Eagles

Wendell Smallwood 'really excited, ready to go' for NFL debut Saturday

Wendell Smallwood 'really excited, ready to go' for NFL debut Saturday

Eagles rookie running back Wendell Smallwood will finally make his NFL debut on Saturday. After missing out on the team’s first two preseason games with a quad injury, Smallwood can’t wait for his first action.

“I’m really excited, ready to go,” Smallwood said Tuesday. “It’s been a while since I’ve been in a game.”

Smallwood held out some hope that he would play against the Steelers, but said he never cleared the final hurdle.

“The trainers and coaches didn’t feel like I had my last burst,” he said. “I didn’t feel like I was up to full speed, I was about 85 percent running. I didn’t feel like I had that last gear … this week, I’m back to full speed.”

As he discussed last week, Smallwood has maintained his focus and tried to learn from watching his teammates while on the sidelines. Given his desire to impress as a rookie and the fact that he’s never missed a game before in his football career, that’s obviously been a challenge. Running backs coach Duce Staley and veterans like Darren Sproles understand that and have paid close attention to Smallwood’s development.

“Darren talks to me all the time about it, he asks me every day how I’m doing and what I need to do,” Smallwood said. “I think just having him and the other running backs in my corner is definitely a positive.”

One facet that Smallwood has been constantly working on is his pass-blocking knowledge. Offensive coordinator Frank Reich on Tuesday stressed the importance of all his backs being strong in pass protection, and said he was encouraged by Smallwood’s progress in that phase of the game.

“Even though he was a great runner in college, you could see glimpses of him in the passing game, you could see him in protection, that he was a willing blocker,” Reich said. “And he had the aptitude when you talked to him in the interviews and when you watch film with him, you can see that he gets it and he processes it, and that’s a very important part of it. So his continued progress to get on the field is going to have to come in the passing game, as well.”

Smallwood is pleased with his understanding of the Eagles’ pass-blocking schemes, but he knows he always has to be on his toes, just in case a question flies his way.

“I think I’ve been progressing very well with [pass blocking,]” Smallwood said. “Just learning techniques and learning the system, all the calls the line has, and I think I’ve picked it up. Duce throws random questions at me and I’m right on time with them, so I think I’m doing very well in that area.”

On Saturday, he’ll be dealing with more than questions; Smallwood will have to pick up linebackers and safeties trying to hit his quarterback. He’s looking forward to it.

DL Martin (knee) day to day
Defensive lineman Mike Martin is another Eagle who has been frustrated by a lingering leg injury.

Like Smallwood, Martin has yet to play in the preseason. Since twisting his knee several weeks ago in training camp, Martin has mostly been on the sidelines. Now he’s back to practice, though Martin said he’s “just easing back into it, not trying to throw myself in there hard right off the bat.”

It seems unlikely that Martin will play against the Colts. While he classified his situation as “a day-by-day thing right now,” it’s hard to imagine him going from “easing back into it” to the heat of an NFL game.

While he’s been out, Martin, a third-round draft pick by the Titans in 2012, has aimed to learn as much as he can.

“Anytime you miss time and can’t be out there, it sucks, but I’ve been in my book and haven’t missed much on the mental side of it,” he said. “Every day I’m just trying to pick up where I left off.”

Once he returns, Martin can’t wait to play in Jim Schwartz’s defense and create chaos for opposing offenses along with Fletcher Cox, Bennie Logan and his other talented teammates on the defensive line.

“[This defense] is just an attack style, which is really great for me,” Martin said. “That’s the type of player I am and it fits me perfectly.”

NFL players, including Malcolm Jenkins, respond to Trump’s request

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USA Today Images

NFL players, including Malcolm Jenkins, respond to Trump’s request

You might remember earlier this month, when President Donald Trump acknowledged one of the reasons some NFL players have been demonstrating during the national anthem and asked for suggestions for names of people to pardon (see story).

As a reminder, this is what Trump said back on June 8: 

“I am going to ask all of those people to recommend to me — because that’s what they’re protesting — people that they think were unfairly treated by the justice system,” Trump said. “And I understand that. And I’m going to ask them to recommend to me people that were unfairly treated — friends of theirs or people that they know about — and I’m going to take a look at those applications. And if I find, and my committee finds that they are unfairly treated, then we will pardon them or at least let them out (of prison).”

Players — at least the Players Coalition, including Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins — responded to that request from the president today in an op-ed in the New York Times

The main idea of the op-ed was that the President’s power to pardon people can certainly help, but it doesn’t change the criminal justice system or help combat systemic racism. 

