Eagles

Why Eagles won't name Jay Ajayi No. 1

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Why Eagles won't name Jay Ajayi No. 1

Jay Ajayi has an NFC-best 6.4 yards per carry since arriving in Philly.

What he doesn't have is a full-time job.

Eagles head coach Doug Pederson said Wednesday he doesn't play on making Ajayi the Eagles' featured running back down the stretch and into the playoffs, despite Ajayi's recent production.

"It's a fine line a little bit," Pederson said. "Right now, I don't want to fix something or do something if it's not really broken."

The Eagles have used a running back-by-committee approach all year, and it's served them well. 

But Ajayi has separated himself the last few weeks. He's had a higher average than LeGarrette Blount in five of six games he's played, and his 6.4 rushing average since his Eagles' debut in early November is highest among all NFC running backs during that span (and second only to Cam Newton in the conference).

Overall, the Eagles' running game hasn't been quite so effective the last few weeks.

After averaging 147 rushing yards and 4.7 yards per carry through the first 11 games of the year — both among the top-three in the NFL during that span — they're at 115 yards per game and 4.1 per carry against the Seahawks, Rams and Giants. Those figures rank 18th and 22nd in the league.

Blount is averaging just 2.2 yards per carry in those three games. Corey Clement continues to produce when he gets the ball — he's averaging 4.3 yards per carry — and Kenjon Barner had a big 18-yard gain against the Giants Sunday.

With Ajayi, Blount and Clement, the Eagles are the only NFL team that has three running backs with at least 300 rushing yards.

On Sunday, Ajayi had only six touches in the game's first 38 ½ minutes, then on back-to-back snaps gained 22 yards on a run and 32 yards on a catch and run on a pivotal touchdown drive.

Despite the 33rd-most carries in the NFL during his six weeks with the Eagles, Ajayi has 10 runs of 10 yards or more — 11th-most in the NFL during that span.

"If a guy does get a hot hand, I try to maybe feature that guy a little bit more in each game," Pederson said.

"I still think we've got a great running back room. We've got some talent there. Each one has a different skill set, and we want to make sure we use it all the best we can."

Since Pederson became the Eagles' head coach, Ryan Mathews is the only running back to get 20 carries in a game — he had 22 against the Browns last September and 20 against the Ravens last December.

But the bottom line is the Eagles are 12-2 and on the brink of clinching the No. 1 seed in the playoffs, and Blount, Ajayi, Clement and Barner have all contributed … as did Darren Sproles before he got hurt and Wendell Smallwood before Ajayi arrived.

"I suppose there are pros and cons, but like anything, you play the cards and the hand that you have, and the hand that we've been playing has been working for us, where it keeps them fresh," Reich said.

"I feel like we've built in enough rhythm for them at times. I'm sure every back always wants more carries, but so far it's been working pretty well for us."

New Eagles wide receivers coach Gunter Brewer has a history with Alshon Jeffery

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New Eagles wide receivers coach Gunter Brewer has a history with Alshon Jeffery

Eagles new receivers coach Gunter Brewer will get to coach Alshon Jeffery for the first time this season, but he’s known him for almost a decade.

And he can’t wait to finally get his No. 1 receiver back on the field. 

“His being a southern guy like myself,” Brewer said with his drawl. “I enjoy his demeanor and not only the way he talks but just the way he’s got that swagger and confidence. I’m looking forward to when he is out there, seeing him snatch balls out of the air.” 

Jeffery is still on the Active/PUP list after rotator cuff surgery and might be in jeopardy of missing the start of the season, but head coach Doug Pederson seems happy with Jeffery’s progress so far. So … wait and see. 

Brewer, whom the Eagles hired after promoting Mike Groh to offensive coordinator, came from the University of North Carolina. But he first met Jeffery after the 2010 college football season at the 2010 college football awards ceremony in Florida at Walt Disney World. 

At the time, Brewer was there because he was co-offensive coordinator and wide receivers coach at Oklahoma State and his star receiver, Justin Blackmon, was also nominated for the Fred Biletnikoff Award, handed out annually to the best receiver in college football. 

The two spent a couple days “chewing the fat” within the group. After that, Brewer followed Jeffery’s career. According to Brewer, Jeffery still recalls the meeting and the couple days together. 

“He remembered he should have won it,” Brewer said with a smile. 

