Eagles

Eagles 2019 training camp battles: Running back competition could have surprise ending

Eagles 2019 training camp battles: Running back competition could have surprise ending

As we near the start of the Eagles’ 2019 training camp, we’re taking a closer look at some key position battles to watch this summer. We looked at cornerback yesterday.

Up today: Running back 

Names to know 

Jordan Howard, Miles Sanders, Corey Clement, Wendell Smallwood, Boston Scott, Josh Adams, Donnel Pumphrey 

What to watch 

There are really two separate battles here. The first is for that last roster spot, assuming the Eagles keep four running backs. The second is for playing time and roles once we know who is on the team. 

Let’s start with the battle to actually make the roster. If we assume two things: 1. The Eagles will keep four running backs, and, 2. Clement will be healthy, then we can be pretty sure we know three of the four running backs who will make the team. Howard and Sanders are stone locks and if Clement is healthy, he should be way ahead of the other backs. In recent seasons, the Eagles have kept four RBs, which means there’s one spot left for four players. 

Let’s look at those four players: 

• Wendell Smallwood has been with the Eagles since 2016 and is entering his fourth NFL season — hard to believe. No, he never turned into a feature back, but how many times have you written him off already? He doesn’t go down without a fight. He stayed healthy enough to win a job this time last year and again had a role in 2018. Maybe this is the year the Eagles finally move on, but I wouldn’t rule him out completely. 

• Josh Adams was a rookie last season and didn’t even make the roster out of camp. But he was promoted from the practice squad and went on to lead the team in rushing with 511 yards. That’s the eighth-highest total ever for an Eagles rookie. So it might seem crazy to think he’s the odd man out … but he’s probably the odd man out. He excels at running between the tackles and the Eagles have Howard and Sanders to do that this year. 

• Boston Scott might actually be the front-runner for this job. And the BoScott Hype Train has officially left the station. He has a Sproles-like body, meaning he’s short but also built well. Scott, a sixth-round pick last year, came from the Saints during the season and never really got much of a chance. But he has a much more complementary collection of skills than the other guys up for this job. Most importantly, he has some ability as a punt and kick returner. The Eagles don’t have a ton of players with punt return experience. 

• And, finally, Donnel Pumphrey is still around. His chances aren’t great to make the roster, they’re not even good, but they’re also non-zero. Remember, last year, he was legitimately in the mix for that last spot but couldn’t stay healthy in camp. He would need to have a tremendous summer, but crazier things have happened. 

No matter who wins that fourth job, it’s unlikely they have a major role in the offense if the top three backs stay healthy. That was a problem for Sanders this spring, when he missed all of OTAs with a hamstring injury. We need to see him on the field at training camp. It would also be nice to see Clement back on the field practicing after his knee injury in 2018. During practices this summer, we’ll see how first-team reps are split as the depth chart takes form before our eyes. 

Prediction

While I’m hesitant to rule out Smallwood (I’ve been burned by that before), I think Scott is the favorite to win the job. The key, for me, is his complementary skillset and his ability to be a returner. 

As for how playing time shakes out, I think Howard begins the season as the lead back and Clement begins the season as the primary third-down back, but Sanders eats away their snaps and touches as the season goes on. He’s a talented young back playing catch-up after missing OTAs and I think it’s going to be hard to keep him off the field if he takes the strides I expect him to. 

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Slow starts, backup quarterback and more in Roob's random Eagles points

Slow starts, backup quarterback and more in Roob's random Eagles points

A theory about the Eagles' slow first quarters, the No. 2 quarterback, an all-time great offensive line and lots more in this weekend's Roob's Random Eagles Observations!

But first? Five prominent players who played for both the Falcons and Eagles: Claude Humphrey, Michael Vick, Ike Reese, Mike Zandofsky and of course Ed Jasper.

OK, carry on!

1. Nobody seems to have a idea why the Eagles keep getting off to slow starts, but here’s a theory: The numbers say Doug Pederson isn’t nearly as aggressive a play caller in the first quarter as he is later in the game. Under Pederson, the Eagles have thrown the ball less in the first quarter — by far — than any other quarter. It’s 60.4 percent in the first quarter and 65.4 percent the rest of the game (including 69.0 percent in the second quarter, which could be a direct response to the slow starts.) The numbers seem to say Pederson really wants to establish the run early, but the offense doesn’t take off until he starts chucking it. Something to keep an eye on.

2. If the refs hadn’t made that horrible holding call on JJ Arcega-Whiteside, Miles Sanders would have had the longest TD run by an Eagle in his first NFL game since Charlie Garner’s 28-yarder against the 49ers in 1994 at Candlestick.

3. A lot is made of the Falcons’ home-field advantage, whether it was at the Georgia Dome or the new building, Mercedes-Benz Stadium. But interesting to note that Matt Ryan was 33-5 at home in his first five seasons, but he's 24-24 the last six. Since opening day 2013, the Falcons actually have only the 22nd-best home record in the NFL. The Eagles actually have a better road record during that span (25-23) than the Falcons have at home.

4. On an Eagle Eye podcast last week, Dave Zangaro and I shared some “bold predictions” for the 2019 season, and Dave’s was that Isaac Seumalo would make the Pro Bowl. Outrageous? Maybe not. He’s come a long, long way from the guy who got benched two years ago. He looked pretty stout in the Redskins game.

