Eagles

Eagles' RB position in sudden state of disarray with Jordan Howard, Darren Sproles injured

Eagles' RB position in sudden state of disarray with Jordan Howard, Darren Sproles injured

With the Eagles’ running back position suddenly in disarray, it looks like they are turning to Jay Ajayi. 

Ajayi was in the NovaCare Complex building on Friday morning, head coach Doug Pederson confirmed, and then it became more clear why. 

Just before Pederson’s 10:15 a.m. press conference, the Eagles announced that Darren Sproles suffered a torn right hip flexor in practice and is out for the season

And, more importantly, Jordan Howard still hasn’t been cleared for contact from a stinger he suffered late in the Bears game nearly two weeks ago. That’s why he’s been limited in practice this week. He's questionable for Sunday. 

“He’s been cleared to do some sort of individual work in practice, but he hasn’t been cleared for contact yet,” Pederson said. “That’s where he’s at.” 

That means the Eagles’ only healthy running backs on the 53-man roster are Miles Sanders and Boston Scott. Sanders is the only healthy running back from the Eagles’ initial 53-man roster. 

If Howard doesn’t get cleared for contact before Sunday, he obviously won’t play against the Patriots. Howard’s injury has been listed as a shoulder injury. 

Pederson was asked if Howard’s injury is something that could linger. 

“Again, you’re getting into the medical side of it,” he said. “I don’t know much about it other than he just hasn’t been cleared right now for the contact.” 

The move to at least take a look at Ajayi is obviously linked to both of these injuries to Howard and Sproles. The hope here is obviously that Howard’s injury isn’t a long-term one, but signing Ajayi might put that into question. 

Pederson also brought up DeAngelo Henderson, who is on the Eagles’ practice squad, as a possible roster addition before Sunday. It seems like either Henderson or Ajayi will be suiting up for the Eagles on Sunday. 

As for Ajayi? 

“I think he just had breakfast,” Pederson said. “I haven’t seen him yet this morning, so I’ll find out more about him later. We’ve been with our team all morning.”

Ajayi, 26, hasn’t played since tearing his ACL last October, so the Eagles obviously want to see what kind of shape he and that knee are in. 

Sproles played in just six games this year. As the Eagles explained in an unusually detailed statement, Sproles missed games earlier in the season with a quad injury and was then cleared. He played again against the Bears and practiced Monday and Tuesday and reported the injury after Wednesday’s practice. Tests revealed the torn hip flexor muscle.

This could very well be the end of the 36-year-old’s career.

“I’ve learned this over my playing career and coaching in this league that it’s part of the game,” Pederson said. “It’s disappointing in Darren’s situation because of who he is as a person and what he’s meant to this organization, what he’s meant to this team. His leadership, he’s a Hall of Fame specialist in this league, really. I’m disappointed for him, more so than for the team, that he can’t continue.”

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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 [Wentz] 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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