LeGarrette Blount

Duce Staley confirms Eagles will have a lead running back

Duce Staley confirms Eagles will have a lead running back

Earlier this spring, Jay Ajayi said he was looking forward to being the Eagles’ lead running back in the 2018 season. 

Turns out, Duce Staley is looking forward to it too. 

The Eagles’ running backs coach on Monday confirmed that Ajayi is going to take the top role for the Eagles this season, but it will be done as a part of a continuing committee. 

“I think he will (be the lead back),” Staley said. “If you just go back and study us for the last couple of years. A lot of that comes from being that guy. You look at LeGarrette (Blount), he was that guy. You look at (Darren) Sproles. When we have a group of backs, we’re going to start off with a back, he’s going to go out there, he’s going to run until his tongue is hanging out and here comes the next guy.”

Ajayi, 24, is certainly excited about being back in that role. Remember, he was a Pro Bowler just a couple of seasons ago when he rushed for over 1,200 yards with the Dolphins in 2016.

Staley already liked what he saw from Ajayi in limited time last season. Ajayi was traded to the Eagles in the middle of the year but put in extra work to get caught up and saw his workload increase as the season went on. 

During the regular season, Ajayi averaged 5.8 yards per carry (408 on 70) in the final seven games before the playoffs. That’s the best average per carry for an Eagles running back (minimum 50 attempts) in the modern era. And then he started the first two playoff games before Blount started in the Super Bowl. 

But it was pretty clear as last season went on that Ajayi was starting to be groomed for that starter role and now with Blount gone — to Detroit in free agency — Ajayi will have the top spot. 

“Him being focused coming in,” Staley said, “knowing he’s the guy that’s going to step up there and put everything on his back and we’re going to ride with him.” 

Now, it’s important to remember that even though Blount was the lead back for most of the 2017 season, that didn’t mean he led the team in carries every week. Remember way back to Week 2 of the season in Kansas City when Blount didn’t have a single rushing attempt? It was a big deal at the time, but he came back and ended up averaging over 6.1 yards per carry over the following four weeks. 

That’s the type of committee that makes the Eagles happy but can be a nightmare for fantasy football owners. 

What's most impressive is that it appears all the Eagles’ running backs have bought into that committee — even Ajayi, who had a less-than-stellar reputation when the Eagles traded for him. Staley somehow seems to make everyone happy. 

How does he do it?

“Just by telling them it’s not about them,” Staley said. “I think that’s the most important thing for them to understand. And you have that conversation with them as soon as they walk through the door. It’s not something you hold back.”

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Matt Jones may be more than just a camp body for Eagles

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AP Images

Matt Jones may be more than just a camp body for Eagles

Conventional wisdom says Matt Jones is just another camp body in a crowded running backs room.

Maybe he’s more than that.

Eagles head coach Doug Pederson hinted Friday the Eagles may have bigger plans than expected for Jones, who’s trying to revive his career with his third team in three years. 

He went as far as saying he envisions Jay Ajayi and Jones forming a similar 1-2 running back attack as LeGarrette Blount and Ajayi did during the second half of the Super Bowl season.

“I don’t want to compare LeGarrette and Jay,” Pederson said. “But that type of dynamic, with his experience and what he brings to us.”

Blount rushed for 766 yards and a 4.4 average during the regular season last year and was 14 for 90 rushing in the Super Bowl win over the Patriots. He signed a one-year contract with the Lions in March.

Ajayi ran for 408 yards in seven games with the Eagles after coming over in a mid-season trade from the Dolphins and 184 more in the postseason and projects as the Eagles’ lead back in 2018.

Jones had just five carries for 14 yards last year during his one season with the Colts but averaged 4.7 yards per carry for the Redskins in 2016, including a 135-yard game against the Eagles at FedEx Field.

He hurt his knee the next week in a game in Detroit and didn’t play again for the Redskins, even when he was healthy.

Jones’ biggest issue has been fumbles.

He fumbled five times on 163 touches in 2015 and three times on 107 touches last year. That’s one fumble every 34 offensive touches. 

For the sake of comparison, Blount has fumbled once every 82 touches in his career and LeSean McCoy once every 119 touches.

Jones was one of only two NFL running backs with fewer than 300 touches over the 2016 and 2017 seasons combined to fumble at least eight times. The other was Bobby Rainey.

But the Eagles are enamored of Jones’ ability. His 4.7 average ranked 11th in the NFL in 2016 before he got hurt.

And he’s the only player to rush for at least 130 yards against the Eagles over the last three years.

Where does he fit in? The Eagles have a ton of running backs on the roster.

Corey Clement was a Super Bowl star but only had 85 carries last year. Wendell Smallwood has shown flashes but can’t stay healthy. Donnel Pumphrey was a fourth-round pick but had a terrible training camp and never got on the field. Darren Sproles re-signed with the Eagles but he’s coming off an ACL injury. Even Ajayi has been dogged by sore knees, and his contract is up after this year.

Hence, Jones.

