Eagles

Wendell Smallwood happy to be back at practice, hoping to play Thursday vs. Steelers

Wendell Smallwood happy to be back at practice, hoping to play Thursday vs. Steelers

If it’s up to Eagles rookie running back Wendell Smallwood, he’ll be playing in the team’s second preseason game Thursday night in Pittsburgh.
 
Smallwood, who returned to practice on Saturday after missing nearly two weeks with a quad injury, is eager to compete but knows that he’ll have to be fully cleared by the team’s medical staff before that can happen. 
 
“I definitely believe I’m ready, I’m just limited to certain stuff I can do,” Smallwood said after Sunday night's open practice at Lincoln Financial Field. “But I think I ran well [Sunday]. I still feel it a little bit, but I’m getting healthier every day.
 
“I’m still kind of working my way through it. I’m almost full speed and running, but they’re just focused on easing me in slow. I did more today than I did yesterday, so that’s what they want.”
 
Smallwood on Sunday did not participate in 7-on-7 or 11-on-11 drills, though he did take some snaps against the scout team. Smallwood said he expects to continue progressing and plans to be without limitations for Tuesday’s practice.
 
During his time on the sidelines, Smallwood tried to absorb as much knowledge as he could despite his frustration at not being able to compete.
 
“I learned a lot, especially from me sitting out,” Smallwood said. “Taking notes on those guys, seeing what they’re doing wrong and doing right, and seeing things I wouldn’t if I was practicing. Right now I can only watch their reps, and I think watching their reps is making me better. The same thing happened to me in college, I was out for a couple months, and I think I got better in the film room, in the classroom, and watching those guys, correcting those guys.”
 
However, Smallwood still knows that the practices and preseason opener he was forced to sit out would have been great opportunities for him to continue to develop and become more comfortable in a new offensive system.
 
“It’s been two weeks and I’ve missed a lot of ball,” he said. “I’ve missed reps that I definitely thought I would take advantage of … I think I would have gotten better with each of those reps. But with me sitting out, I just got to stay focused. [Running backs coach] Duce [Staley] is on me every day, he doesn’t let me drift away from the game.”
 
As Smallwood returns to full health, he understands the emotions his roommate Carson Wentz is dealing with (even though he admitted, with a smile, that he's never experienced the pain of a broken rib).
 
“I know him, he’s a competitor, and he couldn’t wait until the first game and to prove to everyone he’s the best quarterback and he was worth the draft pick,” Smallwood said. “So I know him being the competitor he is, he’s kind of upset right now.”
 
Smallwood is fortunate enough that his return to game action should happen earlier than for Wentz, who is aiming to play in the team’s final preseason game. Smallwood is itching to return but remains cautious as he thinks about his first taste of competition in the NFL.
 
“Staying healthy is always number one,” Smallwood said. “But [I want to] just leave my mark. It was kind of rough missing my first preseason game in the NFL, so I was kind of hurt watching. I’m just ready and eager to go and play.”
 
In the Eagles’ offensive system, Smallwood believes he can contribute in a variety of ways. Though he currently appears to be behind Ryan Mathews, Darren Sproles and Kenjon Barner on the depth chart, Smallwood could assume a significant role should any of those backs, including the injury-prone Mathews, get hurt.
 
“All that Doug [Pederson] asks from the running backs as far as running, catching, blocking, learning certain positions and learning different things, spreading out, going out wide — that’s what I’m eager to do in this league,” he said. “I was eager to do it in college, and I got to do it a little bit, so I think this is going to be the next step for me.”
 
During his final season at West Virginia, Smallwood rushed for 1,519 yards (14th-best in the country) and nine touchdowns, averaging 6.4 yards per carry. He also caught 26 passes for 160 yards. While he obviously won’t be the focal point of the Eagles’ offense like he was at West Virginia, Smallwood said he actually thinks this system is better suited to his versatile skillset.
 
How often he gets to show off that ability will depend on how the coaches evaluate him compared to the other running backs on the roster. The players all recognize the reality of that competition, but according to Smallwood, there’s no tension between this group of Eagles running backs.
 
“I don’t believe anybody is selfish in anything we do,” Smallwood said. “We’re a unit and we help each other out. The [veteran backs] help us out. They’re not selfish in anything, trying to take stuff from us, because I’ve seen that happen before. But with this group, we’re one unit and when one of us succeeds, all of us succeed.