Of course, that’s pretty debatable. Blackmon ended up winning the award after a tremendous season. He beat out Jeffery (South Carolina) and Ryan Broyles (Oklahoma). 

Here are their stats from that year: 

Jeffery: 88 catches, 1,517 yards, 9 touchdowns

Blackmon: 111 catches, 1,782 yards, 20 touchdowns

Broyles: 131 catches, 1,622 yards, 14 touchdowns

A couple years later, all three players went in the first two rounds of the 2012 NFL draft. Blackmon went fifth overall, Jeffery and Broyles went in the second round, at picks 45 and 54, respectively. 

All three had great college careers, but Jeffery is the only one still in the league. Injuries derailed Broyles' career and off-the-field issues took Blackmon out of the NFL. Both haven’t played since the 2014 season. 

Meanwhile, Jeffery is coming off a season in which he played through a torn rotator cuff, got a big contract and won the Super Bowl. He probably isn’t very upset about not winning the Biletnikoff Award anymore. 

Brewer hasn’t gotten to coach Jeffery on the field yet, but he’s been around him plenty in the building and in the meeting room. He’s enjoyed that part of it, at least. 

“He’s in every meeting,” Brewer said. “He does everything everybody else does. Nothing different. He’s great with the young kids, although you wouldn’t know it because he’s soft-spoken. He’ll pull one off the side, ‘should have done this the other game.’ I had him over by us and he was great about it. ‘Coach, you see that?’ He has his way of delivering that. When he talks, people listen.” 

Brewer certainly did nearly a decade ago. Now, they get to do it on the same team. 

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Malcolm Jenkins, reluctant face of a movement, remains stoic in fight

Malcolm Jenkins, reluctant face of a movement, remains stoic in fight

There are a lot of people watching Malcolm Jenkins. There are a lot of people counting on Malcolm Jenkins. There are a lot of people inspired by Malcolm Jenkins. 

There are a lot of people who hate Malcolm Jenkins. 

Jenkins feels the hate; he knows it exists. He hears the naysayers. He hears the folks who call him unpatriotic or much, much worse. In 2018, in this internet age, it sort of comes with the territory. Anonymity only fuels the negativity he faces. 

“Anything can be frustrating,” Jenkins said to NBC Sports Philadelphia this week. “Therein lies the power of those who oppose you. If they can get under your skin, they win. So I never allow that to block my judgment or even come off in my interviews.”

Jenkins is uncomfortable with being the face of a movement. 

The Eagles’ 30-year-old Pro Bowl safety admits as much, but he’s not oblivious. He’s uncomfortable with the idea because there are so many others committed to the fight — his fight — against racial injustice and police brutality in the United States. He names them — Colin Kaepernick, Eric Reid, Kenny Stills, Mike Thomas, Russell Okung, Anquan Boldin, Devin McCourty — before allowing that there are even more of whom he’s probably unaware. 

But still, here we are. Jenkins has just finished up a long session in the Eagles’ indoor practice bubble, but during the few hours the team was inside, the sun began to peek out from behind the clouds and it’s now shining. As Jenkins slides outside, stepping on to the asphalt parking lot with his cleats clacking, his manicured black beard dripping with sweat glistens in the sunlight. 

He’s stoic in his resolve. 

Reluctant as he is to claim it, Jenkins knows he’s a face of a movement. His face is second behind perhaps just Kaepernick’s in notoriety throughout this fight over the last two years. As such, Jenkins always speaks comprehensively, deliberately. 

Dealing with the hate

There are a few reasons Jenkins is able to deal with all that negativity. First, he thanks the folks around him who keep him motivated and focused on what’s important. For Jenkins, that’s affecting positive change in matters of racial injustice, police brutality and criminal justice reform. 

His support system definitely helps. 

“I think the other part is constantly having to remind myself about the why,” Jenkins said. “Why we’re doing this and also the results we’re able to see. What we’re trying to tackle is so large and has been here for so long, it can get frustrating with the pace of progress or the things that you read.

“We’ve actually accomplished a ton in two years. So I often have to remind myself about that and who’s counting on not only me but us. And when I think about those things, it helps block out or ignore all that other stuff.”

