Matt Jones

After forgettable performance, Wendell Smallwood somehow doesn’t lose ground

After forgettable performance, Wendell Smallwood somehow doesn’t lose ground

FOXBORO, Mass. — Wendell Smallwood had eye-popping stats Thursday night. 

Not the good kind. 

Four carries, one yard. One catch, five yards. And that came on 30 snaps. Did we mention he also failed to punch in a touchdown from the 1-yard line?

Yuck. 

Smallwood, 24, had an excellent opportunity to push for a roster spot on Thursday night but left Gillette Stadium after a forgettable performance. 

It just speaks to the quality of the competition that he didn’t lose ground because of it. 

Smallwood didn’t lose ground because as bad as he was, Matt Jones was arguably worse (see story). The veteran running back dropped three passes and one led to an interception. Jones failed to flash even late in the game against the Patriots’ deep reserves. Smallwood’s other competition — Donnel Pumphrey and Josh Adams — watched the game because of injuries. 

So it’s possible four carries for one yard was actually the best performance from that quartet of running backs Thursday night. 

“You want to make plays, but at the same time, the coaches want to see what you can do without the ball,” Smallwood said. “Are you doing your job when you're not (carrying) it? Does it mean anything to you when your buddy’s getting the ball and do you care about it?

“Just being out there and doing that and getting my job done when I’m not getting the ball means more than when I do get the ball. You gotta be a force either way. The reps matter. They count whether you’re getting the ball or not.”

Sure, the Eagles are watching every snap. It’s not just about what the running backs do when they have the ball. But it had to kill Smallwood that he wasn’t able to capitalize on a huge opportunity against the Patriots. 

The Eagles have to trim their roster to 53 players by 4 p.m. on Sept. 1. We all know Jay Ajayi, Darren Sproles and Corey Clement are on the team. We’re also expecting one of these four — Smallwood, Jones, Pumphrey or Adams — to make the roster as well. It’s possible the Eagles might keep just three, but that seems unlikely after they kept five on their initial roster last season. 

In a race it seems like nobody wants to win, Smallwood’s biggest advantage might just be that he’s been here the longest. A fifth-round pick in 2016, Smallwood has the most experience in Doug Pederson’s offense. 

“It puts me in a good position,” Smallwood admitted. “But you still gotta go out there and play whether you’ve been here three years or three months. You gotta go out there and make plays and give them reason to trust me.”

Amazingly, the other biggest advantage Smallwood has is that he’s been healthy. That’s amazing because injuries have hampered Smallwood during his first two years in the league, but he’s the only running back of the four who hasn’t suffered an injury all spring and summer. 

Some of that is luck. Some of that is Smallwood’s better understanding of how to protect himself and being “in tune” with his body. While the other running backs have to show the Eagles their ability, Smallwood has to show them his ability to stay healthy. So far, so good. 

Smallwood has made an effort this year to really try to stay healthy. He agreed that injuries have really hampered his young career, especially whenever it looks like he’s going to get a bigger role. It happened last year after Sproles went down. Smallwood looked like the new third-down back, but a knee injury helped ruined that. So instead of being a major contributor on the Super Bowl team, Smallwood was inactive for the second half of the season and all three playoff games. 

Now, Smallwood is fighting and clawing to stay in Philadelphia and make the roster. He’s willing to be a big contributor on special teams, which is important, and maybe he showed something when he didn’t have the ball Thursday night. 

It just seemed like he didn’t do a ton to separate himself. The good news for Smallwood is that the fourth-running back race is more of a crawl. All he has to do is keep inching along. 

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Eagles stock up, stock down from 2nd preseason game

Eagles stock up, stock down from 2nd preseason game

The Eagles are now halfway through their preseason schedule and we’re beginning to see the 53-man roster take form. 

Some players performed well in Foxboro against the Patriots on Thursday night. Some didn’t. 

Here are three “stock up” players and three “stock down” from the second preseason game: 

Stock up

Nate Sudfeld
Suds is the easiest one to pick from this game. He dropped dimes all over the field at Gillette Stadium. He ended up completing 22 of 39 passes for 312 yards, with three touchdowns and just one interception that came after a drop. But those numbers only tell a very small portion of the story. To me, the biggest reason to think Sudfeld can actually play are the individual throws. We’re talking about perfect passes some starters in the league can’t make. You can question the level of competition, but you can’t look at some of these balls and not be impressed. 

I still can’t believe Washington let this kid walk. Did he look like a completely different player down there after they used a draft pick on him? Because the Eagles identified something in him quite early. It’s why they lured him away from Washington to join their practice squad. It’s why they added him to the active roster when the Colts tried to vulture him. And it’s why whenever they talk about their quarterbacks, they don’t stop at Foles and Wentz. They always include Sudfeld. 

Shelton Gibson 
I really can’t believe this is the same kid who couldn’t catch a cold this time last year. What an incredible transformation. I guess that’s what confidence can do for a young player. He caught five passes for 90 yards against the Patriots and hauled in his second touchdown pass of the preseason. 

