For many, “excited” isn’t the word they’d use to describe the Eagles’ running back situation. I think “concerned” might be the more appropriate descriptor, and fairly so.
By now we’ve talked at length about how the Eagles don’t have a real lead back in terms of having a rusher who can handle 20 carries each week. But despite this deficiency, Eagles head coach Doug Pederson is standing by his guys.
Well, what’s fair to say, is I'm pleased with the guys that we do have, and the guys that we're working with currently. We're constantly looking and obviously trying to bolster our roster at every position: running back included. But I'm excited with the guys that we have. You know, Wendell [RB Wendell Smallwood] is coming off his injury last year and he's looking really good right now in the spring drills. We've got [RB Darren] Sproles, and [RB] Byron Marshall is a guy that we’ve been kind of cross-training as a receiver and a running back, and he's been looking really good. And now, Donnel [RB Donnel Pumphrey] is here and Corey's [RB Corey Clement] here, so we have a chance to work some guys in there. I’m pleased with where we're at; I’m excited where we're at and the direction we're headed in that position.
A few takeaways from that quote:
1 - Obviously Pederson isn’t going to say anything negative about the position.
2 - Ryan Mathews’ name was completely omitted. That shouldn’t come as a surprise since the Eagles are expected to cut him. But if you had any doubts about Mathews’ departure, there you go.
3 - Smallwood was the first name mentioned by Pederson. We know that running backs coach Duce Staley is high on the 2016 fifth-round draft pick. As the depth chart currently stands, Smallwood has the best opportunity to be the team’s lead rusher. But he’s far from a sure thing and there’s plenty of time for that to change.
4 - Pederson expanded on how he plans to incorporate Pumphrey, who the Eagles traded up to get in the fourth round.
Yeah, again, with any of these rookies right now, we just want to see how well they understand and pick up our terminology over the weekend. I do want to expand, I think, and see some of the things that he can do as a receiver -- as a guy that we can move in and out of the backfield. We know what he can do in the backfield, much like Darren Sproles in a way, that we can utilize him as a receiver at times. So we're just going to see where it goes with him. But excited to work with him this weekend and just get him caught up and going with, not only this group, but next week, as well.
5 - Pederson revealed the Eagles had a draftable grade on undrafted free agent signing Corey Clement.
We did. And the thing is this was such a deep draft with running backs, you know? We had a draftable grade on him. As the draft winds down, you look for guys that either slipped through the cracks or guys that have potential and opportunities. He's one of the guys that we felt, given the chance, [we wanted to] get him in here and get him working.
6 - Pederson also explained what the Eagles liked about Clement.
Well, obviously, he's a bigger back; he's physical; he's a guy that we know, obviously being from the area. It's exciting to get guys like that in here who you kind of have a little history with. I kind of have the same history with one of the safeties out there right now, with Weston Steelhammer, who is a guy that I knew when I coached high school ball – he grew up with my son. So, it's great to have those connections to know these guys and then to get him in here, get him going [and] get him working just to see where he's at. But [Clement is] someone who could hopefully potentially fill and create some good competition at that [running back] spot.
The issue isn’t that the Eagles have a complete lack of talent at running back. Clearly they have some interesting players. Sproles is a future Hall of Famer. Smallwood showed some glimpses of potential last year. Pumphrey clearly has talent and was ultra productive in college. Clement could fill a role in Philadelphia’s offense.
The issue is that this group is likely just a bunch of role players. Maybe a running-back-by-committee could work for the Eagles this year, but that was kind of the thought heading into last year. And then the Eagles didn’t run the ball enough, in part because they couldn’t, and Carson Wentz threw the second most pass attempts of any rookie quarterback ever in NFL history. That’s not what should be considered putting a player in a position to succeed.
It’s hard to believe this was the Eagles’ plan at running back all along. They reportedly wanted Christian McCaffrey. They reportedly wanted Dalvin Cook. They got neither, and here they are still without a lead back.
Hopefully it all works out. There’s still time to add a veteran to the mix. And here’s the thing about that. If the Eagles added, say, Mark Ingram (just for example) to their current group, I actually do think that would be a backfield to get excited about. I like the idea of having that No. 1 guy with all the Eagles’ current complementary players around him.
Until then, though, the Eagles are just going to have to hope their current group can get it done. And then hopefully not miss out on their guy in the 2018 NFL Draft.
Full transcript of Pederson’s rookie minicamp press conference below.
DOUG PEDERSON: Good morning. First of all, I just want to say we're excited to get the rookies in here this weekend. It's our first chance as coaches to put our hands on them and watch them work with our coaches. We have obviously the drafted guys and the undrafted guys. My message last night to the rookies was I played 14 years and I was an undrafted free agent. So, stick to it. Work hard. Show us what you can do here, and great things are going to happen. We're excited and looking forward to getting to work with them this weekend.
Q. Rookie CB Sidney Jones is in town. What is the medical staff saying about him? (Zach Berman)
DOUG PEDERSON: The medical staff is happy with where he's at. But at the same time, we're not going to put any kind of timetable on him. We're going to do right by him and make sure he's 100 percent before we stick him out there on the field.
Q. Can you give us an update on DT Beau Allen and RB Ryan Mathews? Where do they stand health-wise? (Ed Kracz)
DOUG PEDERSON: Both of those guys are doing well. Again, no timetable on either one of them. We want to make sure they're both 100 percent and fully operational before we stick them back out there. But both of them are doing well and on schedule.
