As the Eagles got out to practice on Thursday, there were just two players on the active roster who didn’t practice: Darren Sproles (hamstring) and Shelton Gibson (knee).
After being limited in practice on Thursday, neither participated at all on Thursday, which means the Eagles might go into Sunday’s game in Tampa without their top kick returner and their top punt returner.
Next up is …
*looks at the unofficial depth chart*
The Eagles’ second-year running back is listed as the team’s backup at both positions even though he’s never really done it consistently in the NFL or in college.
“I try to get my fit in everything I possibly can,” Clement said. “Not saying, I’m a selfish person, but I can contribute in many ways rather than just running back. I’m going to try to work my best with Coach (Dave) Fipp, seeing where I can get in on special teams to fill that void and make sure things don’t go on a downslope when Sproles is out.”
During his time in the NFL, Clement has been the Eagles’ up back on kick returns, but has just two returns for 49 yards. He has gotten plenty of reps at both spots in practice.
It’s not even like Clement was a returner in college. In four years at Wisconsin, Clement had just one kick return and two punt returns.
But if you’ll remember, Clement wasn’t much of a pass catcher in college either. After catching just 29 passes in his college career, Clement came to the NFL and had 100 receiving yards in the Super Bowl. So tell him he can’t do something.
“I’m always open to new plays, new positions, just gives me a different feel,” Clement said. “It almost gives me a different perspective on football. If I get put in a position, it’s like a challenge for me. How can I approach each snap and this opportunity? Last year people said I can’t catch, oh well. Now, I got another opportunity to show what else I can do, in special teams.”
Now, just because Clement is listed on the unofficial depth chart as the backup at both spots, it doesn’t mean he’ll actually play both on Sunday if Sproles and Gibson are out. After all, the unofficial depth chart is … unofficial.
So if it’s not Clement, who will return?
Well, the next best guess at kick returner is Wendell Smallwood. The third-year running back doesn’t have a huge role on offense and has kick return experience. He’s returned 13 in his career for an average of 27.1 yards per return and even brought one back to the house in 2016.
At punt returner, the best guess is probably journeyman receiver DeAndre Carter. While this is Carter’s first season on a 53-man roster, he did return punts this summer. Aside from Clement, he’s the only player still on the roster who returned punts in the preseason. He had three returns (average of 12.7 yards per return) and two fair catches. The problem there is that he played 54 offensive snaps in Week 1.
Aside from those three — Clement, Smallwood and Carter — it’s hard to imagine anyone else returning on Sunday. Rookie cornerback Avonte Maddox is the only defensive player who would make sense, but the Eagles didn’t rep him there this summer. And he got the bulk of his returns as a freshman in college.
Jay Ajayi and Mike Wallace each have just one career kick return. Nelson Agholor would probably be a really good kick returner, but he’s just too valuable to the offense. And while Kamar Aiken will probably have a role on special teams, he’s not a returner.