Wendell Smallwood

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 on 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 on 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 Darren 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 on 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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10 players to watch in Eagles' Super Bowl LII preseason rematch with Patriots

10 players to watch in Eagles' Super Bowl LII preseason rematch with Patriots

The Eagles are up in Foxboro tonight to take on the Patriots in the second game of their preseason. 

Somehow, there won’t be as much at stake as the last time these two teams met. 

But that doesn’t mean there’s nothing at stake. This is a great opportunity for a lot of young players to prove themselves before the starters get extended time in the third preseason game. We did a list like this before Preseason Game 1, so we excluded some players to get new names in this one: 

Nick Foles
Let’s start with the QB. Foles missed the first preseason game with spasms in his trap/neck area. But the Super Bowl MVP is expected to play at least a little bit in a preseason rematch of Super Bowl LII. I don’t expect to see a ton of Foles in this game, but I’m curious to see if he looks rusty or if things click for him. Remember, when he took over for Carson Wentz last year, it took him a few games to find a rhythm. Preseason games might be more important for him than other QBs. 

Matt Jones 
Jones also missed the preseason opener with a hip injury, so this is our first chance to see him in game action. For a big back like Jones, game action just seems much more important than anything he could show during training camp practices. With that fourth RB spot up for grabs and with Corey Clement and Donnel Pumphrey on the shelf, there should be plenty of opportunity for Jones. 

Wendell Smallwood 
The same type of opportunity for Smallwood, who is quickly running out of chances with the Eagles. He looked OK in the preseason opener, but he’s entering his third season with the Eagles and every time it looks like he’s going to have a role, he either gets hurt or can’t capitalize. I still think Smallwood could carve out a decent career, but if he wants it to be in Philly, he needs to start showing up in these games. 

Mike Wallace
Another guy who missed the first preseason game. Wallace missed the game and a few practices with tendinitis, but the 32-year-old has been good this week in camp. He still has his signature speed, which will be fun to watch this season. 

Jordan Mailata 
OK, I’m officially intrigued. I didn’t expect much from Mailata in his first-ever football game last week, but he actually did really well. He’s kind of like a giant baby because he’s learning so much in such a short amount of time. Every time I see him, he looks like a different player. 

Kamar Aiken 
In the absence of Alshon Jeffery, Mack Hollins and Greg Ward, the veteran wideout has actually been working with the first team. That’s impressive to me because when he first arrived, Aiken struggled with dropping passes, but it now appears like that was just because he was getting adjusted to his new offense and surroundings. He’s been much better recently and is pushing for a roster spot. 

Christian Hackenberg 
I’m not sure if Hackenberg will even play against the Patriots, but if he does, that’s must-see for me. He’s been in the Eagles’ offense for just a few days, but the former second-round pick is a super interesting story. He’s never played in a real NFL game and has been a complete disaster as a pro. But a couple years after being a highly-touted prospect, I wonder if he’ll ever be able to resurrect his career. 

Bruce Hector 
Who? Good question. Hector is an undrafted free agent defensive tackle from South Florida who has been really impressive during training camp. In fact, he’s been getting second-team reps above former sixth-round pick Elijah Qualls. Before the first preseason game, I asked a bunch of vets who they were excited to see. Fletcher Cox didn’t hesitate before he said, Hector. 

Cameron Johnston 
I know I’m a jerk for telling you to watch a punter in the preseason, but here we are. Punter is a real question mark because as talented as Johnston appears to be, he’s equally inconsistent. He did, however, punt a ball 81 yards (it didn’t count) in the first game. I had never seen that before. 

Avonte Maddox 
The fourth-round pick out of Pittsburgh has been getting first-team reps as the nickel cornerback this week, so I’d imagine that’s where he’ll be against the Patriots. Maddox never played inside in college, so he’s been learning a new position and has really excelled, jumping De’Vante Bausby on the depth chart. Eventually, Maddox could figure into the rotation of the future. 

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Roob's 10 observations: Wendell Smallwood's chances, Tom Brady-Nick Foles handshake, Bryce Brown's elite company

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Roob's 10 observations: Wendell Smallwood's chances, Tom Brady-Nick Foles handshake, Bryce Brown's elite company

Wendell Smallwood working his way back into the running back picture, the bizarre NFL career of Bryce Brown, Michael Bennett and Shakespeare, the handshake that never was and Brian Westbrook’s 2006 postseason.

Only one place you’re getting all this!

