Eagles scratching surface with Donnel Pumphrey in their offense

Eagles scratching surface with Donnel Pumphrey in their offense

They call it the Pony set. It's an apt name. 

It's the moniker of the Eagles' two-running back formation when 5-foot-8, 176-pound rookie Donnel Pumphrey and 5-foot-6, 190-pound veteran Darren Sproles share a backfield. 

"It creates a lot of mismatches because we have great wideouts on the field as well as Carson Wentz back there," Pumphrey said. 

"With both of us back there, we can just do crossing patterns and keep the linebackers all mixed up. Even when we motion out, it's going to most likely be a linebacker on us and it's a mismatch on its own." 

The Pumphrey-Sproles comparisons are unavoidable, yet understandable. While the two don't have identical body types, they're both small and it seems like Pumphrey will have a Sproles-like role with the Eagles. 

Sproles, 33, previously has talked about retiring after the 2017 season, so the fourth-round pick could be his heir apparent. Pumphrey has also been working on returning kicks and punts during OTAs, something he didn't do much of in game action in college — and he's looked comfortable doing it. It's yet another thing he can learn from Sproles. 

"It's honestly been unbelievable to play under his wing, learn different stuff, different aspects of the game with him," Pumphrey said. 

As the current round of OTAs began in the rain on Tuesday, the Pony set was scratched momentarily because Sproles was away for a family matter. It will return, but in the meantime, the Eagles have been showing the various ways they plan on using their new versatile weapon. 

That means, in addition to his duties as a running back, Pumphrey will be used out of the backfield as a receiver and in the slot. On Tuesday, the Eagles stacked him as the back end in a bunch formation, almost hiding him behind bigger receivers. 

"Pump is so laterally quick," Ertz said. "You see it out there. His change of direction is incredible. Obviously, the coaches are going to have unbelievable pieces to use in this offense between him, Sproles, myself, we added guys like Alshon (Jeffery) and Torrey (Smith). Hopefully the middle of the field will be a little more spaced out than in years past. So we're excited to use him in different ways. 

"I mean, you put Sproles and him on the field, how is a defense going to match up? Are they going to play base, will they play dime? Sproles has obviously shown he can run between the tackles, we'll see how much Pump can do in the run game. I think guys are excited to see especially when the pads go on, live bullets, to see that lateral quickness." 

Ertz said the Pony set will create problems for defenses similar to those occurring when he and Trey Burton come out in the Eagles' two-tight-end set. Which defense will teams choose to use? 

And then Ertz questioned what teams would do if the Eagles come out with 176-pound Pumphrey next to 250-pound LeGarrette Blount in the same backfield. If Pumphrey is a pony, Blount is a thoroughbred stallion; but each serves his own purpose in the offense. 

"We've got a lot of chess pieces, so it's up to Doug (Pederson) and Frank (Reich) and [QB coach John DeFilippo] to kind of make the most of this," Ertz said. "But that's the good thing, they've shown they can do it in the past and we trust them as offensive players that they'll put us in situations to be successful."

Darren Sproles isn't done just yet, will return to Eagles on one-year deal

Darren Sproles isn't done just yet, will return to Eagles on one-year deal

The Eagles just got a little bit older and a lot more exciting.

The Eagles on Friday evening re-signed 36-year-old running back Darren Sproles, who was mulling retirement when last year ended but apparently wants to play one more year (at least).

"My heart is in Philly," Sproles said on the team's web site. "That's where I want to end my career. That team, the city is like a family. I really want to go out on top. That's what I really want to do. I can't wait to get back with the guys."

Sproles, who became an unrestricted free agent when last year ended, spent the last five years with the Eagles and made the Pro Bowl in 2014, 2015 and 2016 before being limited by injuries to just nine games over the last two seasons.

Although he ranks sixth in NFL history in all-purpose yards, Sproles was limited in 2017 to just three games and 22 touches and missed the Super Bowl run thanks to a broken arm and torn ACL he suffered against the Giants and last year was limited to just six games and 44 touches because of a nagging hamstring injury.

He did return last year for the postseason but averaged just 1.6 yards on 16 carries with 5-for-35 receiving and one punt return for minus-one yard in the games against the Bears and Saints.

In his first three seasons with the Eagles, Sproles netted 1,084 rushing yards, 147 catches for 1,202 more yards and 14 offensive touchdowns along with four punt return TDs.

Because the Eagles are deep at running back, it’s likely Sproles’ main role will be as a punt returner.

He led the NFL with a 13.0 average in 2014 and his 12.1 average since the start of 2014 is highest in the NFL among returners with at least 50 returns.

The Eagles also re-signed DeSean Jackson this past offseason, and Jackson — like Sproles — is a former NFL punt return leader (with the Eagles in 2009) and also has four career punt return TDs. But he’s not expected to be their full-time punt returner.

Only seven players in NFL history have four career punt return touchdowns and 8,300 career yards from scrimmage, and the Eagles now have two of them in Jackson and Sproles. (The others are Joey Galloway, Antonio Brown, Reggie Bush, Henry Ellard and Steve Smith).

