Eagles make it clear that Jay Ajayi is the lead running back | Early Birds

Good morning, Eagles fans. This is the quietest time on the offseason calendar. The Eagles are off until late July, and players and coaches will take some time away from the team facility this summer before training camp blends into the preseason, then the regular season — and perhaps even the postseason.

This is an offseason edition of the Early Birds newsletter, which will come every Wednesday during the league’s quiet period. If your friends haven’t subscribed to Early Birds, it’s free to sign up here. I want to know what you think, what we should add, and what you want to read, so send me feedback by email or on Twitter @ZBerm. Thank you for reading.

— Zach Berman

Camera icon TIM TAI / Staff Photographer
Jay Ajayi is the Eagles’ lead running back entering training camp.

Jay Ajayi is the Eagles’ lead running back

The Eagles emphasized their committee approach to the backfield last season. Doug Pederson didn’t name a lead back before the season.

This year, the Eagles have made it clear: Jay Ajayi will be the lead running back.

“Came in last year and obviously proved to us that he can handle it,” Pederson said. “He’s definitely going into camp as the No. 1 guy. It takes nothing away from what Corey [Clement] did or what [Darren] Sproles has done here, Wendell [Smallwood], [RB Donnel Pumphrey] is coming back, Matt Jones. You’ve got guys that are going to compete in that role.”

This makes sense. Ajayi is certainly good enough for that role — he averaged 5.8 yards per carry in the seven regular-season games after being traded to the Eagles last season — and he can handle a bigger load. During his Pro Bowl season in Miami in 2016, Ajayi averaged 17 carries per game and topped 20 carries in five games.

Ajayi, who is in a contract year, will be in position to eclipse 1,000 rushing yards. I don’t think Ajayi is going to get 20 carries per game, but there will be a greater disparity than last season when no rusher averaged more than 11 carries per game. If he gets 225 carries this season, he would need 4.4 yards per carry to reach 1,000 yards. That’s right around his career average and would be a good benchmark for Ajayi.

Pederson added the Eagles will still rotate running backs, which is why expectations should be realistic. But at the end of games and end of the season, Ajayi will be atop the stat sheet.

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Doug Pederson’s relationship with the new trainer

The Eagles hired Jerome Reid from the Tennessee Titans as their new head athletic trainer. This is a critical position in the organization. Just look at the Eagles’ injury list — the trainer is a major part of a player’s rehab, and for the Eagles right now, that means overseeing the recoveries of some of their highest-profile players. The Eagles retained Joe O’Pella, now the associate trainer, who has worked closely with the injured players. But going forward, Pederson emphasized the importance of his relationship with Reid. During the interview process, Pederson wasn’t focused on the medical questions. He cared about the relationship.

“We’ve all got to be tied into injury reports and the medical team,” Pederson said, mentioning that Howie Roseman and Joe Douglas are involved, too. “And that was part of the conversation I had with Jerome, was just the communication on a daily basis. Nothing is ever too small. That was the thing that for me was just — he and I and how well we communicated in our short meeting that we had. It’ll be a really good dynamic going forward.”

How much should the players work during their break?

Even though the players get away during the next month, Pederson wanted to make sure the players continue to work. It’s a balance between refreshing the body and mind, but also making sure the players are prepared when they arrive in late July. Each player from received a booklet from he strength and conditioning staff detailing their training regimen.

“They’ve got to continue to do something,” Pederson said.”Because when we get in, we pretty much hit the ground running. Maintaining their weight, maintaining their physicality a little bit in the weight room. They need to take some time, obviously, and enjoy it, but at the same time, as we get closer to camp, they’ve got to get back in the weight room and maintain their strength.”

Camera icon JESSICA GRIFFIN / Staff Photographer
How much should the players work during the next few weeks?

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 From the mailbag

I don’t think the Eagles re-sign Jay Ajayi after the season. I wouldn’t rule it out and I agree he can be a feature back — and one of the better running backs in the NFL, for that matter — but I think Ajayi will be in line to earn a sizable contract and I’m not sure the Eagles make that investment at running back. Perhaps the price comes down because of concerns about the long-term health of Ajayi’s knees and the Eagles can find the right price for Ajayi. My guess is the Eagles trust their ability to find running backs in the draft and keep that position to a player on a rookie contract. The Eagles have cap values for different positions, and I don’t think running back is a position where they’ll devote significant cap resources unless it’s a LeSean McCoy-like talent.

As mentioned above, Ajayi will have a chance to be the lead running back for the Eagles in 2018. I expect a big season. He can make it an even tougher decision for the Eagles.