In most situations, it would be hard to blame the Eagles for not wanting to rely heavily upon a 33-year-old running back coming off career lows in yards per carry and yards per reception. The only problem is that the Eagles aren't exactly loaded with offensive talent, especially at the running back position. And thus Darren Sproles, who is entering the last year of his contract, could be a big factor in Philadelphia's offense in 2016. Eagles head coach Doug Pederson recently explained how he envisions Sproles' role with the Eagles.
"Well on special teams, we know what he can do and he's the primary guy, the return guy there, and offensively he becomes a big part of what we do," he said.
"If you go back and just look at what we did in Kansas City with our running backs with Jamaal [Chiefs RB Jamaal Charles] before he got hurt and then with the two guys after the injury [Chiefs RBs Spencer Ware and Charcandrick West], we like to move our running backs around, and [Sproles is] a guy that creates matchups on defense, or against the defense, and we're going to move him around; we are not necessarily going to keep him in the backfield. His role will be extensive, both offensively and also on special teams, and I'm excited to kind of get to see what he can do this week a little bit."
Sproles took a number of first team running back reps with the Eagles in practice on Tuesday despite Pederson's insistence that he'd be "limited" after skipping voluntary workouts. He still looked as fast and spry as ever.
The Eagles will hope he can continue to look good throughout the season. It feels like only a matter of time before presumed starter Ryan Mathews gets hurt. Meanwhile, fifth round pick Wendell Smallwood is unproven as a rookie. Philadelphia may elect to keep a fourth running back but that's not a lock at this point.
There will be ample opportunity Sproles to get snaps this year. It's up to Pederson and the Eagles' coaching staff to get more out of Sproles than Chip Kelly and his stagnant offense did last season.
Read below for a transcript of Pederson's press conference.
Q. How did DT Fletcher Cox explain his recent absence upon arrival?
COACH PEDERSON: We didn't even get into it, quite honestly. I was just happy that he was back. Had a chance to visit with him yesterday and just tell him how excited I was. I understand, you know, the voluntary process and the whole offseason, but we're excited to get him here this week.
Q. Will he fully participate these three days?
COACH PEDERSON: He'll be a little limited. He's coming back and we want him to be in the meetings, we want him to go through the walk-throughs and we want him to get as many mental reps this week as [he] can. We understand that not being here -- I don't want to put him out there and risk injury. I mean, he's definitely a big part of this football team and now is not the time to see exactly what he can do, because he's proven that.
Q. Was that the coaching staff's decision or his decision?
COACH PEDERSON: It was my decision. It was our decision as a staff. I talked with [defensive coordinator] Jim Schwartz and we put a plan in place for [Cox] and also [talked with offensive coordinator] Frank Reich [about a plan for] Darren Sproles and I made the decision that we want to just protect these guys at this time.
Q. As far as you know, has there been any discussion with Cox’s agent or anything about whether he's here for training camp even if there's no accord reached or what?
COACH PEDERSON: No, we haven't had any discussions that way with his agent whatsoever.
Will you get involved in those discussions at all or will you leave that to Eagles Executive Vice President of Football Operations Howie Roseman?
COACH PEDERSON: I'll leave that to Howie. I'm just focused on the team and just getting better this week with the guys. Once we get through this week, my attention turns to training camp.
Q. Are Cox and Sproles happy and on board with everything?
COACH PEDERSON: They are. They are so excited to be here: to be around their teammates, the players, the guys and the coaches. You know, for both of them, they are learning a new system, so it behooves them to really pay attention in the meetings and the walk-throughs. But yeah, both of them are excited and ready to go.
Q. With Sproles not being here for the OTAs, how much did RB Wendell Smallwood get in there and show you something and start to pick things up?
COACH PEDERSON: I tell you, that's obviously a positive, for young players to get some reps. Wendell showed a lot this offseason since the draft, and he's a guy, that I think, with his further development can help us. I like everything he's done so far through OTAs, and again, he's got another opportunity this week with the limited number of reps that Darren will get. So [I’m] excited to see exactly where Wendell ends up this week.
Q. Rueben Randle had the gallbladder surgery. Where is he this week? Can he do everything?
COACH PEDERSON: He's cleared to do everything, but again, on a limited basis. Same with [LB] Jordan Hicks [and the] guys I mentioned last week. The couple of guys that we have – [CB] Nolan Carroll, [CB] JaCorey Shepherd [are] guys that are cleared to practice, but we are going to be smart about it. Now is not the time. So we're going to limit their role this week, as well.
Q. Will this be the last week where QB Carson Wentz splits the same amount of reps with the other quarterbacks?
COACH PEDERSON: No, you know, it's something that with Frank Reich and myself, we are still kind of discussing how we are going to handle training camp. This will not be the last time -- I would go out and say that this is not the last time that his reps won't be cut. Right now, it's equal; it's thirds. It's equal and right now leaning towards that going into training camp.
Q. Were Cox and Sproles put through any sort of conditioning test when they returned this morning? What kind of shape do you think they are in as they report back?
