Eagles

For Eagles' Wendell Smallwood, the biggest challenge is staying healthy

For Eagles' Wendell Smallwood, the biggest challenge is staying healthy

After a brutally hot 90-minute practice on Monday, Wendell Smallwood had to make his way from an autograph tent across two football fields to the JUGS machine where the running backs were catching balls.

Smallwood, still in full uniform, sprinted across the fields, and it was impossible to ignore the fact that in either of his first two NFL seasons there is no way he would have done that. No way he could have done that.

Smallwood, the Eagles’ third-year running back out of West Virginia, is learning to play football but more importantly he’s learning how to stay healthy.

Nobody has ever questioned his ability. Only his ability to stay healthy.

So Smallwood, who just turned 24, spent the offseason learning how to take care of himself.

This is a very deep, very competitive group of Eagles running backs. It’s not enough for Smallwood to flash on the field. He has to prove to his coaches that he can stay healthy or he has no chance to make the roster.

“It takes a while to really know your body,” Smallwood said. “Right now, I think I’ve been doing pretty good on it. Just staying on top of things. I learned that even when you’re feeling good, you still have to stay on top of things.

“There’s things you have to always look for. Knowing what you’re feeling and where you’re feeling it. If you know your, body if something’s not right, be on top of it.

“That’s something I’ve definitely learned these past two years. I can tell a major difference where I am now compared to the last few years. Just knowing what to do, knowing how to do it, what I should be doing, what works for me, what doesn’t work for me.”

Smallwood hurt his knee late in 2016 and missed the last month of the season and then last year hurt his knee against the Chargers in Week 4 and played in only four games the rest of the year. He didn’t dress for any of the playoff games.

When he’s healthy? He’s a solid back.

In five career games when he’s gotten at least 10 carries, he’s rushed 65 times for 302 yards, a 4.6 yards per carry average.

But his career is really at a crossroads. Jay Ajayi, Corey Clement and Darren Sproles are locks to make the roster, Donnel Pumphrey looks like a different guy from last year, and Matt Jones and Josh Adams are also in the mix.

“I’ve got to prove I can stay healthy and I’ve got to be more consistent in my playing,” Smallwood said.

“They know what I can do, they know how I can do it. So it’s like, stay healthy and keep doing it, don’t stop.

“Don’t do it one day and then don’t do it the next day. Do it every day. Dominate. Get better. Stay healthy. That’s the huge thing with me. It’s not about the ability, it’s about staying healthy and being there every day. That’s what I’ve got to do.”

So far, so good.

Smallwood is quietly having a very good training camp. He looks fast and strong, and he hasn’t missed a single rep because of an injury.

But the real test begins Thursday night, when the Eagles open the preseason against the Steelers at the Linc.

Smallwood knows he has a lot of work to do if he’s going to survive.

“Every year it’s been like that,” he said. “Got to ball out, keep them guys believing in me. I know they believe I can do it, but I have to leave no doubt.

“Be consistent. Don’t give them any reason to doubt what I’m capable of doing.”

More on the Eagles

Eagles' new coach thinks team's WR corps is underrated, can be among NFL's best

Eagles' new coach thinks team's WR corps is underrated, can be among NFL's best

They're tired of being known as the worst group of wide receivers in the league.

And they may finally have a coach who can help them get rid of that tag.

"We have an expectation to be one of the top groups in the league," new Eagles receivers coach Aaron Moorehead said Thursday. "That's what we expect. This group is coming out with a little bit of a chip on its shoulder I think because of last year, and that's a good thing."

Eagles receivers last year combined for just 137 passes for 1,488 yards and nine touchdowns, the worst WR numbers in the league.

It was the fewest yards by an Eagles receiving corps since 2000, when Charles Johnson, Torrance Small and Friends had 1,481.

For the first time since 1966 no Eagles wide receiver even had 500 yards.

Out with Carson Walch, in with Moorehead, the Eagles' fifth receivers coach in five years under Doug Pederson.

It doesn't take much time with Moorehead – even on a Zoom call – to sense his confidence, passion, dedication and communication skills.

And he's already instilled a hunger in this wide receiving group to go from one of the worst in the league to one of the best.

"At the end of the day, a little added extra motivation (doesn't hurt)," he said. "In this day and age (with) social media, you can try to ignore it, but people hear what (critics) say, and I think guys understand that we do have something to prove, and that's OK. There's nothing wrong with that, and I enjoy a good challenge and I enjoy coaching a group that has something to prove."

DeSean Jackson is 33 and managed one healthy game last year. Alshon Jeffery struggled then got hurt and has been largely disappointing since he signed here. Second-round pick J.J. Arcega-Whiteside had a miserable rookie year. And rookie Jalen Reagor keeps hearing how the Eagles should have taken Justin Jefferson instead.

You can understand why this group feels disrespected.

"I think that's good," Moorehead said. "I've coached groups that people believed were the best [...] and I've coached groups that people disrespected and felt like they weren't very good, so it's not anything new to me. I think we have a really good group. I know we have a really good group. It's just up to us to stay healthy and prove it week in and week out."

The Eagles haven't had a wide receiver with back-to-back 100-yard games since Jordan Matthews in 2015.

They haven't had a 1,000-yard receiver since Jeremy Maclin in 2014.

On paper they should be better. How can they not be?

Their goal isn't just to be better. It’s to be among the best.

"So far they've taken the approach that [they're] ready to go out there and prove every day why we should be one of the top groups in the NFL," Moorehead said.

You have to love Moorehead's approach and his personality.

If his receivers can match his confidence and swagger, the Eagles just might finally have a receiving corps to get excited about.

Subscribe and rate the Eagle Eye podcast: 
Apple Podcasts / Google Play / Stitcher / Spotify / Art19

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

More on the Eagles

Eagle Eye podcast: Is Zach Ertz next in line for a contract extension?

us_ee_ertz.png
USA Today Images

Eagle Eye podcast: Is Zach Ertz next in line for a contract extension?

On the latest Eagle Eye podcast, Reuben Frank and Dave Zangaro take a look at Zach Ertz’s contract situation after George Kittle and Travis Kelce got huge extensions. 

The guys pick some things they would have watched in the preseason opener, talk about Doug Pederson’s structure for practice and give their first impressions on a couple of new Eagles coaches. 

Plus, remembering the great Howard Mudd, who died at 78 this week. 

  • (1:02) — What Travis Kelce and George Kittle's contract mean for Zach Ertz.
  • (16:45) — Things we would have watched tonight in preseason opener.
  • (23:08) — Doug Pederson details Eagles’ 2020 training camp structure
  • (28:45) — Aaron Moorehead and Matt Burke speak on their roles. 
  • (36:54) — Remembering Howard Mudd
     

Subscribe and rate the Eagle Eye podcast: 
Apple Podcasts / Google Play / Stitcher / Spotify / Art19

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

More on the Eagles