Eagles

Eagles-Cowboys rivalry nothing new for Jay Ajayi

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Eagles-Cowboys rivalry nothing new for Jay Ajayi

Things are kind of coming full circle for Jay Ajayi. 

After spending the Eagles' bye week trying to figure out where to live in Philly and bringing up his stuff from Florida, Ajayi gets to head back home to North Texas this week for his first Eagles-Cowboys game. 

He doesn't need anyone to explain the rivalry to him. 

"In Texas, it was like a split household," said Ajayi, who was born in London before moving to Maryland and eventually to Frisco, Texas, for high school. "My dad, he was on the Cowboys' side. My mom, she loved Donovan McNabb. That was like her favorite player, so she was always rooting for the Eagles. Obviously, when I went to the Dolphins, we all became Dolphins fans. Now it's an Eagles household all the way. It's exciting to be on my mom's team. She's excited and all that."

Ajayi said he already has about 20 tickets for his friends and family members but will have even more people in attendance for the game at AT&T Stadium. His coaches from Liberty High School have been texting him this week, telling him how excited they are for him to be back in Texas. 

Sunday won't be Ajayi's first game in AT&T Stadium. He actually played there as a senior in 2010, when his high school team lost to Bastrop, 38-24, in a Class 4A Division II playoff game. 

This Sunday, Ajayi will play just his second game with the Eagles after getting traded on Halloween. In the first game, he carried the ball eight times for 77 yards and a touchdown. His role will continue to increase as he gets more and more familiar with the offense.

"I feel like I have a really good grasp of our playbook," Ajayi said on Thursday.  

Ajayi was happy to play against Denver before the bye because if he hadn't, he would have really been "itching" to play by this point. Luckily, Ajayi was able to learn enough to at least have a limited role against the Broncos. 

And the bye week came at an optimal time. In between moving his stuff from Florida, Ajayi was able to hit the playbook hard.  

"Well, it's definitely, from the classroom standpoint, slowed down, a little more teaching," head coach Doug Pederson said. "And he can go back and even watch the Denver game and take personally himself, to have some takeaways from that game. Again, this is a veteran player who has played and understands football.

"We'll just continue to grow his package and grow the amount of plays and everything that he's doing with our offense and continue to keep him coming. But that's definitely a nice way to get him kind of caught up."

Ajayi has been a pretty fast learner since joining the Eagles, which hasn't been much of a surprise. 

Frank Reich told a story earlier this week: On Ajayi's first day with the Eagles, he had a meeting with running backs coach Duce Staley. The meeting, that Reich called a "crash course," lasted several hours. And after it was over, Staley walked out of the room and told the rest of the coaching staff, "We're good. We're good. This guy's going to be fine mentally." 

Reich said when he looks at the game plan for the Dallas game, there isn't a play the Eagles run that he wouldn't feel comfortable giving to Ajayi to learn. 

"He picked up on it really quick," Carson Wentz said earlier this week. "I've seen it a little bit just talking to him in meetings and we'll see as we get going out there in practice and everything. But, like I said, right away you could tell he was a sharp kid. He came in and started picking up on things, so he'll be a big part of our offense going forward."

During the bye week, Staley remembered his meeting with Ajayi at the 2015 combine. At the time, Ajayi was a prospect from Boise State who would eventually go in the fifth round to Miami. 

That day in Indianapolis, as recalled by Ajayi, Staley wanted to know about his favorite run play and his favorite pass play from the Boise State playbook. Staley wanted Ajayi to tell him everything about the plays, not just the running back's responsibilities. 

During the first week Ajayi was with the Eagles, he said he spent some long nights with Staley, as the two went over the Eagles' offense. 

"I pride myself on knowing the playbook," Ajayi said. "Being able to show him that [at the combine] left a mark on him and it's crazy how things come full circle again. Being here and having to learn all that stuff in that quick time, showing him I can grasp it and the plays." 

So there was Ajayi, the kid who was raised in Texas, by a mother who was an Eagles fan, learning the Eagles' playbook from her favorite player's teammate. That same teammate became the guy who was impressed by her son at the combine and who now gets to coach him two years later. As they head back to Texas. 

Everything really is coming full circle. 

Roob's 10 observations: Wendell Smallwood's chances, Tom Brady-Nick Foles handshake, Bryce Brown's elite company

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Roob's 10 observations: Wendell Smallwood's chances, Tom Brady-Nick Foles handshake, Bryce Brown's elite company

Wendell Smallwood working his way back into the running back picture, the bizarre NFL career of Bryce Brown, Michael Bennett and Shakespeare, the handshake that never was and Brian Westbrook’s 2006 postseason.

Only one place you’re getting all this!

It’s all this week’s Roob’s 10 Random Eagles Observations, and it starts here:

1. It’s been interesting watching Wendell Smallwood this preseason. He’s a guy who when training camp began I didn’t give much of a chance to, only because he’s never been able to stay healthy and the Eagles went into camp with a deep, talented stable of backs. But while Matt Jones, Josh Adams and Donnel Pumphrey have been banged up and on and off the field, Smallwood has not only stayed healthy, he’s made the most of his reps. He looks terrific. I’ve always felt Smallwood is a talented kid. I wrote about him last week and how he spent the offseason learning how to take better care of himself, and so far it’s paying off. Much of making an NFL roster is simply handling the workload during camp and proving to your coaches that they can rely on you. And Smallwood hasn’t missed a rep. This preseason. Not one. So far he’s outlasted the other guys in that battle for the fourth running back spot behind Jay Ajayi, Corey Clement and Darren Sproles. Has he done enough? With a couple weeks before final cuts, it’s too early to say. But he’s definitely worked himself from the brink back into the mix.

