Eagles

Where does Wendell Smallwood fit in crowded Eagles backfield?

Where does Wendell Smallwood fit in crowded Eagles backfield?

When the Eagles' 2016 season came to a close, Wendell Smallwood could only watch. With a small MCL tear, last year's fifth-round selection was relegated to the sidelines as his team escaped its final three games with a pair of wins against divisional rivals and nearly a third last-gasp win in Baltimore.

And up until only about a month ago, it seemed as if Smallwood was potentially going to be the lead horse in a crowded Eagles backfield.

But with the signing of LeGarrette Blount, the Eagles made clear that they needed to add more at the running back position and Smallwood's role was thrown back into question. At minicamp practices this week, he was primarily used in second-team reps with Blount and Darren Sproles mostly on the field alongside the first unit.

For most 23-year-old players in just their second season — especially those with fewer than 80 career carries and only one touchdown — a signing like that of Blount could easily shake their confidence. But for Smallwood, it's all about creating a dynamic foursome that can give Carson Wentz and the Birds' offense plenty of backfield diversity.

"I definitely think [signing Blount] adds diversity to our offense. I think our room is going to be the best room on the field," Smallwood said. "That competition we're up against and that we'll get better is going to make this team lean on us and be those dogs on offense that are going to push this team forward.

"I've been doing it all. There's nothing that I don't do in practice — I run routes, I run the ball. There's nothing that I don't think I can do."

The contrast between the Eagles' top four backs is stark. There are two veterans (Sproles and Blount have 21 seasons combined between them), and then there's Smallwood along with rookie Donnel Pumphrey. Sproles and Pumphrey are both smaller, quicker weapons at 5-foot-8 and 5-foot-6, respectively, each weighing in at 190 or less. And although Smallwood isn't necessarily the 6-foot, 250-pound bruiser that Blount is, he's definitely not the shiftiest of the group.

That also excludes a pair of undrafted free agents from the last two seasons, Byron Marshall and Corey Clement, as well as Ryan Mathews, who is likely to be released once healthy.

Still, Blount's presence changes the entire narrative in the Eagles' running back room. This is a guy who has two Super Bowl rings with the New England Patriots in the last three seasons to go along with more than 5,000 career rushing yards and 50 touchdowns. Excluding Mathews, the entire current running back corps has just 34 scores and only 3,600 combined yards on the ground (although Sproles has done most of his damage in the passing and special teams games during his career).

"LeGarrette just brings the boom," Smallwood said. "He's that kind of guy that can run you over, that can make you miss. He adds that load to us. He gives us that power and just him driving us, doing what he can do great and driving us good to be as good as him ... it takes our running back room to the sky."

So where does Smallwood fit into the mix now? Blount is certainly going to be the bruiser of the group and Sproles will be the pass-catching threat that he's been throughout his time in Philly. Pumphrey is likely to be somewhat of a development project as he grows into his smaller frame, despite setting NCAA rushing records in his time at San Diego State.

Is Smallwood the run-blocking option, improving in an area in which he struggled last season? Is he the perfect hybrid of the group who ultimately emerges as the lead back that many expected him to be in early May?

Or does he wind up getting left out of the mix?

"With all the guys we have, everyone can do different things and I think it's going to be great to have that game plan and be able to switch it up," Smallwood said. "We're not going to be that one-guy team where they can play for one guy. They're going to have to prepare for Sproles, Pump, me, everyone who's here, so I don't think it's going to be easy for anyone."

Although Eagles vice president of football operations Howie Roseman brought in plenty of passing-game options for Wentz, he also provided stability for the entire offensive unit. Jason Kelce remains as the team's starting center and with Jason Peters now signed through 2019, the team will return the same O-line group that enabled the offense to flourish in the final three games — after scoring 24 or fewer points between Weeks 5 and 14, the Eagles finished with 26, 24 and 27 points and at least one rushing TD.

That continuity should benefit Smallwood as much as anyone, who will now need to make an even bigger jump in training camp if he hopes to find himself on the field once September rolls around.

"We've kind of gotten a feel for each other," Smallwood said. "We know the guys and we know where they're going to be. In the running back room this offseason, we've been studying their blocks and studying what they're doing and how they're doing it.

"The most important thing is being decisive. That's the major jump I've made already and being more confident in what I'm doing. And then coming to the field, if I do something wrong, I know I did it 100 percent."

NFL Notes: Raiders' Marshawn Lynch suspended one game for shoving official

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NFL Notes: Raiders' Marshawn Lynch suspended one game for shoving official

NEW YORK — Oakland running back Marshawn Lynch was suspended for one game without pay by the NFL on Friday for shoving a game official during the Raiders' victory over Kansas City on Thursday night.

Lynch was ejected from the game after he shoved line judge Julian Mapp.

The scuffle started when Oakland quarterback Derek Carr was hit late on a run by Kansas City's Marcus Peters midway through the second quarter. Raiders offensive linemen Kelechi Osemele and Donald Penn immediately confronted Peters, and Lynch sprinted onto the field from the bench to join the fray. Mapp tried to break up the fight, but Lynch pushed him and grabbed his jersey. Lynch also got a personal foul.

NFL vice president of football operations Jon Runyan wrote a letter to Lynch, saying:

"You made deliberate physical contact with one of our game officials as he was diffusing an active confrontation between players. You were disqualified for your inappropriate and unsportsmanlike actions. Your conduct included pushing the game official and grabbing his jersey. ... You were not directly involved in the active confrontation that the game official was attempting to diffuse, nor were you a participant in the play that initiated the confrontation. You were the only player from either team who ran from the sideline to midfield to insert himself into a situation in which he was not directly involved."

