Rookie running back Josh Adams is locked in an intense battle for a roster spot, and every time he came to the sideline Thursday night, he found himself face-to-face with the very running backs he’s competing with.
And all they did was help him.
“Man, we’ve got a great room of running backs,” the Warrington Township, Bucks County, native said. “Everybody’s helping each other out and we’re all competing.
“It was good to come to the sideline and get feedback and look at what I could do differently or just get positive feedback if I’m doing a good job. That’s what kind of room we have.”
Adams had an auspicious NFL debut Thursday night, carrying the football six times for 30 yards and adding two receptions in the Eagles’ preseason opener against the Steelers at the Linc.
With Donnel Pumphrey and Matt Jones out with injuries and Wendell Smallwood having an up-and-down game, Adams really helped himself in his bid for the fourth running back spot behind Jay Ajayi, Corey Clement and Darren Sproles.
He said the messages from the guys he’s competing with definitely helped.
“Just continue to run the ball, trust what I see, be patient, stuff like that,” he said. “It was all good, it was all to my advantage to help me for the next time I go out there. Definitely grateful to have guys like that around me.”
Which tells you a lot about the culture Doug Pederson has created.
Adams went undrafted despite a tremendous career at Notre Dame, and now he’s trying to duplicate what Clement did last year and make the roster as a rookie undrafted free agent from the Delaware Valley.
Adams was emotional after his NFL debut. He sat at his locker and spoke slowly, choosing his words carefully.
“It’s been a long time coming,” Adams said. “Blessed to be here. I’ve been dreaming about this for a long time and I finally got out there. Just wanted to get out there and run around and have some fun.”
Adams ran 15 yards on his first pro carry and also had six- and seven-yard gains and a 10-yard reception.
Smallwood finished 6 for 21 rushing, numbers that were skewed by a five-yard loss in the game’s final seconds. He also scored on one of two two-point conversions but also had that fumble, forced by former Temple star Tyler Matakevich.
It’s still early. There are a few weeks to go before roster cuts. But Adams helped himself. The other backs didn’t.
“I thought Josh did a nice job with the amount of play time that he got,” Pederson said. “All the running backs were going to get some time outside of Sproles. So it increases Josh's reps just a little bit. And I thought Josh did a nice job.
“He did a really good job in protection, No. 1, catching the ball out of backfield, and some of the runs, you can see how big and powerful he is when he hits the edge.”
Adams played high school football at Central Bucks High School South. At Notre Dame, he ran for 3,201 yards with a 6.7 average, 10th-best in the NCAA since 2015. Last year, he rushed for 1,430 yards with a 6.9 average, also 10th-best in Division I.
Watching him, it’s tough to figure out why he wasn’t drafted. But it’s not tough to figure out why the Eagles like him.
“I didn’t care how many carries I was going to get or how much I was on the field,” he said. “Every time I went out there I gave it my all, and that’s all game, whether it’s special teams or offense.”
Can Adams hold off Smallwood, Pumphrey and Jones?
Right now, Adams is ahead of all of them.
“I always feel like I can do better, so that’s what I’m going to focus on,” he said. “I’m going to look at this game and see what I could have done better. That’s what I’m focusing on, getting better at the next practice.
“Right now, I’m just competing. That’s what these preseason games are for, that’s what practices are for too. Try to figure out what kind of player I’m going to be.”