Reuben Frank

Way too soon to write off forgotten Eagles running back Josh Adams

Way too soon to write off forgotten Eagles running back Josh Adams

Every conversation we’ve had about Josh Adams this offseason, every podcast, every roster projection, every Twitter discussion, has come to the same conclusion.

“Oh, he's not going to make the team.”

It’s an understandable opinion.

The Eagles’ backfield is crowded. Corey Clement is back, Miles Sanders and Jordan Howard have been added, Boston Scott had an impressive summer. Wendell Smallwood always seems to find a way to stick around. One-time fourth-round pick Donnel Pumphrey is still here.

And Adams? Because his production dropped late in the season and then he was the forgotten man in the postseason, playing just one combined snap against the Bears and Saints, we’ve all just kind of assumed he’s gone.

And maybe he is.

But let’s take a minute to take a fresh look at Adams.

There was a stretch in the middle of last season when he was actually one of the more productive running backs in the league.

From Week 7 through Week 14, a span of seven games, Adams averaged 5.1 yards per carry, seventh-best among all running backs in the league who had at least 75 carries during that stretch.

Look at this stretch from the Jaguars game in London through the overtime loss to the Cowboys in Dallas:

9-for-61, 6.8 at Jaguars
7-for-47, 6.7 vs. Cowboys
7-for-53, 7.6 at Saints
22-for-84, 3.8, vs. Giants
20-for-85, 4.3 vs. Redskins
7-for-36, 5.1 at Cowboys

That’s solid, consistent production, especially for an undrafted rookie who began the year on the practice squad.

Here’s one thing I really liked about Adams: He was always good for at least one long run per game. During the seven-week stretch from the Jaguars game through the first Redskins game, he ripped off six runs of 18 yards or longer, and during that period, only Saquon Barkley (8) and Joe Mixon (7) had more in the entire NFL.

Now at some point late in the season, Adams hurt his shoulder seriously enough that he needed post-season surgery to repair a torn labrum.

It’s not clear when Adams got hurt, but he kept playing, and the injury would certainly help explain the late-season drop in production.

Adams averaged just 2.7 yards per carry the last three weeks of the regular season and then got that one postseason snap, a two-yard carry against the Bears.

But when evaluating Adams and his possible future as an Eagle, we have to take the injury into consideration.

Adams did enough during that two-month stretch in the middle of the season to at least warrant an honest look this summer.

Even starting the season on the practice squad, getting just 11 carries the first seven weeks of the season and then getting hurt, Adams still led the Eagles in rushing and became the 20th undrafted rookie in NFL history to rush for at least 500 yards, three or more TDs and an average of 4.3 yards per-carry or higher.

When you step back and look at his season, he was pretty darn good in all but the two December games against the Rams, the NFC champs, and the Texans, who had the No. 3 rush defense in the NFL.

Obviously, Sanders and Howard project to be the heart of the running attack. A healthy Clement can catch, run, block and play special teams. Smallwood and Scott can both run, catch and return.

Adams is limited. He isn’t a polished receiver — he caught just seven passes last year — and he plays very little on special teams — just 48 snaps as a rookie, only two in the last six games.

That puts him at a disadvantage from the start. So for him to win a spot on the 53 the Warrington native and former Notre Dame star has to have a healthy training camp and show exceptional production as a runner.

The odds are against him. But Adams is 22, he was the Eagles’ leading rusher last year, and undrafted rookies don’t have an eight-game stretch averaging 5.1 yards per carry by accident.

If we got rid of every rookie running back who had two mediocre games at the end of a productive season there wouldn’t be any running backs left.

Adams is talented. It’s tough to say where he fits in, but it’s way too early to say he doesn’t.

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Eagles' holding just 1 open training camp practice is an insult to devoted fans

Eagles' holding just 1 open training camp practice is an insult to devoted fans

I could go on and on about how much I loved training camp at West Chester and the unforgettable memories, like Herschel Walker standing at the top of the steps on the west end of the practice field signing autographs in the blazing heat (with his helmet on) for an hour, until every kid had gotten something signed.

I could go on and on about how much I loved training camp at Lehigh and how fans could stand literally six feet from the practice field and hear the thud of contact and interact with the players as they stood on the sideline.

But I’m not going to do that because those days are gone forever and no amount of me crying about it is going to bring it back.

And I understand why the Eagles — and more and more NFL teams every year — are holding practices in their own year-round facilities instead of remote college campuses. It makes sense to practice where your film library is stored, where your modern medical and training facilities are housed, where all your equipment and gear is, where your immaculately maintained practice fields are located.

I get it.

What I don’t get is just one open practice for the fans.

One. In a year.

That’s inexcusable.

The Eagles moved from Lehigh to the NovaCare Complex in 2013, when Chip Kelly replaced Andy Reid. The Eagles scheduled five open practices that first summer, then three in 2014 and two each from 2015 through 2018.

And now just one.

Yeah, the $10 ticket fee for the Eagles’ one open practice this summer goes to a great cause. Every penny goes to the Eagles Autism Challenge, a cause that’s close to Jeff Lurie’s heart. The Eagles Autism Challenge raised $3 1/2 million this year, and it’s a terrific event that I’ve participated in the last two years.

