Updated: Wednesday, August 30, 2017, 8:20 AM
Byron Marshall knows that the only available running back slot on the Eagles’ 53-man roster could be decided Thursday night during the team’s final exhibition game of the season. He also knows that very few think it will go to him.
“I’m tired of the waiting game,” he said. “So come this weekend, at least we’ll have answers.”
The answers don’t really arrive with explanations, though. They are posted just like final grades in a pass/fail course. This side of the list stays. That side of the list goes. Turn in your books and good luck with the waiver wire.
In nearly every projection of the roster that will be posted by 4 p.m. Saturday, the Eagles will keep four running backs: LeGarrette Blount, Darren Sproles, and Wendell Smallwood are considered locks. The last job is assumed to be a battle between Donnel Pumphrey, a fourth-round pick whom the team traded up seven spots to take, and Corey Clement, an undrafted free agent who has had a solid, impressive camp. If mentioned at all, Marshall is usually mentioned as a player still eligible for the practice squad, which is where he spent the first 13 weeks of last season.
“I’m kind of looking forward to the last preseason game and seeing what’s going to happen,” Marshall said. “I felt I’ve had a good camp, but, as far as games, I was just looking for more opportunities.”
He should get plenty of opportunities against the Jets as the exhibition season ends with a dreadful game devoted to third- and fourth-stringers. Whether those opportunities can still change anything is another thing. If Marshall has a big day against the third-team New York defense, would that even matter?
In the three previous games, it was obvious that the coaching staff was more interested in judging Clement and Pumphrey. Adding up touches and targets, they got 33 and 32, respectively, and Marshall got 18. He made the most of those, however, catching both balls thrown his way and averaging 3.4 yards on his 16 carries, which was much better than Pumphrey and just behind Clement. Still, a man can count his repetitions.
“There are points when you get frustrated, but you can’t get mad or lose sleep. That’s what drives you crazy,” Marshall said. “You want to make it hard on the coaches and, if not this team, there are 31 other teams looking at you. Regardless of the situation here, you want to play as well as you can so other teams can see you and possibly pick you up. Just control as much as you can, and the rest is what’s meant to be.”
It wasn’t necessarily meant for Marshall to be undrafted out of Oregon in 2016 after a three-season career in which he became the first Pac-12 back to rush and receive for 1,000 yards each. He eventually totaled 3,170 yards from scrimmage and was projected as a fifth- or sixth-round draft pick, but he broke his ankle four games into his final college season and fell off the radar a bit. He wasn’t invited to the scouting combine but ran well at Oregon’s pro day, showing the burst that had made him a 60-meter medalist at the national indoor championships while he was in high school in San Jose, Calif. Marshall did slip through the draft anyway, but he was signed by the Eagles immediately afterward.
The fifth running back on a four-back team, and a rookie at that, Marshall was on the practice squad until Smallwood was placed on injured reserve in December, soon to be followed by Kenjon Barner and Ryan Mathews. Marshall dressed for the final three games and played extensively against Baltimore and Dallas, gaining 64 yards on 19 carries.
If he hoped that would be a springboard to this season, he lost his bounce when the team drafted Pumphrey, signed Clement, and brought in Blount. When Mathews was released, only Sproles and Smallwood remained from last season’s running back group, but it still appears too crowded for Byron Marshall.
“I feel like I’m good enough and talented enough to be here, but in the position I’m in, as a free agent, I can’t just blend in. Then you just go in the wash and they forget about you,” Marshall said. “You have to show them flashes. Every day, you’ve got to show them something they can see. Every day, the mind-set has to be to go out and wow them with a few plays at least. I’ve been doing that the whole time in camp, and I feel like I’ve done a lot with what they’ve given me.”
The problem is he hasn’t been given much, and the 23-year-old might already be in the wash. It won’t be a surprise, regardless of what happens Thursday night, if Marshall lands on the fail side of the class list when the grades are handed out. In fact, it would be a surprise if he didn’t.
Here’s another weekend prediction, though: Marshall won’t clear waivers and land back on the Eagles’ practice squad. Another team will sign him to its 53-man roster, and the Eagles will have to hope they weren’t overlooking a player just because they had looked at him once before, or because there were newer toys to play with at the table. It has happened before.
Read full story: Eagles' Marshall mostly playing waiting game | Bob Ford