Matt Jones

Rookie Josh Adams may have edge in battle for Eagles' 4th running back spot

Rookie Josh Adams may have edge in battle for Eagles' 4th running back spot

Josh Adams has been learning as much as he can from Wendell Smallwood, Donnel Pumphrey and Matt Jones.

Now it looks like he may put them all out of work.

Doug Pederson said Adams, the undrafted rookie from Notre Dame, will get a good long look Thursday night against the Jets when the Eagles finish the preseason at the Linc. 

Adams has been impressive this summer, averaging a beefy 6.3 yards per carry. But that’s with just 10 carries — 6 for 30 against the Steelers and 4 for 33 against the Browns. 

He also has four catches though for only 10 yards.

There’s a growing sense that if the Eagles try to sneak him through waivers onto the practice squad, he’ll get claimed.

Which means barring disaster Thursday night, he has a fair chance to stick on the 53-man roster, which the Eagles must finalize by 4 p.m. Saturday.

“I’m having a lot of fun,” Adams said. “I’m blessed to be here. Something about working and being able to perfect your craft, especially at this level where you have so many guys around you and they’re the best of the best. 

“It’s definitely a blessing to learn from these guys and also compete with them and try to add a little something to it as well. Having a lot of fun doing that and just trying to grow each and every day.

“Learned a lot from everybody in the room. It’s just great to have guys like that around you so you can better your game.”

Jay Ajayi, Darren Sproles and Corey Clement have the team made and won’t play against the Jets.

That leaves Jones, Pumphrey, Smallwood and Adams.

It’s a good sign that Pederson singled out Adams when asked who he’s looking forward to seeing Thursday night.

“[A back who] hasn't gotten a lot of touches in ballgames is Josh Adams, as a runner, so want to maybe get him involved in this game a little bit early and see what he can do,” Pederson said. “He's another bright spot, young player that's made an impact.”

Why keep Adams over, say, Smallwood?

He’s a little cheaper, a little younger and has more upside. The Eagles know what Smallwood can do, and he’ll probably find a job somewhere at some point if the Eagles do release him.

Adams is a slashing runner, a willing blocker and could be a stud one day.

“It’s another opportunity for me to go out there and show what I can do,” Adams said. “Just like every other preseason game. You don’t know how many opportunities you might get, so just take care of the one you have at that moment and that’s my mindset."

Any NFL team could have drafted Adams in April. 

Now he’s on the brink of proving every one of them wrong.  

“I don’t think about anything like that,” he said. “I’m always motivated every day I wake up. I got a lot of stuff pushing me, a lot of people supporting me, and that drives me to be the best that I can. 

“All the rest of it will take care of itself. I’m just blessed to be able to play a sport, to be in this position that not many people get to make it to. So every morning I just try to do my best and not worry about anything else.

“Whenever my opportunity comes, wherever that may be, whether it’s on special teams or offense, try to do my best. You never know when your last one might come, so just take advantage of the one you have now and the rest will take are of itself.”

Just a hunch: His last one isn’t going to come for quite a while.

More on the Eagles

Battle for Eagles' 4th running back spot comes down to final preseason game

Battle for Eagles' 4th running back spot comes down to final preseason game

CLEVELAND — This is going to come down to the final preseason game. 

With the Eagles’ top three running backs on the roster etched in stone, there have been four guys battling for that fourth and (likely) final spot. And even though a couple of them showed flashes in Thursday’s 5-0 loss to the Browns in preseason game No. 3, nobody has won the job yet. 

The next week of practice and Thursday’s game against the Jets in the preseason finale might decide who makes the roster. 

It’s probably a little disappointing that one player hasn’t run away with the job, but it will at least add a little intrigue to next week’s game. 

Here’s an updated look at where everyone stands: 

Wendell Smallwood 
With no Jay Ajayi, Corey Clement or Darren Sproles against the Browns, Smallwood got the start but didn’t get off to the start he wanted. 

Of his first eight carries, just one went for more than four yards. And five went for two yards or fewer. So he waited. 

“Actually, watching film all week, I knew those holes would open,” Smallwood said. “Knowing how their defense plays, knowing that they would stop us sometimes, I was being patient. It started working out for us.”

It certainly did. 

Eventually, Smallwood broke off runs of 14, 14, 12 and 10 yards. He finished his day with 12 carries for 53 yards. That’s just an average of 4.4 yards per carry, but a lot of that fell on the offensive line. And seeing those big chunk plays was encouraging. He also caught two passes for 14 yards. 

Smallwood, in his third season, thought he played well enough to give himself a boost in the competition. 

