship," the Eagles wrote in a statement.

"It's difficult to part ways with a player like Vinny who has made an impact on the field, in the locker room and in the community. We wish Vinny and his family all the best moving forward."

Even before Bennett came into the picture, the Eagles had last year’s first-round pick, Derek Barnett, waiting for his opportunity to start. Either way, Curry has always seemed like the odd man out.

Cutting Curry will save the Eagles $5 million in salary cap space, with $6 million in dead money — the final three years of prorated signing bonus money.

Earlier in the week, the Eagles unsurprisingly asked Curry to restructure his contract, so a move was somewhat expected. The Eagles very likely tried to trade Curry first.  

Curry, 29, finally got a chance to be a starter in 2017 and started all 16 games. In a reversal from his earlier years with the Eagles, Curry became a first- and second-down player this past season and showed an impressive ability to run-stuff. He used to be a pass-rusher who would take the field on third downs.

When Curry signed his big extension, it was a projection of what the Eagles hoped he could become. In 2014, he had nine sacks in a limited role, but he hasn’t had more than 3½ in any of the three seasons since.

The Eagles used a second-round pick on Curry when he came out of Marshall in 2012. In his six seasons with the Eagles, he had 22 sacks and five forced fumbles.