Wendell Smallwood

From key roles to spectators for 3 Eagles

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From key roles to spectators for 3 Eagles

As the Eagles beat the Giants last week at MetLife Stadium, Isaac Seumalo, Wendell Smallwood and Rasul Douglas mostly watched. 

There are a few things those three players have in common. One, they're all young draft picks over the last two years. Two, they've all had big roles with the Eagles at some point this season. Three, they don't have those roles anymore. 

Seumalo, a third-rounder last year, began the season as the Eagles' starter at left guard but lost his job after two games. He's a backup now and played just four offensive snaps against the Giants. 

Smallwood, a fifth-rounder last year, was set to have a big role with the Eagles this season. After Darren Sproles went down, he was supposed to take over on third downs. But he's struggled to stay healthy and has been inactive for the last five games since Jay Ajayi got to town. 

And Douglas, a third-rounder this year, started and played well for the Eagles when Ronald Darby was out. But since Darby's return, Douglas has been on the bench. He was inactive last Sunday for the first time since the season opener. 

As a head coach, Doug Pederson is aware these three are in a tricky situation. It's his job to make sure they're staying invested now that they're mostly spectators. 

"Yeah, just having the open dialogue with them," Pederson said. "Still communicating with those three guys. As you've said, they’ve all had a little bit of a significant role this season already. But just making sure that they stay plugged in.
"Who knows what happens tonight obviously or next week where these guys might get a little more time. It takes everybody. They get good service team reps. Just make sure they stay plugged in from my standpoint and also their position coach."

Pederson said he has to treat younger players differently in these types of situations. Veterans who have been around the league seem to understand when these things happen. 

This is new for first- and second-year players. 

"They've come from college where they've been the starter and been the guy and now they're on a team where everybody is really good," Pederson said. "You have to kind of manage or massage that just a little bit."

Right in the action
On Monday night, when Lane Johnson takes his spot at right tackle, he'll have Khalil Mack staring back at him. 

Just the latest reminder of how tough the right tackle position can be. 

While teams have historically put their better tackle on the left side of the line to block the blindside of right-handed quarterbacks, there's a reason the Eagles didn't move Johnson over when Jason Peters went down this season. Johnson is the only right tackle to make the Pro Bowl this season. 

"I think the right tackle position needs to be reevaluated because you look at the guys we have to block," Johnson said. "Right tackles have to block key guys in the NFL now. I think left tackle, right tackle, the dilemma is changing. There's really nowhere to hide." 

Making the Pro Bowl has long been a goal for Johnson, but not just for him. He wants to kill the stigma of playing on the right side of the line. He hopes getting voted into this year's Pro Bowl could help others. 

"It feels good," Johnson said. "I hope this puts right tackles in the spotlight because there's a lot of good right tackles out there who are deserving as well. Maybe that will change now."

Out of the backfield
Since Sproles' season ended in Week 3, the Eagles have been missing an element of their offense. They just don't have a running back that's a huge threat to catch the ball out of the backfield. 

While Ajayi isn't Sproles — "No one could be Darren," offensive coordinator Frank Reich said — he has at least shown a little bit of pass-catching ability in the screen game. 

In five games with the Eagles, Ajayi has eight catches for 70 yards. During that same five-game span, the Birds' other three running backs have nine for 104. Corey Clement has six for 71, but just won't be on the field as much as Ajayi in the playoffs. 

"Jay pretty quickly showed that he had a knack for that," Reich said. "We feel comfortable mixing all of our backs in on the screens. Jay certainly did a great job. In the last couple games, he's had two really nice ones where the timing and the feel and his location. We talk a lot about exact spots to get to, adjusting. He's done a really good job."

Quote of the Week I: "It was just in my feelings." -- Darby on his mini Twitter rant

Quote of the Week II: "I'm not planning on playing." -- Malcolm Jenkins on making the Pro Bowl 

Quote of the Week III: "Kelce got snubbed so bad I'm starting to wonder if the voters are all trash cans." -- tweet from Chris Long about Jason Kelce, who did this last week

Random media guide note: Kenjon Barner's favorite meal is eggs, bacon and syrup.

Duce Staley expects 'bumps along the way' with Eagles' RB rotation

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Duce Staley expects 'bumps along the way' with Eagles' RB rotation

Eagles running backs coach Duce Staley will flat out admit there might be an occasion when one of his guys isn't satisfied with his workload after a game. Staley doesn't seem to think that's a problem or a bad thing, either.

How the Eagles juggle their suddenly crowded backfield will be one of the biggest storylines to follow in the second half of the season. Both Pro Bowl running back Jay Ajayi and alleged starter LeGarrette Blount are known to have displayed their displeasure over a perceived lack of carries in the past. Now they're on a roster together, along with three other ball carriers.