It’s all this week’s Roob’s 10 Random Eagles Observations, and it starts here:

1. It’s been interesting watching Wendell Smallwood this preseason. He’s a guy who when training camp began I didn’t give much of a chance to, only because he’s never been able to stay healthy and the Eagles went into camp with a deep, talented stable of backs. But while Matt Jones, Josh Adams and Donnel Pumphrey have been banged up and on and off the field, Smallwood has not only stayed healthy, he’s made the most of his reps. He looks terrific. I’ve always felt Smallwood is a talented kid. I wrote about him last week and how he spent the offseason learning how to take better care of himself, and so far it’s paying off. Much of making an NFL roster is simply handling the workload during camp and proving to your coaches that they can rely on you. And Smallwood hasn’t missed a rep. This preseason. Not one. So far he’s outlasted the other guys in that battle for the fourth running back spot behind Jay Ajayi, Corey Clement and Darren Sproles. Has he done enough? With a couple weeks before final cuts, it’s too early to say. But he’s definitely worked himself from the brink back into the mix.

2. I’ve been disappointed by Mack Hollins’ training camp. He’s one guy I expected to make a big leap in Year 2, and while he still might, he hasn’t flashed yet. Shelton Gibson and Bryce Treggs have both outplayed Hollins in practice. Hollins has that great size and is a valued special teamer and as a second-year fourth-round pick he’s probably got the team made. But I expected to see more. Treggs is another guy who was off the radar when camp began but has that great speed and keeps showing up at practice. And Gibson simply looks like a different guy from last year. The depth the Eagles have at wideout is insane. Guys like Rashard Davis, Greg Ward Jr. and DeAndre Carter probably have no shot to make the team, but once upon a time, they would have been starters around here.

3. Michael Bennett is an interesting dude. Someone in the locker room used the phrase, “All’s well that ends well,” and he said, “Where’s that phrase from?” I said it’s the name of a Shakespeare play, and he said, “A lot of people think Shakespeare wasn’t a real person.” I said, “Yeah, there’s a theory that he was three different people.” His response: “I’m three different people.” 

4. I know a lot of people think the whole “Tom Brady hasn’t shaken Nick Foles’ hand” thing is overblown, but it really bothers me. There are certain customs in sports that are there for a reason. Tom Brady is the greatest quarterback ever, and he should have sought out Nick either on the field immediately after the game or somewhere after the game — the lockers weren’t too far apart. Maybe I’m old-fashioned, but sportsmanship means a lot to me. I know one thing: If the Patriots won that game, Nick Foles would have found Tom Brady, told him “Great job,” and shook his hand. 

5. Brian Westbrook’s 2006 postseason was insane. He rushed 20 times for 141 yards against the Giants and 13 times for 116 yards against the Saints. His average of 7.8 yards per carry is second-highest in NFL history in a single postseason (minimum 30 carries) behind Hall of Famer Marcus Allen’s 8.03 in 1983. He’s the only back in NFL history with back-to-back playoff games with 100 rushing yards, a 7.0 average and a touchdown. His 257 rushing yards are third-most in NFL history by a back in a two-game postseason (behind Hall of Famer Eric Dickerson in 1985 and Arian Foster in 2011). 

6. I love listening to Doug Pederson talk about why he’s so aggressive as a play caller. Because generally, he admits he really has no idea. I think it almost evolved by accident. He started going for it on fourth down in 2016 with nothing at stake and it started working, and he just felt comfortable doing it, and he just got in that habit, and the team got used to it and enjoyed it, and by the time the Super Bowl came along it had developed into his personality and the team was completely in step with him, and the success of the Philly Special was the product of that. You can’t run that play if you’re the least bit tight or indecisive, but the team had gotten so used to Pederson doing anything at any time in any situation it was just another play. The man is a genius.

7. Chip Kelly and Pederson have the same number of regular-season wins after two years. 

8. You figured that had to be wrong so you looked it up, didn’t you!

9. I’ve never seen an assistant coach grow as much as Frank Reich did in his two years with the Eagles. When he first started out as Doug’s offensive coordinator, he seemed to be painfully shy around the media, gave one-word or brief answers during press conferences and appeared generally uninterested in providing anything remotely revealing about football or the players he coached. By the time he left, he was one of the most interesting, insightful and quotable assistant coaches I’ve ever been around, and his commentary after the Super Bowl about Nick Foles’ performance was brilliant. I’m convinced this transformation had a lot to do with him getting the Colts head coaching job. Teams don’t want a head coach who can’t handle the media, and Frank in a very short time went from a guy who wasn’t comfortable in those situations to one who embraced them.

10. Bryce Brown had one of the strangest career arcs in Eagles history. He averaged 15 yards in his first 10 NFL games and 19 yards in his last 30 NFL games. In between, with LeSean McCoy injured, he ran for 178 yards on just 19 carries against the Panthers and 169 yards on 24 carries against the Cowboys, with two TDs in each game. Only three players in NFL history have had consecutive games with 165 rushing yards, a 7.0 average and 2 TDs — LaDainian Tomlinson, Barry Sanders and … Bryce Brown. Other than those two historic games in a seven-day span, he averaged 3.5 yards per carry and 18 yards per game. But for a brief bit of an otherwise forgettable 2012 season, he made NFL history. 

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