Lynch will be eligible to return to Oakland's active roster on Oct. 30, the day after the Raiders' game against the Buffalo Bills (see full story). 

Packers place QB Aaron Rodgers on injured reserve
GREEN BAY, Wis. — The Green Bay Packers placed Aaron Rodgers on injured reserve Friday after the quarterback had surgery on his broken collarbone.

Rodgers would be eligible to return from injured reserve after eight weeks and able to return to practice after six weeks. But coach Mike McCarthy has said that there is no timeline for Rodgers' return, and that the two-time NFL MVP might miss the rest of the season.

"Everything went very well is my understanding talking with (team doctor Pat McKenzie), and he's recovering," McCarthy said Friday morning. The Packers did not practice Friday.

The procedure on Rodgers was done Thursday outside of Green Bay. He was hurt in the first quarter in a 23-10 loss last weekend to the Minnesota Vikings.

Rodgers posted an Instagram message early Friday thanking well-wishers for their "love, support, thoughts and prayers" in a photo of himself in a hospital bed (see full story).

Injured QB Jameis Winston will start against Bills
TAMPA, Fla. — Tampa Bay's Jameis Winston tested his injured throwing shoulder in practice and will start Sunday's game against the Buffalo Bills.

Buccaneers coach Dirk Koetter made the announcement Friday after the third-year quarterback worked with the first-team offense for the first time since spraining his right shoulder during last week's 38-33 loss at Arizona.

Winston was limited in practice Wednesday and Thursday, taking "mental reps" while backup Ryan Fitzpatrick prepared to face the Bills.

"Jameis threw the ball well today," Koetter said following the team's hour-long practice at One Buccaneer Place. "Jameis is our starter. He will be out there."

Winston has made 37 consecutive starts after entering the NFL as the No. 1 overall pick in the 2015 draft (see full story). 

Getting over gut-punch loss of Chris Maragos no easy task for Eagles

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Getting over gut-punch loss of Chris Maragos no easy task for Eagles

It was late last Thursday night in Charlotte, well after the celebrating in the locker room subsided and well after most of his teammates had already gotten on the bus to take them to the airport. 

Eagles special teams captain Chris Maragos, with a heavy brace on his right leg, emerged from the visitors' locker room and limped through the cement bowels of Bank of America Stadium. The pissed off look plastered on his face as he left the field after injuring his right knee in the fourth quarter had given way to a look of resignation. He knew. 

Maragos was officially placed on injured reserve Thursday, which means the Eagles will have to continue what they hope will be a magical season without one of their unquestioned leaders. 

"It was rough, man," said fellow special teamer Najee Goode, who collided with Maragos on the play that injured him. "That's my dawg. Chris is a beast. He brings a lot of energy to special teams. But we're going to replace him. He's still going to be there, making sure we do what we need to do." 

If any team is prepared to get over the loss of a player like Maragos it might be these Eagles. They've already survived — thrived, really — after losing Darren Sproles, Ronald Darby, Rodney McLeod, Fletcher Cox, Jordan Hicks, Lane Johnson and Wendell Smallwood for varying lengths of time. 

But like when they lost Sproles for the season, the Eagles are going to miss more than just Maragos' on-field play. He's also the captain of Dave Fipp's excellent special teams' group. Maragos, one of five captains on the team, said at the time he was voted a captain that it meant more to him than any other accomplishment in his career. 

And that's saying a lot. Maragos' story is pretty amazing. He was originally a wide receiver in college until then-Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema saw Maragos track down a DB after an interception and moved him to defense on the spot. Eventually, Maragos worked his way into the NFL as an undrafted free agent and eventually won a Super Bowl with the Seahawks before coming to Philly. 

Early in his time with the Birds, Maragos actually played a significant role on defense. But when the new coaching staff arrived, it was clear his role would be on special teams, so he threw himself back into it. And he's been incredible. 

Last November, Maragos signed a three-year, $6 million extension that goes through the 2019 season and was already off to a good start in 2017. He led the Eagles in special teams snaps with 126 (74 percent) and was tied for the team lead in special teams tackles with six. 

How the heck do you replace that? 

"I don't think you'll ever be able to fill Chris' role," tight end and special teamer Trey Burton said. "He plays such a big role on special teams. He was able to do so much, but we're going to have to do something. Everybody's going to have to step up."

Head coach Doug Pederson said it will be "tough" to replace Maragos, but the team will probably do it with a committee approach at first. That means more Corey Graham and Jaylen Watkins. Even recently signed draft pick Nate Gerry will have a role if he's active. 

Perhaps the bigger loss will be Maragos' leadership. He's one of just five players on the team who has won a Super Bowl, and he's always happy to answer any questions his teammates have — about football or life. 

In his absence, Goode said he and Burton will attempt to fulfill that leadership void as much as possible. 

"It's really tough," Burton said. "That's my best friend. Him not being here, being around as much. It's tough for him too because he's out of the loop on things and doesn't really know. He would love to be here and in meetings and stuff but he's not going to be able to."

While Maragos won't be around for a while, Burton expects him to visit more once he's healed more. And he'll certainly be watching. 

"Heart's heavy, but I lift my eyes," Maragos tweeted Thursday. "I'll miss being out there with my brothers but I promise you this, I'll be back stronger!"

That's good news for 2018, but the Eagles will have to go the rest of the season without him. Maragos apparently had a message for his teammates. 

"He knows injuries happen," Goode said. "We play full speed and that's something that comes with the game. His whole thing — Chris is a great team dude — was that we keep propelling and keep getting better for the future."