Eagles

Eagles

On Tuesday, when the Eagles reconvene after a day off during the marathon that is training camp, they'll strap on their pads and helmets for the first live periods of the summer. 

They'll tackle to the ground during goal line and short-yardage drills, which seem like the perfect opportunities for free agent acquisition LeGarrette Blount to show what he can do. 

It's just that Blount isn't interested in being pigeonholed. 

"They're open to everything," the 250-pound back said on the field after Sunday's open practice at the Linc. "They're not going to just specifically put me in the role of short-yardage, goal line back. That's not what they brought me here for. They have an open mind. They're going to put me in other situations. I'm excited about every part of the game."

The Eagles' running back situation is like a giant puzzle. We know the pieces but we don't know how they'll all fit together just yet. 

Blount, 30, is coming off a season that saw him carry the ball 299 times for 1,161 yards and an astounding 18 touchdowns. For comparison, the Eagles' top rusher in 2016 was Ryan Mathews, who carried the ball 155 times for 661 yards and eight scores. (Mathews is still technically on the roster but is expected to be cut once fully healed.) 

After Blount, the Eagles still have Wendell Smallwood, Darren Sproles and Donnell Pumphrey. All four backs seem to have different skill sets, and it'll be up to head coach Doug Pederson to figure out how the puzzle fits together. 

 

But how much of what Pederson sees at training camp will determine the rotation during the season? 

"Well, you know, we want to get them all touches," Pederson said. "We want to get them all reps during camp. Again, we're in an evaluation process. We've got to see what these guys can do. We want to see LeGarrette [Blount] obviously in our system running our plays. We know with Darren [Sproles] and Wendell [Smallwood] coming off the injury from last season, so getting him back out there. Just a matter of getting them equal time.

"But at the same time, seeing how this time of year how they will play out and how they will fit into our offense going into the regular season."

Blount, when asked, said he still has the ability to shoulder the load if that's what the Eagles want. So far during training camp, Blount has clearly gotten the most snaps with the first-team offense, but that doesn't necessarily mean he'll be the bell cow back during the year. He has been working on learning the offense and said it's getting easier every day. 

Sproles and Pumphrey will likely be used in similar ways. Sproles has always been a threat as a receiver and although Pumphrey was used primarily as a runner in college, the Eagles look determined to use him in the same vein as Sproles. 

Then there's Smallwood. 

He's sort of the forgotten man among the running backs. He got 77 carries for 312 yards and one touchdown in a somewhat promising rookie season before an injury late in the year and the team seems to like him. 

Before the Eagles signed Blount, it was looking like Smallwood was going to have a major role in the offense. 

Now? 

"Yeah, it's going to be interesting to see how the backs rotation plays out," offensive coordinator Frank Reich said. "You know, we're excited about all those guys. I'm a big believer in Wendell. I think he runs hard. I think he's a downhill, thrashing runner. I think he's got good balance. 

"Wendell is a very, very smart football player. I love talking to him — walking through doing blitz stuff, he knows exactly what's going on, and I think he has some explosiveness as a runner. These guys, they just have to get their opportunity and get enough carries. I think it's 'to be determined' exactly how that running back rotation works out, but those guys have been looking good so far." 

Smallwood said he and Sproles — the two became close last season, living next door to each other — were extremely excited when the team signed Blount earlier this offseason. They were excited about the element he brings to the Eagles' offense, regardless of how much his presence clouded the picture of what the rotation will look like. 

 

"I don't ever want to take a backseat," Smallwood said, "but whatever the game plan is going to be or how we're going to approach the season, I'm going to be all committed to whatever we're doing and whatever we need to do to win games." 

If the Eagles decide to use Blount as their primary runner, it could be bad news for Smallwood. But if Blount's role shifts into that of a short-yardage back, it stands to reason that Smallwood has the most to gain. 

And if the second-year back gets his chance, he's convinced he'll be ready. 

This offseason, Smallwood focused on getting in the best possible shape that he could. He wanted to improve his conditioning after noticing some fatigue during practices and games last season.  

Smallwood said he believes there will be enough touches for all four running backs this season, citing the injuries that plagued the team in 2016. He mentioned that Byron Marshall started the season on the practice squad but eventually got playing time and the Eagles even signed Terrell Watson and got him into action. 

"You never know how the season shakes out," Smallwood said. 

But there has to be a starting point, and that's what the coaching staff will need to figure out over the next five weeks. 

"I don't know how it's going to turn out," Blount said. "I don't know how it's going to go. I don't know how many times we're going to carry the ball specifically in the season. It's up in the air."