darren sproles

Jason Peters, Darren Sproles still engaged, contributing for Eagles

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Jason Peters, Darren Sproles still engaged, contributing for Eagles

Jason Peters and Darren Sproles may be out for the season, yet Eagles coaches say the injured vets are continuing to find ways to make an impact.

The Eagles have been unlucky to lose not only star players, but also tremendous leaders to injuries this season. At the same time, the Eagles are incredibly fortunate to have guys like Peters, Sproles, Jordan Hicks and Chris Maragos who aren’t content to simply fade into the background until next year.

Take Peters, for example. Eagles offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland revealed the nine-time Pro Bowl selection has been instrumental in preparing second-year player Halapoulivaati Vaitai to take over at left tackle.

“I lean on Jason Peters a little bit too with that,” Stoutland said Tuesday. “I’d send him some video and he would look at it, and we’d be on a Skype or whatever and he would say, ‘Hey, make sure you tell him this.’”

Even a fifth-year NFL veteran like Lane Johnson at right tackle can benefit from Peters’ pointers from afar.

“He’s got a great eye for that stuff,” Stoutland said. “It keeps him involved and he’s good at it. He’s a master at it for so many years, so I think he also has helped Lane and V with some of that stuff.”

Peters is home rehabbing from torn ACL and MCL tendons in his right knee but consults with Stoutland regularly. Not surprisingly, the future Hall of Famer identifies something on a “weekly” basis that will help his teammates.

“It’s good for those guys, too, to hear another voice other than mine,” Stoutland said.

Some of the Eagles’ wounded are taking a more hands-on approach. Hicks may be sidelined by a ruptured Achilles, but it sounds as though he’s preparing as if he were going to line up at middle linebacker in any given week.

“Jordan comes into our meeting room,” Eagles linebackers coach Ken Flajole said. “He’s there, and if you saw him, he takes notes like he’s going to play.

“He studies a lot of the tape when we’re in a meeting, and I think he sees things. Then I’m sure when he gets back in the locker room, he passes on little tips to people, says, ‘Hey, this is what I saw in this formation, and maybe we can cheat our alignment here.’”

Hicks is somebody the Eagles literally couldn’t keep out of the building if they tried.

“He wants to be a part of it,” Flajole said. “I kidded around with him a little bit. I said, ‘Are you driving your wife nuts now,’ and he says, ‘Yeah, kind of, coach. I need to get out of the house. She wants me here, and I want to be here.’”

Watch closely during any Eagles game, and you’ll see Maragos actively taking part in any way he can.

Maragos’ season was ended by a ton PCL. That hasn’t prevented the special teams captain and ace from walking out to the middle of the field for the coin toss before games or pumping up his teammates on the sideline.

“Chris Maragos is in half our meetings if he’s not rehabbing, and then he’ll be on the field on game day,” special teams coordinator Dave Fipp said. “He’s breaking the huddle half the time before kickoffs.”

Fipp works closely with both Maragos and Sproles, the latter of whom reaches out to replacement return specialist Kenjon Barner on a regular basis.

“Those guys love being around it, and they do a great job helping the younger guys out,” Fipp said. “That’s why Chris is a captain. Same with Darren Sproles. They have the respect of all their teammates, and part of getting that respect is probably because, along the way, they’ve helped all those guys out at some point.”

Nursing a torn ACL and a broken forearm, Sproles isn’t always in the building or around his teammates. Even in that situation, the 13-year veteran commands so much respect, he’s still able to lead by example.

“He was our leader, and every now and then if he’s here he’ll come and stick his head in,” Eagles running backs coach Duce Staley said. “A lot of those guys follow those footsteps, which is awesome. You couldn’t pick a better guy to lead your group than him.

“Some of those guys, they look at him, they look up to him, all the things he’s been through, how long he’s lasted. Ideally, a lot of those guys want to be him, so they talk to him, they study Sproles, they study his eating habits. Eating, sleeping, everything.

“When you have a leader like that in the room, and he’s able to rub off on some of the other guys, they take ownership and they try to lead the younger guys that way.”

Sproles is 34. Peters turns 36 in January. There is some question as to whether either player will return from their injuries to play in 2018.

If either man plans on or would consider walking away, they’re certainly not ready to call it quits quite. In fact, whatever success this Eagles team enjoys in 2017 — be that a trip to the Super Bowl, or anything else — Peters, Sproles, Hicks and Maragos all seem determined to play a role in that.

A peek behind curtain shows Eagles needed RB like Ajayi

A peek behind curtain shows Eagles needed RB like Ajayi

He's 24 years old, he's got a cap-friendly contract, he had a Pro Bowl season a year ago, and the Eagles are a better football team today than they were yesterday.

You never want to give away draft picks, but this is a football team that's on the brink of some pretty special things, and when you're in the position the Eagles are in — 7-1 with a six-game winning streak and your eye on the No. 1 seed in the NFC — you do everything you can to get better.

When you look at the Eagles' collection of running backs, you have a bunch of guys who've contributed in various ways this year but also a bunch of guys who also carry significant question marks.

