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Are 2018 Eagles better or worse at running back?

Are 2018 Eagles better or worse at running back?

The Eagles’ leading rusher a season ago, LeGarrette Blount, was allowed to walk in free agency. Of course, the team already picked up his replacement, Jay Ajayi, in an October trade with the Dolphins.

The changing of the guard is complete in the running backs room, but are the 2018 Eagles better for it?

Better

Younger

Blount proved there was something left in the tank, but was running on fumes by December. Over his final eight games including playoffs, the 31-year-old averaged 3.5 yards per attempt or below in all but two — a meaningless Week 17 contest against the Cowboys and 14-carry, 90-yard performance in Super Bowl LII.

The Eagles should be better served by fresh legs down the stretch. Ajayi, 25, quickly snatched the lead role from Blount with a healthy 5.3-yard average after the trade, bringing a needed explosive element to the offense. And Corey Clement, 23, is in line for more touches after racking up 616 yards from scrimmage and leading the team’s backs with seven total touchdowns.

Blount served his purpose. His bruising, between-the-tackles rushing style simply isn’t conducive for a running back’s body holding up over a full season at that age. With a split workload, wearing down shouldn’t be an issue for Ajayi and Clement.

Worse

Ball security

Somewhat surprisingly, the most troubling aspect of the Ajayi trade wasn’t his bad knee, which has been referred to as a ticking time bomb — not yet, anyway.

That’s a concern, although the more immediate question is whether Ajayi can take care of this fumbling problem. He’s now put the ball on the carpet eight times over the past two seasons, or once every 73 touches. Only Tavon Austin has coughed it up more during that span.

Ball security is paramount. It doesn’t matter how fresh Ajayi is in January. If he fumbles at the wrong time, it can cost the Eagles their season.

The same

Darren Sproles

Technically, you can call this an upgrade, seeing as the Eagles were without Sproles since September of last season. The important thing is the Eagles know what they’re getting when they plug the three-time Pro Bowl selection into the lineup. He’s a shifty ball carrier who can get to the second and third levels quickly, and a matchup problem as a receiver out of the backfield.

Sproles is 35 and coming back from a torn ACL, issues we addressed in a previous chapter. Despite those concerns, as a special weapon getting 5-10 touches per game, he has enough short-distance quickness and veteran savvy to get the job done.

The unknown

Donnel Pumphrey

Chosen in the fourth round in last year’s draft, Pumphrey looked completely out of place in preseason action. The NCAA’s all-time leading rusher averaged 1.9 yards per carry, 5.5 yards per reception and couldn’t get much going in the return game, either.

Listed at 5-foot-9, 176 pounds, is Pumphrey too slight to play in the NFL? With 4.48 speed, is he not elusive enough to dodge hits at this level? Maybe.

It’s also possible Pumphrey was some combination of slowed by a hamstring injury (he eventually landed on injured reserve in September, though it’s unclear whether it was related), a little in over his head learning the playbook and not put in a position to succeed in the third-string offense. Yes, he needed to bulk up and needs to adapt to the speed of the game, but the Eagles felt the 23-year-old warranted another look. We’ll see.

Better or worse?

Blount exceeded some expectations last season, but the late-season declines have become a regular occurrence. It’s only a matter of time before he’s plodding and un-menacing in September, too. Give those touches to Ajayi and Clement, mix in Sproles, and maybe even a dash or Pumphrey or Wendell Smallwood, and this has the making of a much more dynamic group than a season ago. BETTER
 

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Doug Pederson found out Eagles hired him through media reports

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Doug Pederson found out Eagles hired him through media reports

Remember when you heard Doug Pederson was going to become the Eagles’ head coach? 

That was probably before Doug Pederson found out he was going to become the Eagles’ head coach. 

Thanks to an excerpt from Pederson’s book, “Fearless” posted on SI.com, the Eagles’ Super Bowl-winning head coach revealed that he didn’t find out he had the job until a few reporters broke the news. 

He didn’t find out officially until days after:

A few days later, I called Jeannie from the office and she said, “I just heard the news!” I’m like, “What news?” She said, “Ian Rappaport and Adam Schefter are saying you’re going to be the next head coach of the Eagles. That’s awesome!” 

Officially, nobody told me anything, but I was excited anyway. Andy, after hearing the reports, came by to congratulate me. I hadn’t heard from Howie or Jeffrey though. We lost to New England that Saturday night. It was disappointing to lose in the divisional round of the playoffs after the season we had. When I was leaving Gillette Stadium some Philadelphia reporters were waiting for me, but I declined all interviews. 

On the bus to the airport my phone rang. It was a 215 area code. I didn’t recognize the number but I picked up and it was Jeffrey Lurie on the other end. He said he was sorry for the loss, but it was a great season. Then we talked about my interview, and he told me how impressed he was. He said he wanted to officially extend the offer to me to become head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles. I was thinking, “Heck yeah! I’d love to accept the job.”

The whole excerpt is pretty interesting. Pederson admits to hearing rumors that he wasn’t the first choice for the job and even details the interview process he went through with Jeff Lurie and the Eagles’ front office. 

They even made him give a mock speech to the Eagles’ brass as if they were players in their first spring meeting with him as head coach. 

Fast-forward a couple years and Pederson is now extended through the 2022 season. He’s also a legend in Philly. 

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Doug Pederson struck one final blow to Mike Lombardi

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Doug Pederson struck one final blow to Mike Lombardi

No NFL writer has eaten more crow in the last year than Mike Lombardi, who famously quipped Doug Pederson “might be less qualified to coach a team than anyone I’ve ever seen.” It was a foolish thing to say at the time, and clearly, the statement did not age well, seeing as Pederson guided the Eagles to a Super Bowl championship immediately after.

Well, Lombardi is the gift that keeps on giving. It wasn’t enough he had to eat those words and essentially admit that was probably the most profoundly stupid sentence a football person could string together. It turns out Pederson got one last chance to own Lombardi before his immortal line could fade into the background, taking its place along such whimsically remembered Philly sports quotes as “We’re talking about practice,” and “We can all count, those points would’ve helped.”

NBC Sports’ Peter King got a chance to preview Pederson’s new book, “Fearless: How an Underdog becomes a Champion” co-written by Dan Pompei. The book, which goes on sale Tuesday, Aug. 21, contains an interesting nugget about the coach’s behind-the-scenes dealings with Lombardi.

That got a ton of attention last year when Pederson was on the road to winning the Super Bowl. Pederson, in the book, says Lombardi wrote him a letter during the playoffs last season. “It was written on a typewriter, and was about three paragraphs long,” Pederson writes. “The letter said, ‘The first rule of any informed opinion is to never began with the end in mind. And I violated that rule. For that, I extend my sincere apology.’ I was appreciative, and at least it showed he was man enough to admit he was wrong.”

Then this: “After the Super Bowl, the possibility of writing this book came up. One of the interested companies thought Lombardi would be a great co-author and submitted an offer. I said, respectfully, ‘No thanks.’”

And now you know the rest of the story.

Maybe it shouldn’t surprise in 2018, but to think somebody got the idea that Lombardi should be the person to help tell Pederson’s story, and actually had the audacity to ask Pederson this is crazy. Lombardi said about the most disrespectful thing possible about another man’s career, his livelihood — and most importantly, was completely, 100 percent wrong — but, sure, let’s check with Pederson and see how he feels about this.

You might even say Lombardi was probably the least qualified person for the job.

Lombardi did go on to write a book, by the way. While it’s not an autobiography, nor does the title refer to the author, does anybody else find a smidgen of irony in the book’s title, “Gridiron Genius?”

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