2. I’ve been disappointed by Mack Hollins’ training camp. He’s one guy I expected to make a big leap in Year 2, and while he still might, he hasn’t flashed yet. Shelton Gibson and Bryce Treggs have both outplayed Hollins in practice. Hollins has that great size and is a valued special teamer and as a second-year fourth-round pick he’s probably got the team made. But I expected to see more. Treggs is another guy who was off the radar when camp began but has that great speed and keeps showing up at practice. And Gibson simply looks like a different guy from last year. The depth the Eagles have at wideout is insane. Guys like Rashard Davis, Greg Ward Jr. and DeAndre Carter probably have no shot to make the team, but once upon a time, they would have been starters around here.

3. Michael Bennett is an interesting dude. Someone in the locker room used the phrase, “All’s well that ends well,” and he said, “Where’s that phrase from?” I said it’s the name of a Shakespeare play, and he said, “A lot of people think Shakespeare wasn’t a real person.” I said, “Yeah, there’s a theory that he was three different people.” His response: “I’m three different people.” 

4. I know a lot of people think the whole “Tom Brady hasn’t shaken Nick Foles’ hand” thing is overblown, but it really bothers me. There are certain customs in sports that are there for a reason. Tom Brady is the greatest quarterback ever, and he should have sought out Nick either on the field immediately after the game or somewhere after the game — the lockers weren’t too far apart. Maybe I’m old-fashioned, but sportsmanship means a lot to me. I know one thing: If the Patriots won that game, Nick Foles would have found Tom Brady, told him “Great job,” and shook his hand. 

5. Brian Westbrook’s 2006 postseason was insane. He rushed 20 times for 141 yards against the Giants and 13 times for 116 yards against the Saints. His average of 7.8 yards per carry is second-highest in NFL history in a single postseason (minimum 30 carries) behind Hall of Famer Marcus Allen’s 8.03 in 1983. He’s the only back in NFL history with back-to-back playoff games with 100 rushing yards, a 7.0 average and a touchdown. His 257 rushing yards are third-most in NFL history by a back in a two-game postseason (behind Hall of Famer Eric Dickerson in 1985 and Arian Foster in 2011). 

6. I love listening to Doug Pederson talk about why he’s so aggressive as a play caller. Because generally, he admits he really has no idea. I think it almost evolved by accident. He started going for it on fourth down in 2016 with nothing at stake and it started working, and he just felt comfortable doing it, and he just got in that habit, and the team got used to it and enjoyed it, and by the time the Super Bowl came along it had developed into his personality and the team was completely in step with him, and the success of the Philly Special was the product of that. You can’t run that play if you’re the least bit tight or indecisive, but the team had gotten so used to Pederson doing anything at any time in any situation it was just another play. The man is a genius.

7. Chip Kelly and Pederson have the same number of regular-season wins after two years. 

8. You figured that had to be wrong so you looked it up, didn’t you!

9. I’ve never seen an assistant coach grow as much as Frank Reich did in his two years with the Eagles. When he first started out as Doug’s offensive coordinator, he seemed to be painfully shy around the media, gave one-word or brief answers during press conferences and appeared generally uninterested in providing anything remotely revealing about football or the players he coached. By the time he left, he was one of the most interesting, insightful and quotable assistant coaches I’ve ever been around, and his commentary after the Super Bowl about Nick Foles’ performance was brilliant. I’m convinced this transformation had a lot to do with him getting the Colts head coaching job. Teams don’t want a head coach who can’t handle the media, and Frank in a very short time went from a guy who wasn’t comfortable in those situations to one who embraced them.

10. Bryce Brown had one of the strangest career arcs in Eagles history. He averaged 15 yards in his first 10 NFL games and 19 yards in his last 30 NFL games. In between, with LeSean McCoy injured, he ran for 178 yards on just 19 carries against the Panthers and 169 yards on 24 carries against the Cowboys, with two TDs in each game. Only three players in NFL history have had consecutive games with 165 rushing yards, a 7.0 average and 2 TDs — LaDainian Tomlinson, Barry Sanders and … Bryce Brown. Other than those two historic games in a seven-day span, he averaged 3.5 yards per carry and 18 yards per game. But for a brief bit of an otherwise forgettable 2012 season, he made NFL history. 

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Eagle Eye podcast: Previewing second preseason game

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Eagle Eye podcast: Previewing second preseason game

On this edition of Eagle Eye, Derrick Gunn and Barrett Brooks discuss the likelihood of Carson Wentz not being healthy for the regular-season opener. Is this the best team Doug Pederson has had in Philadelphia? Also, how do players approach the second preseason game?

1:00 - Updating Carson Wentz's status.
4:00 - Guys still confident Wentz will start against the Falcons?
7:00 - Doug Pederson says this is the deepest team he's had.
10:30 - Doug Pederson and Nick Foles speak about preseason snaps.
15:00 - How do players approach the second preseason game?

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