“I think it’s very important, especially being with the starters,” he said. “We’ve got guys down and they called on me to start this game, come out with the ones, and I think that’s huge. They trust me being out there with those guys and the feeling of playing against starters, I think that’s a whole different level. It was a wonderful opportunity.” 

Some fans might be tired of the former fifth-round pick who has shown flashes but can’t seem to sustain them. Amazingly, he’s the only back of the four who has stayed healthy all summer. Smallwood has been labeled as injury-prone, but his ability to stay on the field this preseason might actually help him win the job. 

“I think that there’s still more plays out there for me to make,” Smallwood said. “I feel like I can make more plays. Even when things are not there, I feel like I could be a difference maker out there, I think.”

Josh Adams 
After missing last week’s game with an ankle injury, Adams was back against the Browns. He had to wait to play with the second unit but did pick up 33 yards on four carries (8.3 yards per carry). 

This preseason, in two games, Adams has 63 yards on 10 carries. That’s an average of 6.3 yards per carry, while Smallwood has averaged just 3.4 yards per carry. 

The undrafted running back from Notre Dame is big, fast and talented. He definitely has draftable ability, but he has struggled to stay on the field since getting to Philadelphia. 

But when he’s on the field, he’s been worth watching. 

“It’s fun, man,” Adams said about the competition. “Anytime you got a good competition like that, you gotta love it. It’s a great game when everyone’s bringing it. I just can’t wait to see what happens next week.” 

Adams knows how important the Jets game will be for him to make the roster, but he said it starts Sunday, when the team gets back to practice. He has to show it every day if he wants to make the team. 

“It’s just like every other game and every other practice,” Adams said. “I just have to give it all I got each and every day I show up and I come to work. Obviously, it’s the last one, but treat it like any other one. Just go out there and prove yourself.”

Matt Jones 
At this point, it might not even be worth seeing Jones in the final game. He made another crucial mistake against the Browns. Forget the 12 yards on three carries. 

When the starting offense was beginning to click on what might have been their first and only touchdown drive of the night, Jones caught a pass, then fumbled the ball away. This comes a week after Jones dropped three passes, one of which led to an interception. 

If there’s one thing that won’t help any player make a roster, it’s turnovers. Jones is now responsible for two in two weeks. That’s not gonna cut it. 

The 25-year-old veteran will need a Herculean effort to somehow emerge with a roster spot next week. It’s not completely out of the question; it just seems unlikely. 

Donnel Pumphrey
A summer that started with so much promise for last year’s fourth-round pick has been derailed by an injury. Pump got hurt the practice before the first preseason game and hasn’t played a snap in the first three. 

These were supposed to be his opportunities to show he belongs in the NFL. Instead, he’s watched all of them. 

Pumphrey said last week that he hopes to be back practicing soon. For his sake, hopefully, that will happen in time for him to get on the field against the Jets. He has a lot of ground to make up. That said, he’s still just 23 and the team might not be ready to completely throw in the towel. 

More on the Eagles

Roob's 10 observations from Eagles-Browns preseason game

Roob's 10 observations from Eagles-Browns preseason game

BOX SCORE

CLEVELAND — Officially, this will go down as a 5-0 Browns preseason win over the Eagles at FirstEnergy Stadium.

I'm calling it a 7-5 Eagles win because Rashard Davis's 37-yard fourth-quarter touchdown catch should never have been overturned.

Whatever you want to call it, it was really ugly (see breakdown).

So two weeks before the opener against the Falcons, where are the Eagles?

Lots of questions on offense, lots of confidence in the defense.

So here we go with our 10 instant observations off the Eagles' 7-5 win Thursday over the Browns! (Or not.)

1. Level of concern about the first-team offense? I’d say moderate. No Carson Wentz, no Nelson Agholor, no Jason Peters, no Darren Sproles, no Jay Ajayi, no Alshon Jeffery, no Corey Clement. And minimal game planning. You have to take all that into account. Still ... this was really ugly. The Eagles wound up playing 14 drives with Nick Foles and the quote-unquote first-team offense on the field this preseason, and those drives netted zero points. Or more accurately, minus-two points, thanks to a safety when Foles was tackled in the end zone in the first quarter Thursday night. And I don’t care if it’s the Super Bowl, a preseason game or a midget flag football game at halftime, turnovers on four straight drives is unacceptable. Four turnovers, a safety, a failed fourth down, three sacks. I don’t want to overreact. I still think the offense will be fine come Sept. 6. But I have to admit, I’m not quite as certain as I was 24 hours ago.

