LeGarrette Blount

Jay Ajayi embracing the changes with Eagles

Jay Ajayi embracing the changes with Eagles

In June, Doug Pederson said that Jay Ajayi would be the lead back in the rotation going into training camp.

Ajayi certainly deserved the promotion as he showed in 2017 he could be effective in this Eagles offense. He averaged 5.8 yards per carry in seven regular-season games after he was traded here from Miami. 

"Basically it's the guy we'll roll with in this offense," Ajayi said Friday about taking the lead role. "The guy who will keep us moving, [keep] the flow of the game going and make big plays for the team."

Maybe Ajayi can get back to his 2016 form in which he ran for 1,272 yards (fourth-best in the league). He wouldn’t reveal how many touches he’d like to get per game, but Ajayi wants to be considered a consistent option in the offense.

“I like to feel a part of the game," he said. "I like to feel like I’m doing something going into the fourth quarter, especially in close games, because I feel like I do a great job of wearing defenses down.”

Ajayi misses LeGarrette Blount, who was his mentor when he arrived. He even calls Blount his brother.

But Ajayi still has Duce Staley to lean on. 

“I don’t think I’ve ever had a running back coach in my career who actually played the position," Ajayi said. "Now I’ve got one that’s actually played in the NFL. Just him telling me the little tidbits of how to attack a defense, and how to stick one way while getting a defense to move another way. His knowledge of the game and defenses allows me to be smarter out there and helps me know what’s coming even before it happens.

"All of those things are going to help me be a better player and teammate. It’s been a great opportunity for me to learn from him."

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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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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.”