Isaac Seumalo

Eagles Stay or Go — A few underperforming youngsters

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Eagles Stay or Go — A few underperforming youngsters

Reuben Frank and Dave Zangaro continue our series examining the future of the world champion Eagles.

Donnel Pumphrey
Roob: Normally, I wouldn't even hesitate to say that a 23-year-old running back who the Eagles had drafted in the fourth round would be back for a second season. But Pumphrey looked so over-matched in training camp and in the preseason games and the Eagles are so deep at running back that I wonder. If the Eagles go with Jay Ajayi and Corey Clement and keep Wendell Smallwood as a third running back and Darren Sproles as a punt returner, where does Pumphrey fit in? It would be unusual to give up on him this early, but barring a huge turnaround this summer, Pumphrey faces a tough road.

Verdict: GOES

Dave: You probably forgot all about Pumphrey didn't you? The fourth-round pick just never looked good last spring or summer and then landed (*cough* was stashed) on injured reserve for the 2017 season. The Eagles probably haven't given up on him just yet, but he's going to need to be much, much better this summer. After being an undersized between-the-tackles running back in college, the Eagles asked him to be a receiver out of the backfield. At 176 pounds, that needs to be his role, but he might just not be cut out for the NFL. He has a shot, but based on what we've seen so far, there's no reason to think he makes the team. 

Verdict: GOES

Isaac Seumalo
The Eagles gave Seumalo every opportunity to win the left guard job, but he just wasn't able to put together a consistent enough brand of football to hold off Stefen Wisniewski, who eventually became the starter after a brief Chance Warmack experiment and played exceptionally well. Seumalo is a third-round pick and still only 24 so I would expect him to stick around as a backup. But as long as Wiz and Brandon Brooks are healthy, it's hard to imagine Seumalo getting another chance to start.

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: The Eagles really wanted Seumalo to be their starting left guard last season and that didn't work. Seumalo was really bad in that role and became a bench player the rest of the way. He is versatile; he's the only guy on the team who can play all five offensive line spots. But what good is that if he can't play them well? The problem for Seumalo is, his most natural position is center and Jason Kelce is coming off his best professional season. Seumalo might end up being a wasted third-round pick, but the Eagles shouldn't throw in the towel just yet. 

Verdict: STAYS

Wendell Smallwood
Smallwood's a tricky one. When he's healthy, he's a generally productive runner who also has a nice knack in the receiving game and is a willing blocker. In fact, despite not even being active the second half of the season, he still led all Eagles backs in the regular season with 13 catches. But he just can't stay healthy. Smallwood is only 24 years old and is an above-average kick returner. I think he's flashed enough that despite the injuries he'll get another year.

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: Smallwood had a great chance of becoming the Eagles' third-down back once Darren Sproles went down, but instead he ended up sitting on the bench after Jay Ajayi was brought in. Smallwood was a fifth-round pick just a couple years ago but has just shown flashes as a running back and a kick returner. He's in an interesting spot now, though, with the futures of LeGarrette Blount and Sproles in question. He'll be brought to camp and have a chance to make the team. I like his chances more than Pumphrey's. 

Verdict: STAYS

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.

Eagles notes, quotes and tidbits: Rivera thinks Pederson has been 'outstanding'

Eagles notes, quotes and tidbits: Rivera thinks Pederson has been 'outstanding'

There were plenty of people who were surprised last year when Jeff Lurie decided to hire Doug Pederson as the Eagles' head coach. 

Ron Rivera wasn't one of them. 

The head coach of the Panthers, the team the Eagles will face on Thursday Night Football, has known Pederson for nearly 20 years. Back in 1999, when Pederson was brought to Philly by Andy Reid to be the Eagles' quarterback until Donovan McNabb was ready, Rivera was brought in to coach linebackers. 

At the time, Rivera was a 37-year-old getting a position coach job for the first time and Pederson was a 31-year-old quarterback finally getting the chance to start.

Pederson spent just one year with the Eagles as a player but he left enough of an impression that 18 years later, Rivera didn't hesitate to answer this question. 

Did you think then that Pederson could be a head coach? 

"Oh yeah," Rivera said on a conference call with Philadelphia reporters on Tuesday. "If coaching was going to be the path he took, I had no doubt that this young man was going to get the opportunity. He's so smart, he's a hard-worker and he's got the passion to want to win. 

"You look at what his situation was when he got to Philadelphia with Andy and you can see him help with the development of Donovan. He was right there. He was what you hope to have in a guy that's coming in to be in that role. And that's exactly what he did. I just remember saying a couple times, 'he's going to be a good coach one day.'"