2. Which brings us to Foles. How can a guy who was so brilliant in the postseason last year play like this? How can a Super Bowl MVP just stand there and throw the football to the other team? I can’t explain it. I can’t understand it. I know Foles talks about taking risks in practice and preseason games that he wouldn’t take in a real game, so maybe that’s part of it. He obviously misses his regular receivers. I still think if he has to start a game or two before Wentz is ready, he’ll be fine. And whatever happens, he’ll always be the guy who led the Eagles to the promised land. But there’s just no excuse for any veteran quarterback playing the way he did Thursday night. 

3. Wendell Smallwood got off to a rough start — 6 for 17 in the first quarter — but once he had some room to work, he was decisive to the hole and ran hard. Smallwood finished 12 for 53 with 2 for 14 receiving, all in the first half. This is exactly what the coaches wanted to see from Smallwood. He's been able to stay healthy throughout the preseason, and he moved the chains Thursday night. Is it enough to lock up a roster spot? Probably not. I would think the Eagles will still scour the waiver wire on Sept. 1. But Smallwood helped himself, no doubt about it.

4. Have to be a little concerned with offensive line depth. Halapoulivaati Vaitai struggled badly again. Matt Pryor has leveled off after a hot start. Chance Warmack doesn’t seem to even be in the picture anymore. Jordan Mailata isn’t ready. Isaac Seumalo seems to be the top backup everywhere, but he’s been up and down. Then again, last year Jason Peters was lost for the year and the Eagles won a Super Bowl. So I’m not going to lose a ton of sleep about it. I’d just like to see more from that group.

5. History is filled with hot-shot preseason wide receivers, but I don’t care. DeAndre Carter can play. He got here three days into training camp and was like 500th on the depth chart, but he’s gradually worked his way up to the point where he’s contending for a roster spot. It’s so tough for a guy like Carter who wasn’t here for OTAs, missed the first few days of camp, didn’t know the offense or any of his coaches or teammates, but still has found a way to perform in the games. Carter caught a 20-yarder in the preseason opener, was 3 for 48 against the Patriots and then 4 for 73 Thursday night against the Browns with a 29-yard punt return. I’m not sure what the Eagles will do with Carter, but if it were me, I’m finding a spot for him on the 53. 

6. No complaints with the first-team defense. It lost contain on a couple back-to-back early running plays, gains of 33 yards by Carlos Hyde and 21 yards by Nick Chubb. But it followed that with a sharp goal-line stand, keeping the Browns off the scoreboard after they had a 1st-and-goal on the 1-yard line. The first defense played six series and allowed three points, and those came on a 54-yard field goal after a drive of minus-one yard. The first group allowed 100 yards on six drives, and more than half came on those two long runs. It got good pressure, stuffed the run, didn’t allow any big plays. This defense is ready for greatness.

7. Loved seeing rookie corner Avonte Maddox pick off Baker Mayfield in the fourth quarter (although I would have liked to have seen him take it to the house). He’s been really good the last couple weeks. Just another young cornerback in a large stable of them. I think Sidney Jones starts out as the first nickel but I wouldn’t be surprised if Jim Schwartz finds ways to get Maddox on the field. It's tough for rookie corners to hold up in the preseason, but the Eagles keep churning them out. 

8. You don’t see many guys who’ve been accomplished pros in the NFL fall apart the way Matt Jones has. It’s kind of tough to watch. Considering he was one of the leading rushers in the NFL halfway through the 2016 season, it’s been a disastrous preseason for him. He followed his three-drop game against the Patriots with a fumble Thursday night in Cleveland. He’s a good kid and I wish him well. But it’s not happening here.

9. Rookie Josh Adams, on the other hand, continues to show up. The Central Bucks South product ran four times for 33 yards Thursday night against the Browns’ backups and also caught two short passes. I would have liked to have seen him get a little work against the 1s just to evaluate him against better competition, but he’s shown enough to at least warrant a spot on the practice squad, assuming Smallwood gets that No. 4 spot on the 53 behind Ajayi, Clement and Sproles.

10. Finally this: After watching Wentz’s intense 35-minute pregame workout, I’m more convinced than ever he’ll be ready for the opener. Now, the doctors might look at his MRI and decide he still needs another week or two. I haven’t seen his MRI and I don’t know how to read an MRI anyway, so I can’t make that call. But from a purely football standpoint, he looks phenomenal. Everything you look for — footwork, dexterity, arm strength, mechanics, the ability to right himself when he slips (which he did during his pregame workout Thursday night) and deliver the ball — is there. I don’t know what else Wentz can do to prove he’s ready except make sure that MRI tells the doctors what they want to see (see workout).

More on the Eagles