Over on one side of the Eagles locker room Thursday night, rookie running back Corey Clement was all smiles after an impressive preseason performance that further legitimized his chances of winning a spot on the Eagles’ 53-man roster.
Over on the other side of the room, linebacker Mychal Kendricks had to be persuaded to talk after an impressive performance in the first half of the Eagles’ 20-16 win over the Buffalo Bills in which he alertly intercepted a deflected pass, notched a sack and a pressure, and had two tackles for losses.
“It’s the preseason, man,’’ Kendricks said. “It doesn’t count. It’s just practice. It’s not going to go in the books for a Pro Bowl, you feel me? It doesn’t count, but everything matters.
“It’s a resume. Like I told you guys a couple of weeks ago, we’re all renting space.’’
After playing just 27 percent of the Eagles’ defensive snaps last season, Kendricks would love to rent space somewhere else. But that doesn’t seem to be in the cards.
Last month, he acknowledged that he had asked the team to trade or release him at the end of last season, but was told the Eagles are “not into that.’’ Truth is, given Kendricks’ dramatically reduced role in coordinator Jim Schwartz’s defense and his $6.6 million salary-cap number for 2017, the Eagles are very willing to entertain trade offers for him. But they’re not going to give him away. While he hasn’t played very well the last couple of seasons, he still is one of the league’s most athletic linebackers.
There’s also the fact that the Eagles have very little experience at linebacker beyond Kendricks and their other two starters, Jordan Hicks and Nigel Bradham.
“He’s obviously been through his ups and downs,’’ Hicks said. “But Mychal is one of the most talented, physically gifted people I’ve been around. His ability to make plays and win one-on-ones, it’s there. You see it out there on the field.’’
You certainly saw it Thursday night. He intercepted a first-quarter Tyrod Taylor pass that was deflected by safety Rodney McLeod. A little later, Kendricks sniffed out a screen pass to tight end Charles Clay and dropped Clay for a 5-yard loss. In the second quarter, he beat Bills right tackle Jordan Mills to the outside and sacked Taylor. Kendricks also forced an incompletion with a perfectly timed blitz through the A gap.
“He’s been a pro’s pro,’’ coach Doug Pederson said. “He’s put himself in great positions in these first two games.
“He’s a guy that’s very athletic. You can see his athleticism in some of the tackles he makes in the open field. Jim used him in a little bit of a blitz package tonight. He can definitely put some pressure on the quarterback.’’
Yes, he can. The only problem is Schwartz doesn’t really like to blitz all that much, which kind of wastes one of Kendricks’ greatest strengths. And despite being one of the league’s fastest linebackers, he has struggled in coverage, the main reason he is the odd man out in nickel and dime sub-packages.
To his credit, Kendricks hasn’t sulked. He has worked hard this summer to try to earn Schwartz’s trust. And if he ends up playing just 27 percent of the defensive snaps again, he won’t like it much, but he’ll deal with it.
“I’m blessed, man,’’ he said after the game. “And that’s the God’s honest truth. There are so many things wrong with this world today, and so many things going on in this world today. You look at your [own] situation and [realize] it’s not that bad.
“I just approach every day like that. I try to have an attitude and gratitude and just keep ballin’. ‘’
Clement, an undrafted free agent out of Wisconsin by way of Glassboro, hopes to keep ballin’, as well. He seemed a long shot to make the Eagles’ season-opening roster when training camp opened. But with Wendell Smallwood sidelined for the better part of the last two weeks with a hamstring injury, Clement has gotten extra practice reps, and he’s made the most of them.
With Smallwood missing his second straight preseason game Thursday, the 5-10, 220-pound Clement was the second back in against the Bills, after LeGarrette Blount. Clement had a 6-yard touchdown run in the second quarter. Before that, he had a 24-yard run out of a three-tight-end set. He finished with a team-high 34 yards on eight carries.
Eagles running backs coach Duce Staley “told me he was going to put me in early this week,’’ Clement said. “I just wanted to take advantage of my opportunities. Stay calm and collected and make sure I hear every call and protect the quarterback.’’
The Eagles likely will keep four running backs on their 53-man roster. Blount, Darren Sproles and rookie fourth-rounder Donnel Pumphrey are expected to be three of those four.
Smallwood figured to be the fourth. But he’s been hurt and Clement is gaining on him.
Clement wasn’t used as a receiver much at Wisconsin. Caught just 29 passes in 39 games there. Wasn’t asked to pass-protect much, either.
As with most rookie RBs, his pass protection is a work in progress, but he’s proven to be a fairly reliable receiver.
“At Wisconsin, we were a Big Ten-powerhouse run-first team,’’ Clement said. “I didn’t get to showcase my [pass-catching] abilities. But I can catch the ball.
“I don’t want to be a one-dimensional player. In order to stay on the field on third down, I’ve got to be able to catch the ball out of the backfield. Being able to show my hands in all of those OTAs in the spring and now, this summer, has shown them that they can trust me to catch the ball.’’
Clement, who grew up an Eagles fan in South Jersey, was thrilled to score his very first touchdown at the Lincoln Financial Field on Thursday night.
“I’ve always dreamed of playing in this stadium and getting a chance to get in the end zone,’’ he said. “All those years of driving over the Walt Whitman and seeing Lincoln Financial from a distance, it was a dream come true.’’