Jones, originally a third-round pick out of Florida, is only 25 years old and judging from the way Pederson spoke about him Friday, he just may have a significant role in the running back rotation moving forward.

“Added depth, added competition,” Pederson said. “Obviously, Sproles’ [health] situation right now, it just gives us depth there. 

“Jay’s a guy going forward I want to make sure he’s 100 percent, he’s ready for the regular season and all those types of things down the road, so Matt gives us that depth and competition, and I’m excited for him to get into that mix too.”

Roob's 10 mid-March Eagles observations

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USA Today Images

Roob's 10 mid-March Eagles observations

We're deep into free agency, the draft is rapidly approaching and the 2017 Super Bowl champion Eagles are being reshaped into a new team.

Which means it's a perfect time for a Roob's 10 Observations.

1. As the Eagles move on from LeGarrette Blount and reshape the running back position, it’s intriguing to ponder just how good Corey Clement can be. From what I saw last year? I think the kid can be a stud. His touches were limited until late in the season, but how many rookies have had 300 rushing yards, 200 receiving yards and averaged at least 4.4 yards per carry and 13 yards per catch? Would you believe three in the last 40 years? A guy named Jesse Clark with the Packers in 1983, a guy named Adrian Peterson with the Vikings in 2007 and a guy named Corey Clement. It’s tough to project, but he can run, he can block, he can catch, he’s got a real flair for making big plays and a terrific knack in the red zone. Can’t wait to see him in an expanded role.

2. As for Blount, you can’t overstate his value to the Eagles last year, both as a running back and a leader. For a guy with his resume to come into that locker room and not once complain about his workload — even when he had no carries against the Chiefs — was remarkable. His selfless attitude really resonated with the young guys in the locker room. And I know a lot of fans were upset to see him go, but as incredible as his Super Bowl performance was, you can’t forget that in the seven games leading up to the Super Bowl he averaged 2.9 yards per carry. And he’s 31 years old. If the reported numbers are correct, Blount’s $4.5 million 2018 salary makes him the 12th-highest-paid running back in the league. Good for him. I wish him well. He was a huge part of that 2017 team. But it made no sense for the Eagles to bring him back.

3. It’s amazing how much money teams keep throwing at Sam Bradford. He’s got 34 wins in eight seasons, he’s never had a winning record, he’s never made a postseason, and on the rare occasions when he’s been healthy, he’s won only 43 percent of his starts. Oh, and he’s missed 42 games since 2013. “He’s our guy!”

4. Speaks volumes that both Blount and Torrey Smith singled out Duce Staley in their tweets or Instagram posts saying goodbye to Philly after joining new teams. Staley wasn’t even Smith’s position coach, and he still singled him out. Blount wrote: “To my main man Coach Duce Staley — You have impacted my life on and off the field and pushed me to be the best version of me I can be and for that I thank you!” Staley is such a natural leader and such a big part of what the Eagles accomplished in 2017. He’s going to be a head coach one day.

5. The Eagles lost Vinny Curry, but they have Brandon Graham, Derek Barnett, Michael Bennett and Chris Long. They lost Trey Burton and Brent Celek, but they have Zach Ertz. They lost Smith, but they have Alshon Jeffery, Nelson Agholor and Mack Hollins. They lost Blount, but they have Jay Ajayi and Clement. They lost Patrick Robinson, but they have Sidney Jones, Jalen Mills, Rasul Douglas, Ronald Darby and Daryl Worley. They’ve lost a lot, but they’re still stocked at every position where they lost someone. Pretty darn good roster planning.

6. I feel like in the wake of Nick Foles’ brilliant postseason, people are forgetting exactly how good Carson Wentz was before he got hurt. So here’s a list of every quarterback in NFL history with 33 or more touchdown passes and seven or fewer interceptions in a season before his 30th birthday: Carson Wentz.

7. I wonder how much Haloti Ngata has left. He’s 34, he’s coming off a torn biceps, and he’s five years removed from his last Pro Bowl. Beau Allen was quietly a solid backup defensive tackle and played a big role in that D-line rotation the second half of the season after Tim Jernigan hurt his ankle. I don’t mind the signing. Ngata comes cheap and there’s really nothing to lose. But it’s been a while since he’s been a dominant player, so it’ll be interesting to see how he fits in.

8. If you’ve never been to Canton, Ohio, plan your trip now. The Pro Football Hall of Fame is a great place to visit any time. But the weekend of Brian Dawkins’ induction is going to be unforgettable. Dawk’s speech is going to be epic.

9. The Philly Special may be the greatest play in Eagles history, but where does the fourth-quarter, fourth-down conversion rank? The Eagles trailed with 5½ minutes left and faced a 4th-and-1 inside midfield when Foles converted a short completion to Ertz. If they don’t convert, they lose. That’s gotta be a top-10 all-time play. Maybe top-five.

10. Tight ends with more catches than Ertz in their first five NFL seasons: Kellen Winslow Sr., Jimmy Graham, Jason Witten and Antonio Gates.