With no feature back, game-planning will determine Eagles' RB rotation

With no feature back, game-planning will determine Eagles' RB rotation

Donnel Pumphrey received a phone call from a Pennsylvania number Saturday and feared the worst. 

After all, the fourth-round pick was coming off an extremely disappointing preseason, in which he had trouble holding the ball and averaged a paltry 1.9 yards per attempt. When he answered the phone and heard Eagles de facto GM Howie Roseman on the other line, those fears didn't go away. 

Roseman, though, called with some good news and words of encouragement. He told Pumphrey he knew the transition from college had been tough, but they still believed in him. Roseman called to tell Pumphrey he made the 53-man roster. 

The most surprising part of final cuts wasn't that the Eagles kept Pumphrey; it was that they kept five running backs on the roster, which is highly unusual. Pumphrey, LeGarrette Blount, Wendell Smallwood, Darren Sproles and rookie Corey Clement all made the roster. 

"Yeah, I didn't think we were keeping five," Smallwood said. "I don't know no team that's done that before. I'm glad everyone's still in the room. I'm glad we didn't lose anybody. It's good to have everybody in the room." 

How the heck are the Eagles going to use five running backs this season? 

"I'm not 100 percent sure," Blount said. "I just know they kept all of us for a reason. We're all excited about it. None of us wanted any of the guys to leave. They kept us all together." 

Pederson stressed game-planning when asked if Blount will be the Eagles' featured back. It seems like he isn't ready to give any one running back that title. He did, however, mention he wants to get all three (meaning Blount, Smallwood and Sproles) involved each week. 

"It goes back to the game plan, quite honestly," Pederson said. "We understand that LeGarrette might be a little different runner even than Sproles or Wendell. I think it's game plan specific. It's hard to go into a game saying, ‘LeGarrette, you're going to get X number of touches,’ because you never know what the game, what circumstances might be posed during the game."

Pederson said the Eagles obviously won't take five running backs into each game; either one or two will be inactive each week. And it'll all be based on game plan and injury status (not merit) when he decides who will play in each game. 

Going into Week 1, Pumphrey said he's sure he'll be inactive, which shouldn't be much of a surprise after the preseason he just had. But he plans on working with the scout team, which means plenty of reps against the Eagles' first-team defense. He just has to prepare like he's going to play, even if he knows he isn't. 

Because if something ever happens to Sproles during the season, the Eagles will probably call on Pumphrey to take his role. 

"That’s probably one of the reasons they drafted me, to fit his role," Pumphrey said, after knocking on his wooden locker when he thought about the possibility of Sproles' getting injured. "I’m just going to continue to progress each day and keep my head in that film and be ready for it if they do call my number."

With Pumphrey inactive, that means Clement might either have a small role or might be pulling up a seat next to his fellow rookie on many game days. 

Clement clearly outplayed Pumphrey during the preseason and it seems safe to say if roles were reversed and Clement was the draft pick, Pumphrey would be gone. But after investing a fourth-round pick in the small back from San Diego State, the Eagles don't want to give up on him just yet. 

"I feel like they know the potential I do have," Pumphrey said. "I'm not going to say they're taking their time but they want to continue to develop me."

Developing Pumphrey means keeping him on the roster but not using him on game days. With just 53 roster spots available, that's a risky idea. It's also a risky idea to keep five running backs, especially because the Eagles elected to roll with just eight offensive linemen. It's all a little unorthodox. 

Smallwood was one of many who was surprised to see the Eagles keep five running backs, but he's confident there was a reason.

"I think with them doing that, they have a plan for this team, they have a plan for the running back position," Smallwood said. "Whatever they're throwing at us, I believe we're going to be ready for it. I believe us keeping five running backs, they think there's an element to our room and everyone can contribute in some way."

When do players know their football days are over?

USA Today Images

When do players know their football days are over?

In the latest edition of Eagle Eye, Derrick Gunn and Barrett Brooks discuss Father's Day weekend. What kind of basketball parent is Barrett? The guys give their 53-man roster after spring practices. Tom Brady says he can feel his playing days are getting numbered. When do players first start realizing that the end is near and what makes that reality most difficult? Also, how should the Giants handle Odell Beckham Jr.'s contract situation?

