Eagles

Could Super Bowl hero Jay Ajayi be returning to the Eagles?

Could Super Bowl hero Jay Ajayi be returning to the Eagles?

Jay Ajayi, who hasn’t played football in more than a year, was at the NovaCare Complex Friday for a workout with the Eagles.

Ajayi, who was huge for the Eagles down the stretch during the 2017 Super Bowl run, has been out of football since his rookie contract that he originally signed with the Dolphins in 2015 lapsed following last season.

He's battled injuries most of his career but he's only 26 and when healthy has been terrific. He has a 4.5 career average, 5th-best in the NFL since 2015 among running backs with at least 500 carries (behind Mark Ingram, Christian McCaffrey, Ezekiel Elliott and Derrick Henry).

The Eagles acquired Ajayi from the Dolphins on Oct. 31, 2017, in exchange for a 4th-round draft pick. He ran 70 times for 408 yards and a TD with a 5.8 average in seven regular-season games in 2017, then ran 42 times for 184 yards (4.4 average) in the three playoff games, including 9-for-57 in the Super Bowl win over the Patriots.

Ajayi was 45-for-184 with three TDs in four games last year before going onto season-ending Injured Reserve on Oct. 8 with the latest in a series of knee injuries.

Ajayi's 5.15 rushing average in an Eagles uniform is fifth-highest in franchise history, behind quarterbacks Michael Vick (6.7), Randall Cunningham (6.6) and Donovan McNabb (5.7) and 1940s running back Ernie Steele (5.18)

Ajayi made the Pro Bowl in 2016 for the Dolphins with 1,272 rushing yards and eight touchdowns but has played in only 18 games since.

He hasn’t played since getting hurt against the Vikings on Oct. 7 of last year.

Miles Sanders and Jordan Howard have been terrific, but Howard and Darren Sproles are both dealing with injuries going into the Patriots game Sunday.

Sproles missed practice Thursday with a quad injury, and Howard has been limited in both practices this week with a shoulder injury. 

Sproles missed the Vikings, Cowboys and Bills games with a quad injury. He played against the Bears -- 10 snaps on offense, 8 on special teams -- but apparently seemingly aggravated the injury at some point.

Sproles, 36, has played in only 15 of a possible 46 games over the past three years because of a series of injuries.

The Eagles already lost Super Bowl star Corey Clement, who’s on Injured Reserve with a shoulder injury of his own.

Because of his oft-injured knees, Ajayi probably can't handle a huge workload these days. But in a limited role a healthy Ajayi could could definitely help the newly run-heavy Eagles.

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The area where JJ Arcega-Whiteside is showing some potential

The area where JJ Arcega-Whiteside is showing some potential

For a second-round pick, it’s fair to say that JJ Arcega-Whiteside’s rookie season hasn’t been a resounding success to this point. 

So it’s definitely notable that his two biggest catches of the season have come on off-schedule plays. 

“That’s kind of like backyard football,” Arcega-Whiteside said this week. “Ain’t no real way to coach it or train for it. It’s just like, broken play, get open. There’s no technique or nothing. It’s just get open. I’ve just been lucky that Carson has found me and I was in the right place at the right time. Hopefully, we can get some more going forward.” 

For whatever reason, it seems like the rookie is better in those situations right now. Maybe it’s because of the NFL learning curve or because these are the situations where thinking is completely removed from the equation. Just go out there and make a play. 

It’s encouraging to see his playmaking ability, even when it hasn’t come as much on the initial play calls. At least we can see that he has it in him. 

Arcega-Whiteside caught a 29-yard pass on an off-schedule play in the fourth quarter of the Patriots game. And then on Sunday in Miami, his first NFL touchdown came on a 15-yarder on a broken play. 

The touchdown came with 13 seconds left in the first half against the Dolphins. It was 3rd-and-goal from the 15, which is a difficult situation to convert. In fact, NFL offenses have gotten touchdowns on just 2 of 13 such opportunities this year. 

“He's been at the right place at the right time,” offensive coordinator Mike Groh said. “The play there at the end of the half for the touchdown where he's inside releasing there and then he is working with Carson as Carson scrambles out there to the right, and then he's able to get out of the grass above the DB and come back and fight for the ball was a really good play by JJ and Carson.”

As Wentz escapes the pocket, you can see the rookie lock eyes with him. He’s about to take one more step toward the sideline and cut back inside, avoiding the defender that had tight coverage on him. Wentz puts it on him. 

Arcega-Whiteside and Wentz haven’t played a ton together, so it’s impressive that they’re able to connect on these types of plays. The receiver has to understand where the quarterback is going to throw it and the quarterback has to trust that the receiver is thinking the same thing. 

“We talk about it,” Arcega-Whiteside said. “It’s like, ‘ideally, we want this guy to do this or this guy to do this.’ But at the end of the day, just get open. Come back to the quarterback, be friendly and play ball.”

That’s usually the main coaching point for receivers in these off-schedule situations: Be quarterback friendly, which means give him a target, give him an opportunity to get the ball to you. 

That’s exactly what Arcega-Whiteside also did in the fourth quarter against the Patriots a couple weeks ago. He found an open spot in the field where Wentz threw it and came back to get the ball. 

 

What makes Arcega-Whiteside good in these situations?  

It’s pretty simple. 

“Just his ability to keep working,” Wentz said. “JJ does a great job of it.” 

The Eagles have struggled to find consistent plays from their receivers this year, so the fact that their second-round pick had trouble getting on the field at first and still has just six catches for 101 yards isn’t great. But Arcega-Whiteside and Wentz will be together for a least a couple more years after 2019. 

And these plays are certainly a silver lining. 

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Eagles Injury Update: Derek Barnett, Nelson Agholor, Kamu Grugier-Hill miss practice again

Eagles Injury Update: Derek Barnett, Nelson Agholor, Kamu Grugier-Hill miss practice again

For the second straight day, the Eagles were without three key players at practice. 

Derek Barnett (ankle), Kamu Grugier-Hill (concussion) and Nelson Agholor (knee) all missed Friday’s session after also missing Thursday. 

It’s rare for players to miss the first two practice days of the week and play that weekend. 

Barnett, it seemed, hurt his ankle during the loss to the Dolphins but was able to finish the game, playing 50 snaps. This season, Barnett is second on the team in sacks with 4 1/2 and has played more snaps (78 percent) than any other defensive lineman. 

The only other defensive players to play more than him this season are Malcolm Jenkins and Rodney McLeod. 

If Barnett can’t play on Monday, it’s likely Vinny Curry and Josh Sweat will see more playing time and perhaps Genard Avery will see a few more snaps. Maybe even Daeshon Hall or Shareef Miller might get to play a bit. 

Agholor has been dealing with his knee injury since the Patriots game. He missed the game against Seattle, but returned last week to play 63 snaps against the Dolphins. Last week, Agholor was limited in practice the first two days of the week and was not given a game status. 

If Agholor can’t play, Greg Ward could perhaps have a bigger role on Monday night. 

Meanwhile, Grugier-Hill didn’t report concussion symptoms until Thursday and was then placed into the NFL’s concussion protocol. Based on the timing of all that, it seems like a long shot that he’ll be able to play on Monday night. 

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