Can Wendell Smallwood be Eagles' answer at running back? | Early Birds

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— Zach Berman

Wendell Smallwood’s time to step up

Ready or not, Wendell Smallwood’s role in Eagles backfield just got bigger. DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer

If you are among those who thought Wendell Smallwood could be the Eagles’ solution at running back, the next three months will offer a convincing answer.

Starting Sunday against the Los Angeles Chargers, Smallwood will have an expanded role on offense. Darren Sproles is out for the year with a torn ACL and broken forearm, so Smallwood will step into that role. Sproles wasn’t the featured running back, but he played the most. He took 59 percent of the offensive snaps in the first two games and 45 percent of the offensive snaps last season. The Eagles will keep their committee approach, although LeGarrette Blount’s role won’t likely change. Corey Clement and Kenjon Barner can mix into the rotation, but Smallwood becomes the third-down back, an important job that requires pass-catching and pass-blocking duties. (For more, check out Les Bowen‘s story on Smallwood from earlier this week.)

“I’ve got to step up and try to do things that he does and get better at the stuff I do well,” Smallwood said. “Everybody’s kind of taking on that role, like, ‘I’ve got to do this.’ ”

I’ve thought Smallwood would become more of a complementary back than a lead rusher. He wears No. 28 not for Adrian Peterson, but for Correll Buckhalter — a key part of the Eagles’ three-headed running back with Duce Staley and Brian Westbrook. But sometimes, all a player needs is an opportunity.

This will be a good week to showcase his ability. The Chargers have the 31st-ranked rush defense and allowed a 100-yard rusher the past two games. With edge rushers Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram capable of hurting the Eagles’ passing game, a good running game will be a key ingredient toward escaping Los Angeles with a win. Smallwood will be in the spotlight all season — it starts shining on Sunday.

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3 Questions With | Running back Kenjon Barner

Kenjon Barner returned to the Eagles to replace Darren Sproles on special teams. Michael Bryant/Staff Photographer

Zach Berman: You’ve spoken to us in the past about the role Darren Sproles has had on your career. Is it bittersweet that the opportunity came this way?

Kenjon Barner: “The way that it came, no. Him being hurt, Sproles has been a huge influence on my career and really helped me out a lot. So I wasn’t happy about that. But the opportunity that I have, absolutely. Very fortunate.”

Zach Berman: What’s the biggest thing you’ve learned from him?

Kenjon Barner: “How to be a professional. How to carry myself, how to approach the game, how to approach film, how to approach meetings. That dude’s taught me a lot.”

Zach Berman: Was it odd wearing No. 38 out there as opposed to No. 34?

Kenjon Barner: “Yes! That number’s terrible! But LeGarrette [Blount] told me, ‘Hey, you just got to make it look good! Definitely a terrible number. But, I’m going to make it work.”

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My guess is those two are the eventual starters at the position. I’m not sure that’s the lineup in November, but if both are healthy next season, they should be the starting outside cornerbacks. I’ve been impressed with Jalen Mills and Rasul Douglas, though. Howie Roseman and his staff deserve credit for the way they’ve rebuilt this cornerback group with young talent instead of another year of free agents. However, Sidney Jones represents the Eagles’ best chance for a Pro Bowl-caliber player at the position. He has No. 1 cornerback skills if he’s healthy. Combined with a healthy Ronald Darby, the Eagles could have an impressive starting duo — and Mills and Douglas will continue to challenge them. I’m curious whether Mills eventually becomes a slot cornerback. He has the instincts and tackling ability.

It’s too soon to say. That might seem like an easy way out, but Jake Elliott is only two games into his Eagles career and is 3 for 5 on field goals. He showed he has a big leg, but he needs consistency. That said, if Elliott is consistent this season, I can see him keeping the job through the rest of the season and competing with Caleb Sturgis next summer. It could be a similar situation to Sturgis and Cody Parkey two years ago. Sturgis replaced Parkey after an injury, and the two had a camp competition for the job. The point will be moot if Elliott is inconsistent, though. It’s going to take more than making a 61-yarder.


Actually, Doug Pederson has taken the opposite approach this season. He’s been guarded with injuries and lineup decisions. He was more open last season. This is a change in his second year. Pederson doesn’t want to give much away, going away from the Andy Reid way of starting a news conference with injuries. It’s his prerogative, and I understand why he does it. As a reporter, I’d obviously prefer him being open. The league has an injury report, so there’s not much hiding. And sometimes it can be to a player’s advantage. There have been times when a coach makes it seem like a player is on the verge of playing and the injury is actually more serious than the coach lets on. That can lead to a negative perception of a player — that he’s slow to recover or not getting back quickly enough, when all along, he was on the original timetable. (Fletcher Cox‘s current injury could prove to be an example.) But ultimately, I don’t think a coach’s gamesmanship has much of an effect on the game. Opponents are usually prepared for different possibilities.