LeGarrette Blount has had some big games, but he turns 31 in December and is averaging just 2.6 yards per carry the last two weeks. Wendell Smallwood has generally looked good when he's gotten a chance to play, but he hasn't been able to stay healthy. Corey Clement has contributed more than anybody ever dreamed he would, but he's still an undrafted rookie with a 3.6 career rushing average. 

Kenjon Barner has helped ease the absence of Darren Sproles with his punt return ability, but he's essentially a 28-year-old journeyman who wasn't even on a roster a month ago. The Eagles used a fourth-round pick on Donnel Pumphrey, but … who knows what they have there.

The Eagles have been winning, but let's look deeper into their running game.

The first four games of the season, the Eagles averaged 4.7 yards per carry, which was fourth-best in the league. Over the last month, that number dropped to 3.7 yards per carry, 21st in the league.

In these last four wins, they've rushed for 127 or fewer yards in each game with a per-carry average of 3.8 or worse all four weeks, something they hadn't done since 2009. 

And three of their seven-longest runs these last four weeks have been courtesy of Carson Wentz.

They've run it well at times and each back has had his moments. But let's face it: The Eagles haven't had a big-time running back since Chip got rid of Shady. DeMarco Murray never fit in and didn't want to be here. Ryan Mathews ran extremely hard but was injury-prone. Blount is nearing the end of his career and who knows how much he has left. 

In Ajayi, the Eagles get a kid who last year ran for 1,272 yards with a 4.9 average and eight touchdowns and over the last two years has the fifth-most rushing yards in the NFL — 51 fewer than Shady and 78 more than Murray.

The last two weeks, Ajayi's numbers have been ugly — a 2.1 average on 36 carries. But the week before that, he ran for 130 yards in a win over the Falcons in Atlanta. 

He's been out there without a lot of help, toiling in the NFL's 32nd-ranked offense with an awful passing game and a terrible offensive line. And I'd be much more concerned about a statistical dip with a 30-year-old back like Blount than a 24-year-old like Ajayi.

The initial reaction with these sort of moves is … why? Everything is going so well with the Eagles, why would you make such a dramatic change?

But the great teams are the ones that are able to identify their deficiencies, even while they're winning games. Howie Roseman has a track record of bold moves, and you don't make bold moves only when you're losing. 

If you feel that hidden behind that glossy 7-1 record you don't have the running attack to win a Super Bowl, you make this move.

But the beauty of this trade is that while it helps in the short term — it makes the Eagles a better team for the next few months — it really answers a nagging question for next year, too. Blount won't be here, and as promising as Smallwood and Clement have looked at times, neither has proven he can be a lead back. 

Ajayi has.

Now, to be fair, Ajayi is not very good in blitz pickup, which has been a problem for the Eagles' backs this year, and he's never been much of a receiver, which ideally you want in this offense. Dolphins coach Adam Gase has been critical of Ajayi and the other Miami backs lately for trying to hit home runs instead of sticking to the play call and running disciplined.

But the Eagles got better Tuesday. And when you're 7-1 and you get better, that's a really good place to be.

Doug Pederson talks trades ahead of Tuesday deadline

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Doug Pederson talks trades ahead of Tuesday deadline

As Tuesday's 4 p.m. trade deadline rapidly approaches, it would make some sense if the Eagles pulled off a deal. 

After all, they're a 7-1 team that has lost some key players to injury and if a team was ever going to add at the deadline, it seems like these Eagles fit the bill. 

But things are going pretty well. And head coach Doug Pederson admitted on Monday afternoon that he would be concerned about a trade affecting the chemistry of the team. 

"That's why you have to be careful, I think," Pederson said. "It's gotta be the right fit. It can't just be anybody. From my standpoint, you don't want to disrupt the chemistry that is going on in the dressing room right now. Those guys are playing with a lot of confidence and they're rallying around each other so it would have to be a pretty special fit to make it work."

While Pederson was seemingly worried about the chemistry issue, he wouldn't rule out the possibility of a trade and mentioned the team's scouting department is always looking for talent around the league. 

The Eagles have lost Darren Sproles, Jason Peters and Jordan Hicks this season, so replacing one of them in a trade would make some sense. 

"I like where we're at right now with our roster, the way guys are playing," Pederson said. "We're always looking, obviously. I'm not going to leave it out of the question. But again, the guys that we have in this locker room, we have a lot of confidence in and we go forward from there."

It would be a little difficult for the Eagles to fit any sizable contract under the cap. According to NFLPA records, they have just $4.7 million of cap space. The salary cap is one of the reasons that the NFL's trade deadline rarely produces a ton of excitement. 

Still, they have a de facto GM in Howie Roseman who isn't afraid to make trades and a situation that would really seem to lend itself to pulling that trigger. 

Pederson said he's just focused on facing the Broncos on Sunday but would be brought into conversations about potential trades if they come up. 

"Again, it would have to be a dynamic fit," Pederson said. "It would have to be somebody who would help the team. It would have to be such a fit that you don't disrupt the locker room and where guys are."