COACH PEDERSON: No, no. You know, that's not a prerequisite to be here. There's no punishment. There's nothing like that. We're just excited to get here. The conditioning test will be obviously in training camp when the guys report.
Q. What did Hicks exactly do? How did he injure himself?
COACH PEDERSON: It's a quad spasm and it's just kind of a nagging, lingering injury that he's had. He just has not fully -- it's not 100 percent, but that's why he missed the last few OTA practices, just to kind of get that thing healthy. We'll see where he's at this week. Again, he's another one that’s on a limited basis, but looking forward to the opening of training camp to get these guys 100 percent healthy.
Q. Carroll played a fairly big role before he got hurt last year and it was anticipated that Shepherd was going to play a big role before he injured his knee. Where do you see them now? Do you move them along and kind of hope that they end up ‘here?’ How do you approach where they are and getting them ready to come back?
COACH PEDERSON: You have to look at last year and where they were and both of them were big impacts on defense. Both of them, you know, are good players that really mix well into not only the defensive back room, but what Jim is presenting on defense. So again, this week, with the limited number of reps, we'll be able to get them back out there just to see where they are physically, but at the same time, they are a big part of Jim's process and his structure on defense. Training camp, once we get into camp and get these guys 100 percent, we’ll really be able to see more of where they fit in their role on defense.
Q. How is T Jason Peters doing physically? In talking with him, do you think that slowing down the offense for him -- especially at his age -- can help him stay on the field more?
COACH PEDERSON: Yeah, I think Jason Peters is in a great spot physically right now. His energy level is up. He's excited. He loves football. He's excited to be here every day and he's doing a great job. And really, he's on track -- again, he's another one that I'm going to be smart with on a limited-rep basis, once we get into camp and when the pads come on and things like that, because he's a guy that we've got to have every Sunday to play. But right now, he's in great shape. He's in good position.
Q. Does having an offense that is slower and is not up-tempo all the time help someone his age?
COACH PEDERSON: I think it helps. I think it helps. My message to the team, too, is we can still attack, even out of the huddle. I don't like to use the word slowdown, but if the huddle means slowing it down, then it is helping him, and he feels good at this time.
Q. Going back to Cox, if he has not been in contact with you over these last few months, why not ask him why he hasn't been here? Why not explore that?
COACH PEDERSON: Because it's a voluntary offseason. It's his decision to stay away; any of the guys can stay away. So I don't get into that. I'm not going to look in the past. I'm looking forward and he's here today. He’s here today, he was here yesterday, and I'm excited to have him and we're just going to build off of each day that we've got with him this week.
Q. WR Jordan Matthews is going to be working in the slot for the most part. Who are going to be your primary outside guys to start?
COACH PEDERSON: Yeah, you know, Rueben Randle has really made an impact this spring. [WR] Chris Givens is another one. [WR] Nelson Agholor, of course, is another one. [WR] Josh Huff is another guy that can work both inside and outside -- probably another one that's going to be inside. And these guys have really, especially Rueben, has been a pleasant surprise. He's a guy that's a big, tall, sort of a smooth receiver that understands what we're asking him to do. He knows his role and you've got three or four or five guys out there right now that are competing for that spot.
Q. What has Wentz showed you these last couple of weeks to suggest that he would be equally dividing the reps at the quarterback position?
COACH PEDERSON: Well, I don't know if it's anything he's shown as much as -- You know, you've got to look at it this way – and this is something I thought of, really all through OTAs and the way training camp is usually set up, and so by no means is this set in stone – you get to that first preseason game, and usually you're playing your twos and threes. That's just the nature of the deal. So why not give your twos and threes equal time, because you're trying to ramp your starters up for the regular season? So there's nothing necessarily that those guys have done outside of [the fact that] we want to see what they can do. So by giving him more reps and more opportunities, it sort of gives us that insight to where we can, you know, use him down the road.
Q. It sounds like you're still working through the exact logistics, but how do you generally foresee splitting the quarterback reps until it gets to the point where QB Sam Bradford is getting the bulk?
COACH PEDERSON: Well, when you get to that point, which is usually around your third preseason game, when your starters take the bulk of that game, you know, at that point, then you start making the decision that, ‘Okay, your starters need to get 60, 70, 80 percent of the snaps in practice.’ But right now, we're in those negotiations of splitting time equally with all of the groups. There are a lot of bodies out there. When you've got three groups of offensive line and defensive line, you want to see everybody compete and play. So I think it's beneficial to get your twos and threes – the guys that you really want to see and evaluate – give them the most opportunity to compete and the best chance to succeed.
Q. Is that how you split it in Kansas City?
COACH PEDERSON: No, we gave the starters more reps.
Q. To be clear, there were no negotiations between you, Todd France and Fletcher Cox about limiting him during this mandatory mini-camp to try to lure him to come in and not be on the practice field? None whatsoever?
COACH PEDERSON: No. No. None.