11:56 PM / Thursday March 23, 2023

4 Aug 2017

The Runnin’ Man

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August 4, 2017 Category: Sports Posted by:

ABOVE PHOTO:  Philadelphia Eagles running back Wendell Smallwood (28) rushes during the game against the Washington Redskins, Sunday, December 11, 2016 Philadelphia. The Redskins defeated the Eagles 27-22. (Al Tielemans via AP Images)

In the Philadelphia Eagles ‘running back by committee’ gathering, who will ultimately be the chairman of the board?

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

As Philadelphia Eagles fans drool over the possibility of having a solid passing game with Carson Wentz tossing the ball to Alshon Jeffery, Torrey Smith and a whole host of other guys looking to get some touches, the question becomes, what are they going to do when they don’t want to throw the ball? 

The Birds have a plethora of guys vying for the rock at the running back position, and as much as folks like to say that the NFL has become a passing league, the ability to run the ball effectively still counts for something. If the Eagles want to take the pressure off of Wentz, the Eagles running attack, whether it’s by committee or with one dominant back, has to be more consistent, especially late in games.

If LeGarrette Blount can duplicate what he did in the New England Patriots march to the Super Bowl title in 2016, the Birds are going to give the teams in the NFC East some real problems.  Last season, the former Oregon star gained 1,161 yards rushing while averaging close to four yards per carry.  The 30-year-old Blount scored 18 touchdowns, many of which were in red zone situations.

“He’s a big, physical, downhill runner. I saw that yesterday in some of that inside-run period, the explosiveness,” Eagles head coach Doug Pederson said. “He’s got great vision, great vision to make the jump cuts and read defensive linemen. But just that big body in the backfield I think can, for a defender, present a big problem, from a one-on-one tackling standpoint. Exciting to see him as we get going now in these games.”

One of the many mouths Wentz will have to feed at the running back position will be Wendell Smallwood. Last season, the former West Virginia star ended his rookie season with a knee injury after playing in 13 games. He’s shown flashes of brilliance, but nagging injuries and adjusting to the longer NFL season took their toll on him physically. He’s hoping to get back on track this year.

Considering his competition — Blount and rookie Donnel Pumphrey — Smallwood knows that he needs to stay on his game. The competition is only going to make him better, he said.

“(Pederson) requires something out of every single running back, bringing (Blount) to the room can only make it better,” Smallwood said. “Whatever it requires. I’m just happy to be on the team. But I know that whatever they ask me to do I’m going to be able to do it and I’m going to work hard to get stuff done.”

To get those touches and reps in practice, Smallwood also has to show that he can block in the passing game and catch the ball out of the backfield, a huge prerequisite in Pederson’s offensive scheme.

“I think with anything, you’ve got to show that you can do whatever — block, catch, run. I gotta be able to show them that,” Smallwood said. “Their trust in me is the more that I’m going to be on the field. I have to earn their trust.”

Meanwhile, Pederson said he expects Smallwood to have a role in the Eagles offense, but said he has to look at all of his running backs at this point in training camp.

One of those running backs is the rookie Pumphrey, who in his final season at San Diego State became the all-time FBS rushing leader, despite weighing just 178 pounds. He gained 6,405 career-yards as a three-down back. Pumphrey believes he can contribute to the team any way he can.

“I feel like I can be a three-down back, but I see myself as anything the coaches want me to be,” Pumphrey said. “Whatever role they have for me, I’m capable of doing my best to do it. Whether it’s at the slot or at tailback. I definitely feel comfortable running in between the tackles. I’ve done it my whole life.”

The general consensus among those who cover the Eagles is that Pumphrey is going to be the heir apparent to Darren Sproles as a third down back because of his speed and the potential matchup problems he poses for opposing linebackers.

There has been talk of having both Sproles and Pumphrey on the field at the same time. That would certainly put the fear of God into opposing defenses.

Another rookie running back looking to find some playing time is former University ofWisconsin star Corey Clement. During his time in Madison, Clement was one of the best running backs in the Big Ten. He gained 3,091 yards, averaged 5.4 yards per carry and scored 36 touchdowns.

As a rookie free agent and given the numbers of running backs on the roster,  moving up on the depth chart might be a tall order.

But it’s not like Pumphrey hasn’t taken on tall orders before.

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