Eagles

Change of scenery worked out perfectly for Ajayi

Change of scenery worked out perfectly for Ajayi

Jay Ajayi walked off the field at U.S. Bank Stadium while the celebration was still in its prime, shouting "We're the best in the world!" 

He wore his Super Bowl champions T-shirt stretched over his shoulder pads and around his shoulders he had the Union Jack draped like some sort of British superhero. 

Eventually, someone handed him a Super Bowl hat and he put that on too. But the Union Jack stayed. That wasn't going anywhere. And as he walked into the press conference room and eventually the locker room, he was telling everyone he saw ... maybe he was just reminding himself. 

"We're the best in the world!"

For the 24-year-old who had his character as a football player and as a man questioned when the Dolphins were willing to trade him away during the season for fourth-round pick, notice Ajayi in the minutes after hoisting the Lombardi Trophy wasn't saying he was a world champion. It was "we." 

When Ajayi got to town in late October, head coach Doug Pederson had a conversation with him, told him the deal. From there, Pederson expected his veterans to keep Ajayi in line. There were never any problems.  

"I just wanted to have the team embrace me for who I am as a person and who I am as a football player as well," Ajayi said. "The running back room here embraced me. I wanted to challenge them as well. We have a competitive environment in there. We want to see each other succeed, at the same time pushing each other to be the best that we can be and that starts with our running backs coach Duce Staley. I think that showed tonight, all the running backs that played in this game. 

"Everyone played a part, from LeGarrette (Blount) leading us, Corey (Clement) with all those big plays, even Kenjon (Barner) on his returns giving us great field position. I think our running backs room showcased ourselves very well tonight."

Even though it looked like down the stretch that Ajayi would eventually become the Eagles' feature back, it never really happened. His role increased but the Eagles kept using the running back by committee approach. 

In fact, in the Super Bowl, Ajayi carried the ball nine times for 57 yards. Blount had 14 carries for 90 yards and a touchdown. Clement had three for eight, but also caught four passes for 100 yards and a touchdown.  

Of the three, Ajayi actually had the least impactful Super Bowl. For a guy who once reportedly pouted about a lack of carries after wins in Miami, Ajayi couldn't have cared less on Sunday night. He was just happy to be a champion. 

"Duce Staley's room, he breeds competitiveness and breeds excellence," Ajayi said. "It showed tonight. The committee, we were the best on the field today."

"I knew Jay's true intention when he stayed after late at night, trying to pick up the offense the first week he got there," Clement said. "Being able to play against the Broncos and to be able to do what he did. That really shows Jay's character and how he can be for this team for years to come."

Before he came to Philly this season, Ajayi carried the ball 138 times for 465 yards (3.4), but after the trade, he had 70 carries for 408 yards (5.8) and also became better out of the backfield as a receiver. 

Ajayi's average of 5.83 yards per attempt is the 11th-best number in Eagles franchise history for a player with at least 70 attempts and the second-best number among running backs. Just Bosh Pritchard (6.02 in 1949) was better. Ajayi's average was actually slightly better than Steve Van Buren's 5.82 in 1945. 

Ajayi went from a bad situation in Miami to a historic season in Philadelphia capped off by a Super Bowl championship and a parade down Broad Street in his new home. 

On Sunday night, still in shock from hoisting the Lombardi Trophy, he remembered back to the day he was traded. Still draped in the Union Jack, he remembered that it was like any other normal day of work until they called him into the office and told him the shocking news. But like that, his journey to become a Super Bowl champion was underway. 

"At the time, there was a lot of emotions," Ajayi said, " but looking back at it, I'm so grateful for the opportunity of becoming an Eagle and now being a Super Bowl champion forever." 

Eagles 2018 training camp battles: Defensive line

Eagles 2018 training camp battles: Defensive line

As we get near the start of the Eagles’ 2018 training camp, we’re going to take a closer look at some of the key position battles to watch this summer. 

Today we’ll look at the defensive line. 

Names to know

Brandon Graham, Fletcher Cox, Tim Jernigan, Michael Bennett, Haloti Ngata, Chris Long, Derek Barnett, Destiny Vaeao

What to watch

The only guy we don’t really need to waste time talking about is Cox. He’s really good and he’s going to need to be a big part of the team. OK, enough about Fletch. 