Rivera remembers Pederson as a team player in '99. He said Pederson was in a "tough" situation back then and the Eagles simply weren't very good. "He stood tall and never complained about anything," Rivera remembered. 

The two went their separate ways after 1999. Pederson went on to stay in the league as a player for five more seasons before eventually beginning his ascent in the coaching ranks. Rivera had three stops before the Panthers hired him as a head coach in 2011. 

Now both head coaches, they're just two of several who have learned under Reid and then got a team of their own to lead. 

"I just think the one thing [Reid has] done, and personally in my case, is he allows his assistant coaches to grow within the system, within the offense or defense," Pederson said. "So the defensive guys, back when they were under Jim Johnson, when they were here, have flourished. And listen, it helps to have successful seasons, too, and good offenses and good defenses. Whether they have gone on to get other coordinator jobs or what, if they were a position coach and just watching their careers over time and the success that they have had, that's the biggest thing. He just allows you to work and to grow and further your career that way."

Rivera's first two seasons at the helm in Carolina didn't go that well. The Panthers went 6-10 his first season and 7-9 in Year 2. It wasn't until the third season that they made the playoffs. They lost in the divisional round in 2013 and 2014 before making it to the Super Bowl, losing to the Broncos, in 2015. 

That's probably why Rivera understands patience. And it's probably why he thinks Pederson has done a pretty good job so far. 

"I think he's done outstanding," Rivera said. "I think last year was one of those things where they got off to a hot start and expectations rose way too quick for them, to be fair. I think right now, they're exactly where they should be. I think that first year is always tough and you just try to win as many as you can but at the same time, you have to temper your expectations. I think he's done a great job with that. I love the way they've come out. I like the energy and the way he coaches."

No Fletch, no problem
The Eagles have been without Fletcher Cox for the last two games and the defensive line has held it together. Sure, the Eagles really miss their best defensive player but Beau Allen has played well in his place and Tim Jernigan has taken his game to a different level. 

"They're just taking it upon themselves," Pederson said. "I did challenge the D-line last week [that] we’ve got to generate some pass rush and they were able to do that last week and create some edges and it just boils down to each man just doing his job and doing his assignment. Whether your top pass rusher is there or not, you’ve got to figure out ways. With [Jim Schwartz] and (defensive line coach) Chris Wilson, they are utilizing the stunt games and line games and things that create some edges for the D-linemen to get to the quarterback."

In place of Cox, Allen and Jernigan have gotten most of the work, but Vinny Curry and Brandon Graham have been playing inside on third downs. And Elijah Qualls and Justin Hamilton have gotten snaps as well. 

In addition to Cox, the team has also been without fourth option Destiny Vaeao, who is questionable heading into Thursday's game. 

Seeing Seumalo? 
Isaac Seumalo, who began the season as the Eagles' starting left guard, has been inactive for the past two weeks, but should dress on Thursday because of Lane Johnson's concussion. That doesn't mean he'll get playing time at his old post. 

The Eagles are going to continue their left guard rotation on Thursday, but Stefen Wisniewski will start and get most of the snaps, with Chance Warmack rotating in occasionally. 

There's a chance we could see Seumalo, though. This season, the Eagles have used Halapoulivaati Vaitai as an extra tackle/tight end in some run formations. “Big V” won't be able to do that against the Panthers because he'll be starting at right tackle. 

Maybe we'll see Seumalo fill that extra tackle spot on Thursday. 

"Yeah, we train all — we pretty much have all of our offensive line ready to step into that role," Frank Reich said. "It just depends, by game plan, how much of that we want to do, depending upon certain things that they do schematically [and] certain personnel matchups. Sometimes in coverage, we're trying to do things where sometimes when you're — well not to get into some of the details — but there's just certain different ways we like to use it, so that's why it's important those guys all know how to play that position."

Quote of the Week I: "Yeah, I mean it's a lot easier when you don't have to do the long press conferences, then you can get back to work." — Schwartz on dealing with a short week 

Quote of the Week II: "When you go in there, there's a bunch of old people in there. Sitting in the cold tub, laying down, just getting their bodies right." — Rasul Douglas on the Eagles' cold tub room this week 

Quote of the Week III: "The celebration was pretty good. I have to admit. It was good." — Reich on the Eagles' baseball celebration on Sunday 

Random media guide note: Something on Najee Goode's bucket list is a HALO jump — a 30,000-foot skydive at a small landing target.