Here’s part of the op-ed, penned by Jenkins, Doug Baldwin, Anquan Boldin and Benjamin Watson, four members of the Players Coalition made up of NFL players: 

President Trump recently made an offer to National Football League players like us who are committed to protesting injustice. Instead of protesting, he suggested, we should give him names of people we believe were ‘unfairly treated by the justice system.’ If he agrees they were treated unfairly, he said, he will pardon them.

To be sure, the president’s clemency power can be a valuable tool for redressing injustice. Just look at Alice Johnson, age 63, who was serving a life sentence for a nonviolent drug conviction until her sentence was commuted by President Trump. He should be commended for using his clemency power in that case.

But a handful of pardons will not address the sort of systemic injustice that N.F.L. players have been protesting. These are problems that our government has created, many of which occur at the local level. If President Trump thinks he can end these injustices if we deliver him a few names, he hasn’t been listening to us.

That’s just a very small part of the full op-ed. To read the whole thing, click here

The rest of the piece gets into more specific instances where the players think the criminal justice system should be overhauled and ask the president to use his power to help change it. 

An interesting note toward the bottom of the piece tells Trump, “Our being professional athletes has nothing to do with our commitment to fighting injustice. We are citizens who embrace the values of empathy, integrity and justice, and we will fight for what we believe is right.”

While that might be true, these players have a platform because of their ability on the football field. One they’re using to try to make positive changes in the country. 

Several players, including Eagles defensive end Chris Long and former Eagles receiver Torrey Smith, along with Jenkins, also posted video responses to Trump’s request: 


More on the Eagles

Nick Foles is a legend, but Eagles still need Carson Wentz

Nick Foles is a legend, but Eagles still need Carson Wentz

I’ve heard this a lot over the last few months: The Eagles won the Super Bowl with Nick Foles. 

It’s a very true statement, but still has flaws. 

And before we get too far into this, I want to offer a disclaimer. What Foles did in last year’s playoffs was incredible. He’ll go down as an all-time great Eagle and deserves all the credit in the world for getting it done and becoming the Super Bowl MVP. 

But the problem with “The Eagles won the Super Bowl with Nick Foles” is two-fold. 

First, it neglects the incredible contributions Carson Wentz made to winning that Super Bowl by playing at an MVP level before going down in December. 

Second, it makes it seem like it's a real possibility the Eagles could repeat with Foles, even if Wentz doesn’t return to form. 

This is going to seem obvious, but apparently, it’s not: the Eagles need Wentz. 

Let’s start with the first of those two points. Because of how amazing Foles was in the playoffs, it’s easy to forget just how good Wentz was in 13 starts. He wasn’t just good, he was MVP-of-the-league good. A little while back, Reuben Frank dove back into some incredible Wentz stats (see story).

Now, we’ll never know if Wentz would have been able to pull off the kind of magic Foles did in the playoffs the same way we’ll never know if Foles would have been able to lead the Eagles to an 11-2 record through 13 games. But, at least for me, I have an easier time believing that Wentz could have lived up to Foles’ level of play than Foles’ playing at an MVP level through most of the regular season. 

Sure, Foles dunked in the playoffs, but Wentz provided the alley-oop. Wentz was the biggest part of the reason the Eagles won the NFC East. He was the reason they were able to overcome so many injuries to not only get a first-round bye, but to also earn homefield advantage in the playoffs. Imagine what happens if the Eagles have to play a wildcard game or have to travel to Atlanta or Minnesota. If the Eagles don’t have that bye week, can Brandon Graham heal in time for that wild-card game? Maybe not. 

So maybe they still make it through the playoffs, but Wentz definitely made the road much easier. 

The second part of this might be hard to swallow after Foles has been called the greatest insurance policy in the NFL for months. That’s pretty true as well. As far as backup quarterbacks go, having a Super Bowl MVP is pretty good. 

But there’s a reason the Eagles view Wentz, not Foles, as their future. There’s a reason that before the Super Bowl, when the team took a team photo, Wentz was the only player not in position by jersey number. He instead was in the direct center, as the face of the franchise. He’s special. 

Last week, I was on Philly Sports Talk and guest co-host Danny Pommells suggested that Foles start the opener because of the fear of rushing Wentz back too soon. I understood the point, but disagreed. In this league, there aren’t any easy games; there’s no time to wait for a healthy player to get healthy. Because if Wentz gets cleared by doctors, there’s no decision to make. He’s still the starter because he’s the better player. 

And that isn’t a shot on Foles, saying that one of the best quarterbacks in the league — a guy who could go down as an all-time great — is better than him. It’s just the truth. Although, it seems recently we’ve been blinded by the bling of 219 diamonds in a Super Bowl ring.