There are a lot of moving pieces here. It starts with a couple of injuries. Jernigan is still recovering from offseason back surgery and is probably a candidate to begin the season on the Non-football Injury list. And Graham is also recovering from surgery to help heal a high ankle sprain he had late last season and played through in the playoffs. As long as Graham is healthy by the start of the season, he’s going to start at defensive end. That means we know two starters for the season opener. 

The team added Bennett through a trade and added Ngata through free agency. The Eagles also cut Vinny Curry and let Beau Allen walk. Still, this is a very strong unit, perhaps even stronger than it was a year ago. 

Long contemplated retirement but came back and Barnett should improve as he enters Year 2. They, at the very least, make this unit incredibly deep. Even more, defensive line coach Chris Wilson said he wants Barnett to push for a starting gig this year. Last year, Barnett was a rotational player and was often a pass-rushing specialist. 

There are a few ways the starting lineup might work out and it’s really dependent on Jernigan’s health and Bennett’s comfort in the defense. The Eagles have options with Bennett because of his ability to play end and tackle. If the Eagles really see Ngata as a rotational player unable to start until Jernigan returns, perhaps Bennett slides inside. That might give the Eagles a chance to get their four best on the field: Graham, Cox, Bennett and Barnett. Not a bad idea, unless they think Bennett is a liability in the run game, where Ngata would obviously be a better fit. The Eagles also have Vaeao, but even though he’s well-liked by coaches, can’t imagine he’d start over Ngata. 

Either way, the Eagles are going to continue to rotate. So beyond fighting for starting gigs, this is about fighting for playing time and snaps. There are limited numbers to go around. 

Prediction

Graham is healthy for the season opener but Jernigan is not and starts the season on NFI. I think Graham, Cox, Ngata and Bennett begin the season as starters, but Bennett and Graham spend plenty of time inside on passing downs. Eventually, don’t be surprised to see Barnett’s playing time increase to the point where he’s a starter. 

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Nick Foles delivers powerful speech after winning Best Championship Performance award at ESPYS

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Nick Foles delivers powerful speech after winning Best Championship Performance award at ESPYS

A year ago at this time, Nick Foles was preparing for a season on the bench as he just tried to stick around the NFL after falling back in love with the game.

He has a little higher profile now.

While Foles is preparing to possibly head back to the bench in favor of Carson Wentz, he is now the reigning Super Bowl MVP and added another trophy to his case on Wednesday night, when he was given the Best Championship Performance award at the ESPYS.

During his acceptance speech, Foles thanked a bunch of folks, used the word “y’all” more than enough times to remind everyone he’s from Texas and spoke candidly about the incredibly unique path his career has taken.

Here is Foles accepting the award from comedian (and Jim Schwartz’s former college teammate … seriously) Jim Gaffigan.

No, an ESPY is no Super Bowl MVP, but it’s a pretty nice honor and Foles is certainly deserving after leading the Eagles to their first-ever Super Bowl. Just a reminder, Foles completed 65 percent of his passes for 373 yards and three touchdowns in Super Bowl LII.

Here’s his full speech from Wednesday night at the ESPYS:

I’m honored to be in front of all y’all. I never planned a speech. I quite frankly never expected to win this award or to even be in this moment. I just want to thank the good Lord for giving me the ability to play the game I love. You know, thank my wife Tori, she’s gone through her own battles the last five years. You’ve always been an inspiration. A lot of my family is here, so thank y’all for always supporting me.

It’s been a crazy career. If any of y’all know my career path, it doesn’t make sense. But you know, I’m here right now. My teammates, coaches, you know what, we faced so much adversity this year, we have an amazing team. It’s so much fun to go to work in that locker room every single day. I couldn’t have done it without y’all. We see what happened. We won the first Super Bowl in Philadelphia history, so we’ve got a special group of guys.

And then to the Philadelphia fans. Y’all get a (bad) rap everywhere, but the passion, y’all bring it every single day. So thank y’all. And finally, there’s a lot of kids watching this and it’s kind of been the theme. There are going to be people who doubt you. Don’t listen to them. What matters is what’s in here (taps on chest) and the people who love you and support you. Go out there every day and be bold. Thank you.

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