5. I like that Pederson gave a shoutout to Torrey Smith Friday after the veteran receiver announced his retirement. Smith didn’t do much during his one regular season with the Eagles — he only had more than 30 yards three times — only once after Week 5. Then came the playoffs, and Smith was huge, with 13-for-157 and that 41-yard TD in the NFC Championship Game. Three of his six biggest games of the season came in the playoffs, and he was very good in the Super Bowl, with 5-for-49. For a guy who averaged 31 yards in an Eagles uniform, he played a major role in the franchise’s only championship in the last half century. Was he a great player? Nah. But he sure was an important one. And a hell of a good guy. I wish him well in whatever's next.

6. If it was my call, Nate Sudfeld would be No. 2 when he’s healthy and not Josh McCown. I know McCown has a ton of experience, but I just trust Sudfeld more.

7. The Eagles have only started out 2-0 four times since 1994. And they only made the playoffs one of those four times — in 2004. But the last 12 times they’ve been 1-1 they’ve reached the playoffs 10 times. So if they do lose Sunday — and I don’t think they will — don’t panic!

8. Carson Wentz can really shut a lot of people up Sunday if he can beat a good team on the road early in the season. Now, we don’t know if the Falcons will finish with a winning record, but Wentz is 4-10 in 14 career starts on the road against teams that had a winning record at the end of the season. Wentz is an elite quarterback no matter what happens in Atlanta, but a big-time performance would go a long way toward winning back some of the doubters.

9. There have only been five seasons in franchise history the Eagles have allowed fewer than two sacks per game. Honestly, if this group stays healthy, I’d be surprised if they’re not in the 26-28 range at the end of the season. With this O-line? Definitely.  

10. This is kind of amazing: With his five catches Sunday, Zach Ertz passed Carroll Dale and Keith Jackson and moved into 27th place in NFL history among tight ends with 442 career catches, and he’s only 56 catches from the top 20. If he catches 80 passes this year, he’ll be 16th. If he catches another 80 next year, he’ll be 8th. He’s 28.

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Derrick Gunn's 5 games to watch for Week 2 of the NFL season

Derrick Gunn's 5 games to watch for Week 2 of the NFL season

Here are Derrick Gunn's five matchups to watch for Week 2 of the NFL season.

Vikings at Packers (Sunday, 1 p.m., FOX)

Key early-season showdown between these NFC North rivals. The Vikes used a ground-and-pound attack to roll over the Falcons with 38 rushes for 172 yards. Kirk Cousins only threw an unheard of 10 passing attempts. Meanwhile, looks like the money the Packers spent this past offseason in free agency and the draft to fix their porous defense paid off. They held the Bears to three points and 254 yards of total offense. The Packers' offense struggled in head coach Matt LaFleur’s debut. You never know what could happen when these two are on the same field. They actually tied in their first meeting in 2018. There will be no tie this time around. The Packers' offense shows enough improvement to slip by the Vikings.

Seahawks at Steelers (Sunday, 1 p.m., FOX)

The bad part of trying to figure teams out early in a new season is you don’t know if a team is as good or bad as their initial outing showed. The Steelers were the last team to beat New England in 2018 — Week 15 to be exact — but they were no match for the defending Super Bowl champs last Sunday and got embarrassed. The Seahawks, hoping their defense can recapture some of that past dominance, got to Cincy QB Andy Dalton five times. The Steelers' run game (just 32 yards vs Cincinnati) is a vital part of their offense. Mike Tomlin's crew will be focused this week. Two physical teams. Only one can be victorious. I like the 'Burgh at home.

Cowboys at Redskins (Sunday, 1 p.m., FOX)

Jerry Jones handed out big money to his big-time players this offseason. While Dak Prescott is waiting to get paid, he’s just going about his business. He really gave the Giants' defense the business last Sunday, throwing for 405 yards and 4 TDs. The Redskins' offense, with a new QB in Case Keenum and new WRs, is still trying to find its identity. It started fast and finished slow against the Eagles.  Now their young RB Derrius Guice, who missed all of last year with an ACL injury, is out 6-8 weeks after having surgery this week to repair a torn meniscus. Dallas has won five of their last six meetings with the 'Skins. They’ll improve that to six out of the last seven this Sunday.

Cardinals at Ravens (Sunday, 1 p.m., FOX)

Kyler Murray and Lamar Jackson square off for the first time in their young careers. Murray in his NFL debut wasn’t bad throwing for 308 yards and 2 TDs helping the Cards come back to tie Detroit. The negative is he threw 54 passes, which you don’t want him doing against this Ravens defense. Baltimore’s offense put on a show against a young Dolphins defense racking up 643 yards, which included 265 yards rushing and five Jackson TD strikes. Murray will need his track shoes in this one, but the Cards won’t be able to outrun a beatdown in Baltimore.

Saints at Rams (Sunday, 4:25 p.m., FOX)

Just six days after surviving a thriller against Houston, the Saints now have to travel west. Drew Brees and Jared Goff are the headliners, but Alvin Kamara and Todd Gurley are headline grabbers in their own right. Both teams, while known for passing, also take pride in their run games. The Saints rushed for 148 yards and the Rams 166 yards in season-opening wins. Last year in New Orleans these two met and put up a combined 80 points in a Saints 10-point decision. The Rams want some payback and should get it in another close, high-scoring affair.

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