"I got pumped for them on Thursday in the game, and I know they’ll be pumped for me.”

Doug Pederson's preseason comparison doesn't look so ridiculous now

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USA Today Images

Doug Pederson's preseason comparison doesn't look so ridiculous now

When Doug Pederson said back in July that the 2017 Eagles "probably have more talent" than the Super Bowl Packers teams of the 1990s that Pederson played on, more than a few eyebrows were raised.

Millions of eyebrows maybe.
 
The Eagles? Who hadn't won a playoff game since 2008 and were coming off a 7-9 record in Pederson's first season?
 
More talented than a team that went to the playoffs virtually every year from the early 1990s through the mid-2000s behind Hall of Famers Brett Favre and Reggie White and reached back-to-back Super Bowls in 1996 and 1997, winning one?
 
"I look back on my time in Green Bay as a player when we were making those playoff runs, those Super Bowl runs there," Pederson said on July 17.
 
"And do we have as much talent on this team than we did then? We probably have more talent, right?"
 
Seriously, Doug?
 
Six months later, Pederson's comments — which seemed so ridiculous at the time — don't seem so ridiculous, do they?
 
Because here are those 2017 Eagles, sitting 13-3 with a playoff win over the Falcons in the books and a berth Sunday in the NFC Championship Game against the Vikings despite a rash of injuries to some of their best players.
 
The Eagles haven't lost a game with postseason implications since Carson Wentz was lost for the season, and they're one home win from reaching their third Super Bowl.
 
Pederson, who had two stints backing up Brett Favre with the Packers — from 1996 through 1998 and 2001 through 2004 — was reminded of his comments Friday before practice.
 
"I don't have a crystal ball, obviously, and it's hard to predict," he said. "You'd love to sit here and go, 'Yeah, in the summer, (I thought we were) going to be 13-3 and win the NFC East.' You'd love to be in that situation, or 16-0, or whatever it might be.
 
"I did have a feeling back then when I made that statement that we could be, we had the potential to be a good football team because of the way we've practiced and the talent that we brought to the roster and the progression of Carson in his second year.
 
"And then defensively, the front, the way they performed, and the back end, I saw a lot of the same similarities. So you just have that gut feeling when I made that statement."
 
Back in July, when Pederson made those comments comparing the Eagles to the Packers, he tempered them by saying talent isn't always enough. It takes much more for a team to have success.
 
"I (said) it takes great coaching, teaching, mentoring to also have our guys prepared each week to be in this position," Pederson said. "So all of that has kind of culminated. I think you look back on it and you go, 'Wow, maybe it was a true type of thing.'
 
"But we just keep doing our jobs, keep doing what we've been coached to do. Players play what they can do and what's in their control, and we're here today."

Only 1 Eagle questionable for Sunday

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NBC Sports Philadelphia

Only 1 Eagle questionable for Sunday

Veteran linebacker Dannell Ellerbe (hamstring) is the only Eagles player listed as questionable for this week's game. Everyone else on the 53-man roster is expected to be available. 

Ellerbe, 32, missed practice on Wednesday and was limited on Thursday and Friday. 

The Eagles' starting MIKE linebacker was also listed as questionable last week and was able to play, so expect him to be good to go. After all, this is the NFC Championship Game. There's no resting for anything else. 

In Minnesota, wide receiver Adam Thielen (lower back) and safety Andrew Sendejo (concussion) are both listed as questionable. 

Thielen, the Vikings' top receiver, missed Wednesday's practice and was limited on Thursday and Friday. Just like Ellerbe, there's no saving him for next week. 

Sendejo was limited on Wednesday and Thursday, was a full participant on Friday, but is still technically in the NFL's concussion protocol. He'll need to clear that before he's able to play, but Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer said he's optimistic Sendejo will be able to play. 

Meanwhile, third defensive tackle, Shamar Stephen (knee/ankle), missed practice all week and has been ruled out. While Stephen isn't a starter, he played just under 40 percent of the Vikings' snaps this season, so missing him is still a loss.

After practicing indoors on Wednesday and Thursday, the Eagles loaded up on buses and spent their Friday practice outside at Lincoln Financial Field. Head coach Doug Pederson likes to get his guys outside for at least one day per week. 

The Eagles will have a walkthrough on Saturday before they'll be back at the Linc for Sunday's 6:40 p.m. kickoff in the NFC Championship Game.