"I think that Saquon [Barkley] is going to be better than [Ezekiel] Elliott." — Barrett Brooks.

1:00 - What kind of basketball parent is Barrett?
3:00 - Father's Day weekend recap.
5:00 - Eagles' 53-man roster after spring practices.
15:30 - Tom Brady tells Oprah the end is near ... when do players start seeing that reality?
20:00 - The hardest part about having to say goodbye to football.
23:00 - Odell Beckham Jr.'s contract situation.

Press Taylor was right choice for Eagles' QBs coach

Press Taylor was right choice for Eagles' QBs coach

The Eagles were just a few days away from the Super Bowl and there was a clear indication of just how loose the team really was. 

On Feb. 1, Carson Wentz tweeted out a photo proving it. 

So, what’s the point of this? Why show a photo that Wentz sent out from an escape room well over four months ago?

Well, because it was a little glimpse into the future. Because the five guys in that photo are going to be the five guys in the Eagles’ quarterback room this season. 

Along with Wentz, Nick Foles and Nate Sudfeld, the other two are Press Taylor (sitting) and Spencer Phillips. This offseason, after John DeFilippo left Philadelphia to take the offensive coordinator job in Minnesota, the Eagles promoted Taylor to take his position as quarterbacks coach and then promoted Phillips to take Taylor’s spot as the assistant quarterbacks coach. 

It was probably a no-brainer. 

And it’s crazy to think, but just a year after the Eagles blocked DeFilippo from leaving the organization, DeFilippo has left … and the Eagles are going to be just fine. 

At the time, before the 2017 season, it made sense to block DeFilippo. He was seemingly integral to the development of a young Wentz and he certainly deserves plenty of credit for the big jump in Wentz’s play last season. But now, without him, the Eagles are going to keep a finely-tuned machine running. And they’re going to do it with a very young and very promising coach. 

Taylor is just 30 years old, which seems incredibly young for a coach who is supposed to lead the most important position room for the Eagles and possibly the most important position room in the entire league. He’s just one year older than Foles. 

He might be young, but Taylor is uniquely positioned to handle this responsibility. And aside from his football acumen — which has been touted by his superiors — it’s his relationship with the players in the room that made him such a no-brainer replacement for DeFilippo. 

“I feel really close (to Wentz, Foles and Sudfeld),” Taylor said last week. “I know what makes them tick going into it. And then we all had our own relationships. Obviously, I wasn’t their quarterbacks coach at the time, but I was in the room, sat through those conversations, had my own conversations out on the practice field. I feel like I know the things they like, the things they didn’t like. And then was able to learn from the other guys, the other coaches in the room.”

After the Super Bowl, Taylor is probably best known in the city for bringing the Philly Special to the Eagles. In his position last year, it was his job to mine gadget plays from around the league and found that play being used by the Bears the season before (see story). And that’s great. But all the stuff we don’t know about last year is what’s going to make the most difference for the Eagles this season. 

Taylor has been with the Eagles since 2013, when Chip Kelly brought him to town. And then Doug Pederson was smart enough (and without ego) to keep Taylor in 2016. The brother of Rams quarterbacks coach Zac Taylor, Press has quickly worked his way up the ladder. 

Last week, Wentz was asked if the team wanted his opinion before promoting Taylor. 

“I think it was pretty much known how we felt about Press beforehand,” Wentz said. “We’ve seen Press behind the scenes the last couple years and how hard he works. A lot of guys have a ton of respect for him as a person and as a coach. I know that’s where I sit. So far, it’s been great. He understands the game extremely well. We’re very like-minded, both on and off the field. The relationship I have with him personally and the relationship he has with all the quarterbacks has been tremendous so far.”

The relationship between Taylor and the QBs is so important. Relationships for this entire coaching staff are so important. Really, that’s what has made Pederson so special. He has that “emotional intelligence” and understands how to deal with his players. 

Taylor seems to have that too. And really, that’s why the Eagles’ QB room won’t miss a beat. 

More on the Eagles