Eagles running backs coach Duce Staley and offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland are eager to explain how the team’s pitiful output in the run game through two preseason games doesn’t really matter, that they are working on esoteric stuff with their groups, not emphasizing results.
But all that said, if you’ve gained just 115 yards on 45 carries so far, is that esoteric stuff being mastered to the coaches’ satisfaction?
Now that you mention it, ah, no. But they say they’re getting there.
“I know, from the bottom of my heart, that the most important thing about all that is the detail, the departure angle, how we’re surfacing the block – stuff that you see us do out here [in practice] all the time,” Stoutland said, as the team made position coaches available Saturday for interviews for the first time during training camp. “I’m not worried about all that other stuff. You guys can worry about all that, you can have fun with that. That’s not my concern …Take care of the little things, the big things will take care of themselves.”
Sooo, Jeff, how’s that going?
“I don’t think we’re quite there yet, in that phase of it,” Stoutland said. “[Also] we’re not interested in showing everybody in the world what we’re going to do vs. these defenses, because if anybody plays a similar defense, they’ll just go watch our film.”
Though it might seem that pretty much nobody is getting to and holding their block on, say, some of those LeGarette Blount stretch plays that so far have stretched only the fan base’s patience, Stoutland said that isn’t the case.
“Over here on the left side, these guys hit it, they did it exactly the way we were working on it, they conceptualized it, over here [on the other side] one guy took the wrong angle. Play doesn’t work.”
Staley, meanwhile, said that Blount’s 17 yards on nine carries, and his seeming lack of suddenness at age 30, are not concerns.
“LeGarrette is working. Of course, coming from another system [New England], sometimes it takes a little time for you to kind of catch on to how we do things, but other than that, LeGarrette’s been fine.
“Of course, you want to do better, but once again, we’re not game-planning. We’re just lining up and running some plays we have for that week. Sometimes you go out there, you want every play to be a perfect play, but it’s not going to work that way. I think Doug [Pederson, the Eagles’ coach] hit on it – when you’re not game-planning, you’re just actually out there evaluating your guys.”
Staley said he believes Blount can be more than just a short-yardage option based on “his body of work.” Staley said he doesn’t buy the notion that a back with 300 or more touches one season — Blount had 342 last season, including the playoffs, for the Super Bowl champion Pats — necessarily will struggle the next season, as DeMarco Murray did here in 2015. Staley said he knows this from his own experience; he followed his 315 Eagles touches for 1,497 yards in 1998 with 366 for 1,567 in 1999.
To fans, Blount looks really slow so far, especially on the stretch plays, a North-South runner plodding East-West.
“I don’t know what fans are saying. I would say, slow? No. He’s a big guy [6-feet, 250] … Once again, we’re just trying to see what works,” Staley said. “When you’re in the lab and you’re actually focusing on your team [rather than the opponent], you’re trying to throw different things out there, and that’s what we’re doing, different concepts, everybody’s got a thought in the room, so we’re just doing different things. Now, when we’re game-planning a team, things will be different, of course.”
Fourth-round rookie Donnel Pumphrey, who has gained 2 yards on seven carries, is still thinking his way through situations instead of reacting instinctively, Staley said.
“I thought last week he made strides, understanding how we do it, as Philadelphia Eagles, how we practice and some of the volume there with the plays, and he’s coming along,” Staley said of his 5-9, 176-pound former San Diego State star, who rushed three times for minus-three yards Thursday night.
A runner Staley really likes, second-year back Wendell Smallwood, hasn’t gotten a preseason carry yet because of a hamstring injury, after his rookie year ended three games early because of a knee injury. Smallwood also got off to a slow start last year after missing time in camp with a quad strain and a concussion.
“He runs like he’s 230, 240,” Staley said of Smallwood, who is 5-10, 208. “I always tell him, ‘You remind me of a small car with a big motor; you’re always overheating, something’s always going on.’
“Smallwood’s had a great camp … got a minor setback, but he’ll bounce back fine … It’s frustrating … In OTAs and in training camp prior to the injury, Wendell was having the best camp [of any running back] in my opinion. So now he has to get over that little hump, and he will. He’s got to go out here and perform, and he will.”
Corey Clement, the undrafted rookie from Glassboro, N.J., and Wisconsin, is the Eagles’ preseason rushing leader, with 15 carries for 47 yards, including eight for 34 against Buffalo.
Asked to assess Clement (5-10, 220), Staley again reached for an automotive analogy. The subtext seemed to be that Smallwood – presumably in a fight for a roster spot with Clement – might be more explosive, but Clement might be more reliable and consistent.
“Honestly, I think he does it all well. He just reminds me of one of those old-school Hyundais. And the Honda Accord. You can put a lot of miles on ’em, they’re going to be consistent. That’s what he’s been, he’s been consistent throughout camp. I’m pleased, where he is,” Staley said. “He comes in, he works. He’s one of those guys that puts on his hard hat, grabs his lunchpail, he’s out on the field. He wants to know more and more and more and more.”
Clement looked nifty against Buffalo, but he too, found little room, gaining 30 of his 34 yards on two plays, 4 yards on the other six carries. Blocking wasn’t crisp. Stoutland resisted the notion that right tackle Lane Johnson struggled mightily filling in for 35-year-old Jason Peters on the left side, where everyone presumes Johnson will go when Peters retires. Johnson has just two career starts at left tackle in four seasons, but he spent the spring there as Peters rested. Peters missed the Buffalo game, attending to a personal matter.
“I think he needs a little more time to work on his set lines, and work on combination blocks and stuff like that,” Stoutland said. “To me, Lane is a freakin’ natural left tackle … If you move Lane around on a day’s notice, I think he needs a little more time than that, to feel it. He’s a ‘feel’ guy.”