Eagles working on their running back rotation
PHILADELPHIA — One week into the preseason and it’s still unknown how the Philadelphia Eagles will use their running backs.
Will it be a rotation or will a lead back still emerge?
“I think we’ve still got to work through that,” offensive coordinator Frank Reich said.
Ryan Mathews led the team with 661 yards rushing and 8 touchdowns in 2016, but he suffered a neck injury late in the season and was released Tuesday after receiving clearance to return to football.
The Eagles signed veteran bruiser LeGarrette Blount to a one-year contract after he ran for a career-best 1,161 yards and led the NFL with 18 rushing TDs last season in New England.
Second-year pro Wendell Smallwood showed flashes during as a rookie, running for 312 yards in 13 games.
Rookie Donnel Pumphrey, an undersized fourth-round pick, had a fumble on one of his carries and muffed a punt in the preseason opener against Green Bay.
Undrafted rookie Corey Clement, who ran for 1,375 yards and 15 TDs for Wisconsin last year, had 13 yards on seven carries last week.
Then there’s versatile scat back Darren Sproles, who had a career-high 94 carries last year at age 33. Second-year pro Byron Marshall also is competing for a roster spot.
“I feel good about our running game,” Reich said. “We didn’t run it very well against Green Bay, but I’m very confident that we will run the ball well this year.”
The Eagles host the Buffalo Bills on Thursday night.
Blount considers himself a workhorse but he may be used more in short-yardage situations, an area in which the Eagles struggled last year. He’s also excited about the possibility he will catch more passes coming out of the backfield.
“They are open to a lot of things,” he said. “They are not just putting me in a box of my own with what I can do. So the opportunity is out there.”
Though he won’t be taking handoffs from Tom Brady and playing for a team where Super Bowls are common, Blount is happy to be in Philadelphia.
“The atmosphere is great here,” he said. “I was welcomed with open arms. It’s family oriented and that’s what I love. The people, the personalities, I like it here a lot.”
Smallwood has potential to be the main guy, though that doesn’t mean he’d get 18-20 carries per game. Coach Doug Pederson is a pass-happy guy like his mentor, Andy Reid.
“The game has slowed down a tremendous amount for me,” Smallwood said. “And for me, it has nothing to do with my physical abilities. It was my mental game last year. I was thinking about things before we started a play, before we ran a play. Where am I supposed to be? What is my assignment on this play? Things like that.”
Pumphrey thinks he has cleared that mental hurdle already. But he can’t put the ball on the ground or he won’t last long.
“Mentally, I’m prepared,” he said. “I can play at this level. I’ve always been doubted and I want to prove my coaches right and the reason they picked me.”
Clement’s biggest adjustment is learning protections so he can block in passing situations.
“I think his strength is as a runner,” Reich said. “When you put the ball in his hands, he’s aggressive, he’s elusive and he runs strong. I think the other areas of his game are developing to come along with that.”