Sproles ranks sixth in NFL history with 19,520 all-purpose yards. He trails only Jerry Rice (23,546), former Eagle Brian Mitchell (23,330), Walter Payton (21,803), Emmitt Smith (21,564) and Tim Brown (19,682). All are Hall of Famers except Mitchell (who should be).

Sproles has 3,486 rushing yards, a 4.9 average, 547 catches, 4,816 receiving yards, a 9.6 average with seven touchdowns on punt returns and a 25.2 average with two touchdowns on kick returns.

Of the 48 players in NFL history with 3,000 rushing yards and 3,000 receiving yards, Sproles’ 4.9 career rushing average is highest.

His nine combined punt and kick returns are tied for sixth-most in NFL history behind Devin Hester (19), Mitchell (13), Dante Hall (12), Eric Metcalf (12), Josh Cribbs (11).

Sproles enters a crowded backfield that also includes rookie second-round pick Miles Sanders, former Bear Jordan Howard, who was acquired in a trade, Super Bowl hero Corey Clement, 2018 Eagles leading rusher Josh Adams, former Saint Boston Scott and 2016 fifth-round pick Wendell Smallwood.

The Eagles are scheduled to report for training camp at the NovaCare Complex on Wednesday with the first practice following on Thursday.

Sproles originally entered the NFL as a fourth-round pick out of Kansas State in 2005. He was with the Chargers for six years and the Saints for three before signing with the Eagles in 2014. 

If Sproles scores a touchdown this year, he’ll become the oldest player in franchise history to do so.

The oldest Eagle ever to score a touchdown is Irving Fryar, who was 36 years and 76 days old when he scored against the Cards on Dec. 13, 1998.

Sproles will be 36 years and 100 days when the Eagles open the regular season against the Redskins on Sept. 8.

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

Will Fletcher Cox be a Hall of Famer?

Will Fletcher Cox be a Hall of Famer?

This is our first in a series of stories looking at the Hall of Fame chances of current or recent Eagles who are still active in the NFL.

Today: Fletcher Cox
Saturday, July 20: Zach Ertz
Sunday, July 21: DeSean Jackson
Monday, July 22: Jason Kelce
Tuesday, July 23: LeSean McCoy
Wednesday, July 24: Jason Peters
Thursday, July 25: Darren Sproles

Numbers: Has 44 ½ sacks in 109 career games, ninth-most among active NFL defensive tackles.

Postseason numbers: Cox had one sack during the 2017 Super Bowl run but had six quarterback hits in the three playoff games.

Honors: Cox has made the Pro Bowl in each of the last four years and this past season was a first-team all-pro for the first time.

Favorite stat: Cox is only the ninth Eagle in franchise history to make four Pro Bowls before his 29th birthday and the first defensive lineman to do it since Reggie White.

Records and rankings

• Cox is sixth in franchise history in sacks. This past season he passed Andy Harmon (39 ½) for the most sacks in Eagles history by an interior lineman.

• Cox’s 10 ½ sacks last year are third-most in Eagles history by a defensive lineman, behind only Harmon in both 1993 (11 ½) and 1995 (11.0).

• This past season he became only the second player the Eagles have drafted since 1992 with double-digit sacks in a season. The other is Trent Cole.

Cox is one of only four defensive linemen to make the Pro Bowl in each of the last four seasons. The others are defensive tackles Geno Atkins of the Bengals, Jurrell Casey of the Titans and Aaron Donald of the Rams.

• Only seven Eagles in history have longer streaks of Pro Bowls than Cox: White (7), Pete Pihos (6) and Chuck Bednarik, Donovan McNabb, Tommy McDonald, Mike Quick and Troy Vincent (5 each). White is the only defensive lineman in Eagles history who was picked to more Pro Bowls.


Cox is at the same point now that Jason Peters was in his prime. He’s so dominating that he’s going to make the Pro Bowl every year that he’s healthy.

Cox is in his prime right now and let’s conservatively give him three more Pro Bowls. That would give him seven in his career, and taking a look at the 15 tackles in NFL history who made seven Pro Bowls, 13 of the 14 who are eligible have already been enshrined in Canton.

He’s already won a Super Bowl, made four Pro Bowls, been an all-pro and piled up 44 ½ sacks, and he’s only 28 and still getting better. And the Hall of Fame voters probably won’t consider it, but Cox is a beast against the run, as good a run stopper as we’ve seen in an Eagles uniform.

The biggest thing working against Cox is Aaron Donald, who is the best tackle in the game. Donald already has 59 ½ sacks in just five years, including 20 ½ last year. If the voters look back 10 years from now they may conclude that Donald was the elite defensive tackle of this generation and hold that against Cox.
But Cox is on his way to becoming an all-timer in his own right, and if he keeps stringing together Pro Bowl seasons and adds a couple more all-pro first-team honors it’s going to be impossible to keep him out of Canton.

Verdict: Will be a Hall of Famer.

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