Blount had seized the lead-back role before the trade for Ajayi. Yet, in their first game together, Ajayi was on the field for one more snap than Blount — though Blount finished with one more carry. Corey Clement wound up with more touches and snaps than both!

There were no signs of any problems after the contest, in part because the Eagles beat the Broncos 51-23. Perhaps management was able to smooth things over beforehand, too.

"It's all about communication," Staley said last week. "You have to be able to communicate with them on every level. If you communicate with them and be honest with them on every level, everything else will pretty much fall in line."

The question is whether the peace and harmony in the running backs room can last for the next seven weeks, plus playoffs — because even Staley wouldn't promise that.

"Now, not saying there won't be any bumps along the way," Staley said. "Who knows? That's just a part of the game, and that's a part of them being competitive."

"I want a guy that wants the ball 100 times. You want that guy."


Bumps? What about the bumps? What kind of bumps?

Part of the reason Ajayi was available for trade in the first place is that the Dolphins reportedly grew tired of his complaining about carries — even after wins. Blount was famously released by the Steelers in 2014 after leaving the sideline before a game ended, upset he had not received a single carry. And these are just the most glaring examples.

But these are the Eagles. The team is 8-1, and the locker room is filled with leaders, unlike what Ajayi was probably used to in Miami.

And the year is 2017. When Blount didn't record a carry in a Week 2 loss to the Chiefs, he showed maturity and took the situation in stride.

"I don't have any problems in my room, and I don't think we're going to have any problems in my room," Staley said. "Those guys are highly competitive, which I love, and moving forward, I just think they'll all be able to help the Eagles chase the ultimate goal."

It may help that Staley has firsthand experience with this type of situation.

A veteran of 10 NFL seasons, Staley was the Eagles' primary back for roughly half of those. Then, in 2003, Brian Westbrook's role in the offense began to expand, and Correll Buckhalter was healthy and had a big piece of the pie as well.

Staley scoffed at the idea he was unhappy at the time, though some reporters seemed to remember differently. The one aspect that was definitely true is the Eagles made it to the conference title game that year.

"I have a little history with it," Staley said. "It worked when we were here. All three of us had a chance to play. We were productive, we won a lot of games that way.

"There's no reason why this can't work, and it will."

The "how" is still a little fuzzy, and the Eagles are no doubt still figuring that out themselves. It may be something that has a way of solving itself as the season moves along.

At least, that's sort of how Staley sees it, suggesting the Eagles could take the "hot hand" approach and stick with whichever back is having the most success. However the rotation winds up working, Staley is up to the challenge.

"I love the task myself," Staley said. "It's like a big puzzle you're trying to put together, and once you get it together, you're happy about it."

It should be noted that Staley no longer has autonomy over the running-back rotation, as previous head coach Chip Kelly always liked to fall back on. Those decisions are now made collectively, with current coach Doug Pederson making the final call, according to Staley.

So should the Eagles hit any of those so-called bumps along the way, Staley may have to carry those complaints back up the chain of command. If that's the case, it will be interesting to see whether the type of communication he's preaching will work both ways.

Eagles Inactives: Zach Ertz out vs. Broncos; Jay Ajayi to play

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Eagles Inactives: Zach Ertz out vs. Broncos; Jay Ajayi to play

The Eagles are without Zach Ertz on Sunday. He's inactive. 

Ertz popped up on the injury report Thursday with hamstring tightness. He was limited in practice Thursday and Friday. Head coach Doug Pederson said Ertz would play but his pregame warmup didn't go well. 

During pregame warmups, Ertz was shaking his head and didn't look like himself. At one point, he ran a sprint and then crouched in pain. He spoke briefly with Pederson and tight ends coach Justin Peelle and presumably told them the bad news. 

Expect Trey Burton to have an expanded role Sunday, but Brent Celek will start in Ertz's spot. 

The Birds will have running back Jay Ajayi, who was traded to Philadelphia from Miami before Tuesday's trade deadline. The Eagles haven't thrown the whole playbook at Ajayi just yet but Pederson wanted to get him comfortable with 10-15 plays. Expect Ajayi to play sparingly on run plays. The Eagles have all five running backs active. 

Ronald Darby (ankle) is still inactive. He has been listed as questionable for the last three weeks but with the bye week coming up, the Eagles elected to give him some more time to get ready. Darby hasn't played since Week 1 when he dislocated his right ankle. 

Here are the rest of the Eagles' inactives: Nate Sudfeld, Shelton Gibson, Steven Means, Elijah Qualls, Taylor Hart. 

Sudfeld is inactive after being signed to the 53-man roster last week. He's the third quarterback on the roster, so he'll be the weekly inactive going forward.

For the Broncos, Emmanuel Sanders (ankle) is active. Here are the Broncos' inactives: QB Paxton Lynch, RB De'Angelo Henderson, ILB Todd Davis, DE DeMarcus Walker, OT Donald Stephenson, WR Jordan Taylor.