Q. Where do you slot rookie DE Derek Barnett among the defensive ends? Is he at the bottom of the depth chart and does he have to work his way up? Where is he? (Mike Sielski)
DOUG PEDERSON: Yeah, right now it's just a matter of getting him out there and seeing which side he's comfortable on. We want to work him on both sides of the defensive front, right and left. Right now it's just rookie camp, so it's kind of hard until we get him in here with the veterans and really get him working with our guys -- with the guys that we have. So it's a matter of him just picking up the system right now. It's a long time before we play football games and we've got some time to make those decisions.
Q. So what did you know about Clement personally? Did you guys have him in here for one of the local tryouts or because he was a local guy? (Jeff McLane)
DOUG PEDERSON: Just some of our personnel, we just know him on a personal level. You just know guys and know kids. Just having an opportunity to get these guys in our camp, whether they're drafted or not, it's a great relationship to have.
Q. So it wasn’t you specifically. It was someone else on the personnel staff that knew Clement? (Jeff McLane)
DOUG PEDERSON: Yeah.
Q. What role do you see for WRs Mack Hollins and Shelton Gibson? (Matt Lombardo)
DOUG PEDERSON: Well, again, two young guys that we've got to get them in and get them working, get them going. Obviously there is a long line of receivers now at that position. One thing that both Mack and Shelton [share], and Mack in particular, is special teams value. The fact that he's played some special teams in college is beneficial for him. We've just got to, as fast as we can with the limited amount of time that we have in the offseason, get these guys caught up and just, again, create that competition, that depth, the drive at that position to see where these guys are going to fall out.
Q. When you look at the rookie class, and obviously there is a long time until the season starts, but in the back of your mind do you kind of say, ‘Well, we're going to need some of these guys to contribute right away?’ Are there guys that you think probably have to make that kind of contribution? (Martin Frank)
DOUG PEDERSON: It's hard to pinpoint that at this point in the offseason because it is so early. We're only four weeks into our own offseason, and we haven't really started OTAs [organized team activities]. Anything is possible in this league. I just look back a year ago with five of our draft picks having to play. Obviously, I guess you could maybe take [QB] Carson [Wentz] out of it, but four of the guys ended up playing and having starting roles for us. So, you never know what's going to happen. Obviously, we continued to create competition and depth at the positions and see where this thing ends up at as we get into training camp.
Q. In these past two weeks that it's been Phase 2, you've been on the field with these guys. What has Eagles WR Alshon Jeffery shown you in person that you couldn't see on film? (Zach Berman)
DOUG PEDERSON: Well, number one, his attitude. The way he has come in here and really just embraced it and has done everything we've asked him to do. He's competed at a high level. What I mean by that is even though we're not competing against the defense, he's competing in his individual drills. He's wanting to get better. He's taking the coaching from [Eagles WR] Coach [Mike] Groh who he knows and he's showing really, I think, a little bit of the veteran experience and presence out there on the field. He's exciting to watch. He's a big target, obviously, and we've just got to get him and [Eagles QB] Carson [Wentz] continuing to stay on the same page as we go throughout the whole off-season.
Q. Is there an issue with DE Brandon Graham and his contract? Has he been here for practices? (Bob Grotz)
DOUG PEDERSON: Listen, I love Brandon, and obviously he and I have a great relationship. He's been here. As you guys know, this is a voluntary off-season program, so a lot of this is out of my hands. But he's a guy that is valuable to the football team and I'm not worried about him at all.
Q. Have you spoken to him and do you expect him to be here on May 23rd for Organized Team Activities? (Les Bowen)
DOUG PEDERSON: He and I have had conversations as I do with a lot of the players. Again, the expectation is would I like him here? Yeah. [Are these practices] voluntary? [Yeah], I got it. And that's the hardest part as a coach is when you're working on that type of schedule, it's hard. But at the same time, he's a guy that is a veteran player, understands his role, understands his assignment, and [we] expect big things from him this season.
Q. Will you move Graham to the right side? (Jeff McLane)
DOUG PEDERSON: At this point, again, it's going to be up to [Eagles defensive coordinator] Jim [Schwartz] and the defensive [coaching staff] with [Eagles defensive line coach] Chris Wilson and seeing where everything fits and how everything falls, not only with OTAs but through training camp, to see that rotation at the D-line.
Q. With the abundance of receivers that you guys have with the draft and free agents, how creative do you guys need to get in your opinion on offense to try to get everyone touches, get everyone in the game and keep the ball moving? (Jeff Skversky)
DOUG PEDERSON: Well, it's hard. It's hard to do. You've got one football and there are five skill positions to get the ball to and there are a lot of combinations to do that. So as we go and we really understand our personnel in year two as a coaching staff on offense, I think we'll come up with creative and unique ways to get guys the ball. It doesn't always have to be in the passing game. We're going to continue to explore that, obviously, now that we've got this new influx of young players who have that ability to touch the football. We're just going to continue to find ways to do that.
Q. Looking at the depth chart, CB Rasul Douglas might have a chance to play a big role early. What do you need to see from him this weekend and in the OTAs to have that confidence in him? (Dave Zangaro)
DOUG PEDERSON: I think the biggest thing with him is picking up the terminology and the scheme. We know what he can do on the football field. He’s long, he’s aggressive, he has great ball skills. We know that part about him, so it’s just a matter of transitioning over and understanding the defensive terminology. Listen, guys that come in like that, guys that you can plug in and get a lot of reps early, this is a beneficial camp for him. It’s just him and the coaches for three days. It will be a great learning [experience] and a great learning process for him going forward.