For how much negativity Jenkins receives, it’s impressive he’s been able to keep his composure. Teammate Chris Long, who has received some similar negativity for simply backing up Jenkins with his words and with a gesture — placing his arm around Jenkins while Jenkins raises his fist in demonstration during the national anthem — is impressed by Jenkins’ maturity. 

More than anything. Long is impressed by Jenkins’ patience with people. 

“He’s gotten a lot of negativity, obviously, from people who disagree with him,” Long said. “Even people that agree with Malc, sometimes want him to do things differently. Everybody has a better plan. Everybody has a better plan for how an influencer should go about their business, even if you agree. So he gets it from everywhere. I just think he’s tremendously stoic about it and just sticks to the plan, sticks to the work he does off the field. He doesn’t waver. And he doesn’t lash out either. So he’s better than me about that.”

How it began

This fight really began for Jenkins just over two years ago. In July 2016, he and some teammates met with Philadelphia police commissioner Richard Ross, some police officers and some community leaders. It was a small meeting, a conversation really, between Jenkins, his teammates and the police force. The meeting was about the struggles between the black community and how it felt about police and what could be done to improve those relations. On the flip side, Jenkins said he wanted to hear law enforcement’s side and learn how he could help. He’s had many meetings with police and legislators since, but that was a beginning.

A few weeks later, Kaepernick kneeled during the national anthem — he sat for the previous week’s game before compromising — and it became a national story. Kaepernick told NFL.com that he was not going to “show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.”

When Jenkins saw that form of protest, something clicked. 

“I think for me, it showed that there are other guys out there who are feeling the same frustrations as me amongst my peers,” Jenkins said. “And, two, what Colin taught all of us is how much social capital we have as athletes. We might not be the richest out there or the experts or the politicians. We have social capital and can literally change the dialogue in the conversation worldwide. At that moment, I thought if we can create these different moments in silos as individuals, how impactful could it be if we collectively did something? I think for me, that’s when that vision was planted.”

Why it continues

On Sept. 19, 2016, Jenkins began raising his fist during the national anthem, joining Kaepernick in demonstration. He did it every week until late last season when he felt encouraged by the NFL’s commitment to the causes important to him and his fellow demonstrators. But after this offseason — the NFL created a national anthem policy, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said publicly that his players would be required to stand for the anthem and the President remained outspoken on the topic — Jenkins raised his fist again in the Eagles’ first preseason game. He was joined by young cornerback De’Vante Bausby. Long resumed placing his arm around Jenkins. 

Many times over the last two years, the anthem demonstrations have seemingly overshadowed the reasons for the demonstrations. Last summer, Jenkins even pondered ending his demonstration for fear that the story would become more about him and less about the issues (see story). Ultimately, he decided — and said recently — that there’s simply no better way to reach his audience than demonstrating during the anthem. 

For Jenkins, though, the demonstration isn’t hollow. He backs up his words with action. He has met with lawmakers. He has met with police. He has helped raise money and give back to communities and underprivileged youth through The Malcolm Jenkins Foundation. 

Jenkins is proud of the progress, while still understanding there’s a lot of work left to be done. 

Those two things aren’t mutually exclusive. I’m always proud of what we’ve been able to do. I’m proud of the guys who all contributed and I’m proud of Colin Kaepernick, who started this thing. I’m proud of everybody else who contributed. But I’m also driven by a constant reminder daily in my own walk in my black skin and just seeing what continues to come through in news clips of people being brutalized by police. Knowing that, every day, I get to live my life and go to practice and play this game, and recognizing that we have so many people who, for no reason at all, are sitting behind bars or being robbed of opportunities of education or being robbed of opportunities for advancement economically. That stuff being ever present is constantly motivating.

The issues are still the only driving force for Jenkins, so anytime the conversation begins to veer toward something else, he carefully directs it back. After the White House canceled the Eagles’ invite earlier this offseason, instead of getting in a war of words with the leader of the free world, Jenkins resorted to using giant flash cards, the first of which said, “YOU AREN’T LISTENING.” 

Long praised Jenkins for that move, calling it “brilliant.” 

“He’s very good at moving the needle and getting things done and articulating the points he wants to talk about in really clever ways, in a sound byte news culture,” Long said. “Everything he does is calculated in a really good way and he’s just authentic.” 

Reluctant as he may be, Jenkins is the stoic face of this movement. And the movement is better for it. 

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