Gibson again showed off his ability to be a deep threat, but he showed other levels of his game too. On the touchdown catch, that route is really good. And he also showed off his skills as a kick returner, bringing back four for 121 yards. 

Ronald Darby 
Some people might have looked at Darby’s game and thought “stock down” because he dropped two interceptions. While that’s true and he needs to start making those plays, he was great in coverage against the Pats. He put himself in position to nearly pick off a couple passes. Without Jalen Mills, Darby lined up at left cornerback, the position he held before his ankle injury early last season. With how well he played there Thursday night, I wonder if the Eagles would consider making the switch and putting him back there. 

Stock down

Matt Jones
With a tremendous opportunity to win a roster spot Thursday night, Jones had a dud of a performance. He carried the ball six times for 19 yards; he caught six passes for 32. But the problem was that he dropped three passes, one of which was then picked off by the Patriots. 

Remember, not that long ago, Jones was thought to be a talented young running back with starter potential down in Washington. Now? He’s fighting to make the Eagles’ roster as a fourth-stringer and can’t even shake off the competition. 

Rashard Davis 
The young receiver from JMU had a pretty good camp as a receiver and even caught a 31-yard touchdown pass. That’s good. 

So why is his stock down? 

Davis had a chance as a punt returner Thursday night and turned in a really disappointing performance. He returned five punts for just 19 yards. That’s even more amazing because one of his returns went for 15 yards. Two of Davis’ returns went for negative yardage, including a minus-11 that pinned the Eagles back at their own 2-yard line in the third quarter. I know he’s trying to make a play, but that’s terrible awareness. 

Halapoulivaati Vaitai 
We could have very well given this spot to Nick Foles, who had a really off night before leaving with an injury. But instead, we’ll give it to the guy who aided that injury. Big V didn’t have a good night at all but his worst play came when he got beat by Adrian Clayborn, who then hit Foles on his throwing arm, knocking Foles out of the game. The play also resulted in a fumble return touchdown for the Patriots. Vaitai was a big part of the Super Bowl team last year, but he thrives on confidence. You wonder about that when you see a play like the one that happened in Foxboro. 

Luckily the Eagles are getting Jason Peters back this year, but Big V might be the tackle of the future. There’s some reason to worry about that. 

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Matt Jones doesn't help his case for Eagles' 53-man roster in preseason debut

Matt Jones doesn't help his case for Eagles' 53-man roster in preseason debut

FOXBORO, Mass. — This was not the game Matt Jones wanted, and it’s not the game he could afford to have if he’s going to make the Eagles’ 53-man roster.

Playing in his first game this preseason, Jones ran six times for 19 yards Thursday night against the Patriots and dropped three passes, one of which was picked off by Christian Sam off his hands.

Not an auspicious debut for the former Redskin and Colt.

“I don’t want to put anything like that on film,” he said at his locker after the Eagles lost to the Patriots, 37-20, at Gillette Stadium. “Just lack of focus because of fatigue and just not locking in and watching the ball through. 

“Don’t want to get down on myself because I know I can catch the ball. … I know I’m a better player than that and I’m going to prove it.”

Jones didn’t play in the opener, and with Donnel Pumphrey and Josh Adams both out Thursday night and Wendell Smallwood not doing anything to help himself, this was his chance to make a statement.

Jones was among the NFL’s leading rushers the first half of 2016. He even had a 135-yard game against the Eagles. So he should be able to dominate against some of the second- and third-stringers he faced Thursday night.

But he didn’t come close to dominating.

“Big learning experience for me about what I need to get done, what I need to do, what I need to work on,” Jones said.

“I got a lot of reps on special teams, a lot of reps on offense, need to watch the film and really study myself. There was a lot on my plate tonight, we have some backs down tonight, I just had to suck it up.

“I’m close to where I want to be. I’m real close. I need to clean up the little stuff, there’s some stuff I need to fix."

Smallwood finished with four carries of one yard rushing, so he didn’t help himself much either.

Right now, there are four running backs competing for one possible fourth spot behind Jay Ajayi, Corey Clement and Darren Sproles, and none of the four has claimed the spot. 

You would think Jones, with his resume, would have. But this wasn’t the start he needed.

"I think [Jones and Smallwood] would agree that there were plays left out on the field tonight,” Doug Pederson said. “And something we got to clean up and keep working. You know, it’s a great battle between those two and we have a couple weeks left before we make these tough decisions.”

Jones said he felt terrible about his drops Thursday night, especially the one that turned into an interception from Nate Sudfeld. He said he'll do more sprints after practice to get his wind up so he can get through a full game playing teams and offense.

“Playing offense and special teams, I’m not used to that, and it was something really challenging for me," he said. "But I’m going to bounce back next week and really hone in on it. It’s something I’ve never really done before, now I just have to step up to the challenge and be ready.”

Jones and Sudfeld were teammates with the Redskins in 2016, so they go back a few years.

“He’s a guy who really believes in me and I believe in him so every time I’m on the field I try to give him my all,” he said.

“So with the drops, I feel like I owe him a couple. I’ll make sure I make up for those next game.”

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