But that doesn’t change the fact that the Eagles have an opportunity to put on a show for their fans two or three times during training camp, and for reasons they haven't explained, they’ve chosen not to.

The Eagles had no comment on why they've reduced open practices to just one this summer, but I assume it’s because it’s a logistical nightmare loading up all that equipment and moving it across the street for a glorified walkthrough.

It’s a hassle — and presumably an expensive one — for Doug Pederson to lose a valuable practice day in the cozy environment of the NovaCare Complex so Jake Elliott can play catch with fans, Brandon Graham can sign autographs for every kid he can find and everybody can watch in person while Carson Wentz and DeSean Jackson light it up.

But this is a franchise worth close to $3 billion, according to Forbes, and these are fans that devote their lives to this football team, buying their jerseys, snagging every ticket the instant it’s available, traveling to their games.

They deserve more than one open practice.

They deserve more than one day to watch their football team with their own eyes.

We all know how hard it is for the average fan to get tickets. If you don’t know someone or already have season tickets of your own or have a whole big pile of money, you’re not going.

The open practices are the only remaining opportunity most fans have to see their heroes up close. To interact with them. To feel like they’re a part of everything.

It’s a long preseason. Training camp starts July 25 and really continues until Aug. 21, when joint practices with the Ravens wrap up.

I find it hard to believe the Eagles can’t find one more day to move their operations across Broad Street for all the people who've helped make this franchise worth close to $3 billion.

We’ve gone from five to three to two and now to one. You can see what direction this is trending. I’m afraid of what’s coming next.

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How critical is mystery man Tom Donahoe to the Eagles?

AP Images

How critical is mystery man Tom Donahoe to the Eagles?

He doesn’t even have a bio.

Tom Donahoe has spent nearly 30 years running NFL scouting departments, and he’s been with the Eagles for over seven years now. He’s a legend in the scouting community.

Yet when you try to click his name on the Eagles’ on-line front office directory, you can’t.

When you click every other notable front office staffer’s name on the team's web site, it leads to their bio.

Tom’s doesn’t click. Nothing happens. There’s no link. There's no bio.

This speaks volumes about Donahoe. 

He doesn’t want attention. He doesn’t want credit. He doesn’t want accolades. He just wants to quietly do his job and stay safely hidden, deep in the shadows.

And he’s been doing that for the Eagles since 2012.

A little background: Donahoe spent 1991 through 1999 as the Steelers’ general manager, a span where they won four straight AFC Central titles, went to the playoffs six straight times and reached three AFC title games and a Super Bowl.

After a power struggle with Bill Cowher left him briefly unemployed, he landed with the Bills, where he served as general manager until 2005.

Donahoe joined the Eagles’ front office as a “senior advisor” before the 2012 season and survived Andy Reid’s firing and the Chip Kelly Era, earning a promotion to senior director of player personnel on Dec. 29, 2015 — the same day Kelly was fired and Howie Roseman’s power was restored.

In the years since, he has been a crucial yet hidden voice in the Eagles' front office.

Donahoe is rarely seen. He’s been made available by the team for one interview — in the NovaCare Complex cafeteria in April of 2015, along with all the team’s scouts — and he was entertaining and insightful, regaling the media with stories of his career, including the role he played in converting Jason Peters from an undrafted tight end into a Hall of Fame offensive lineman while both were in Buffalo.

That was four years ago. For the most part, you don’t hear about Donahoe. You don’t read about him. But make no mistake about it. He is a huge part of this franchise. 

Donaohoe is a valued sounding board for Roseman, and a trusted adviser for owner Jeff Lurie.  

Donahoe grew up in the South Hills neighborhood of Pittsburgh and played football at South Hills Catholic, where one of his teammates was George Weidl. 

George Weidl's sons? They would be Andy and Casey, who are both now key members of the Eagles’ scouting department. Andy last week was promoted to vice president of player personnel, with Joe Douglas becoming Jets GM, and Casey was just promoted to director of scouting operations.

Donahoe evaluated film for Roseman and Douglas when they were building a Super Bowl roster. He was on Lurie's search committee that recommended Pederson. He’s single-handedly responsible for two of the team’s highly regarded young scouting administrators.

Donahoe’s fingerprints are all over this franchise.

Donahoe is so uninterested in promoting himself or taking credit for the success the Eagles have had under his watch that he won’t even let his picture be taken for his bio. 

Go to Google Images and search for a picture of Donahoe. You can’t find one. At least nothing recent.

But I feel likes that’s exactly what you need at the heart of your scouting department, at the heart of your front office.

Donahoe is not in this business to get promoted or to gain notoriety. He’s doing this for the right reason. He likes to win. 

Donaohoe won his first Super Bowl with the Eagles 16 months ago, and I’m just guessing here but I’ll bet he doesn’t wear his ring.

He’s not about drawing attention to himself. He’s about doing whatever he can do to support Lurie, Roseman and now Andy Weidl, his high school teammate’s kid.

Douglas was the same way. Howie’s the same way. Weidl is the same way. 

That’s how you build a winning culture. A championship culture.

When you have a group of people working together that way – disinterested in who gets the credit, working solely with team goals in mind, operating without ego – you have a chance to do some pretty special things.

The best part of all this? If I made a mistake in this piece, nobody would ever know.

Because how do you look something up in a guy’s bio if he doesn’t have one?

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