At this time last year, Corey Clement had only one more game promised to him. He was an undrafted rookie on the bottom of the depth chart trying to earn a roster spot in the preseason finale.
He drew a crowd of reporters around his makeshift locker during the final week of the preseason. They were interested in whether the Glassboro native could make his hometown team.
Fast forward one year, and Clement drew a similarly large crowd Monday. But it was at a permanent locker stall. It was affixed with a Super Bowl memento – a game in which Clement scored a touchdown and led the Eagles in receiving yards. And Clement no longer needs to worry about the preseason finale. His roster spot is secure and his role on the team is important.
"It's almost like night and day," Clement said.
Now there are others like he was last year, needing the fourth preseason game on Thursday against the New York Jets to earn a roster spot.
Josh Adams, a Warrington native who starred at Central Bucks South and Notre Dame, could become the next local running back who goes from undrafted to the 53-man roster.
Clement, who suffered an ankle injury in the preseason opener, missed the last two weeks. He returned to practice this week along with wide receiver Nelson Agholor, giving a boost to a first-team offense that has been scoreless for the summer.
"They just need to get integrated back out there, get their legs back underneath them," offensive coordinator Mike Groh said. "It was kind of fun to see them both back out there again. From that standpoint, it gives everybody a little bit of a lift."
After Clement's injury, coach Doug Pederson showed no urgency rushing him back to practice, suggesting that the running back just needed to prepare for Week 1. And when it comes, Clement is expected to have a role in the offense.
Clement totaled 321 rushing yards and four touchdowns, along with 10 catches for 123 yards and two scores, in the regular season. He proved to be a valuable third-down running back late in the season and into the postseason, even finishing the Super Bowl with four catches for 100 yards and a touchdown. He started as an underdog to make the team and finished as a key contributor.
"Still going to be a hungry dog, whatever the case may be," Clement said. "Special teams or offense, I've got to make my mark."
He thinks his biggest leap in 2018 will be on the mental side of the game, understanding the offense and trying to see the game the way center Jason Kelce does. He spent the last two weeks on the sideline watching veteran Darren Sproles, marveling at the way Sproles practices.
Clement wasn't specific about what his role will be in 2018 because the backfield is different. Jay Ajayi, who is out with a lower-body injury, will be the lead running back. Sproles is healthy again, and he's been a valuable third-down back throughout his career, adept at both catching and blocking. Clement said he is "going to feed off' both veteran running backs.
"I think you'll see us be … versatile and use everybody's skills in that room this year," Groh said.
With Ajayi, Sproles, and Clement entrenched, the Eagles are still trying to determine their fourth – and possibly fifth – running back. Thursday's game will be a part of that evaluation.
It's hard to look at Adams' story and not think of Clement. Adams has impressed this summer, with 10 carries for 66 yards in two games. He also has four receptions. He uses a makeshift locker designated for rookies, and he's the lone rookie running back trying to get a permanent one next week – just like Clement last season.
"He was here, just like everybody else trying to make the team," Adams said. "And he worked his butt off and made it happen. It goes to show that everyone's here the same. You have to work, you have to earn, to get what you want."
When Clement was trying to make the team, he wanted the coaches to notice his special-teams work and his blocking more than his rushing. Adams has been used on special teams this summer, too, and knows that will be a factor to make the team. He said that he has embraced his special-teams role and that he did the same when he arrived at Notre Dame.
"It's football at the end of the day," Adams said. "I'm having a lot of fun with it, trying to grow and improve as a player."
Clement will be on the sideline Thursday watching. Although he's focused on Sept. 6, he knows what players such as Adams are thinking during a week when the Eagles must cut from 90 players to 53.
"I remember talking to [reporters] last year being in the same position," Clement said. "I tried to not let it get to me. … If you're on the bubble, you can't think like that. Enjoy it, be thankful that you're out there, because not many people get the chance to do it."