A More Mature Pumphrey Arrives for Eagles
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) - Pedigree saved Donnel Pumphrey last season in what is supposed to be a meritocracy.
If you ignore what went on at San Diego State and the fact that Pumphrey was a fourth-round pick the Eagles traded up for last year, a disappointing preseason and the inability to handle the gruff nature of now assistant head coach/running backs Duce Staley had the rookie far behind his peers and falling.
Yet, Howie Roseman decided to ignore the-best-53 cliche and keep Pumphrey on the roster.
“We’re in a unique industry where there’s really no patience,” the Eagles executive explained at the time “We trust our evaluations and our scouts. And we want to give guys time that we believe in.”
Pumphrey was essentially redshirted, inactive on game day before being moved to injured reserve with a hamstring injury with the directive clear -- get tougher, both physically and mentally.
Listed at 5-foot-9 and 176 pounds, genetics have predisposed the reality that Pumphrey is never going to be Earl Campbell but there was plenty of room to get stronger so he went to the guy who he is ultimately tasked with replacing someday, veteran Darren Sproles.
Sproles is just 5-foot-6 and 190 pounds but has lasted 14 years in the NFL and, pound-for-pound, is perhaps the strongest member of the Eagles with a powerful lower body that any RB should strive for.
As one former Eagles coach often told 973espn.com "Sproles is short, he's not small."
Pumphrey worked out with Sproles, who is rehabbing from a torn ACL, in San Diego during the offseason and claims he is up 10 pounds. The end game is far more than that, however. When the Eagles told Pumphrey to put on weight last season he did but it was not necessarily in the right places.
The 23-year-old who showed up on the practice field earlier this week was more defined yet still had the signature quickness that was his calling card as the NCAA's all-time leading rusher at SDSU.
"It’s a different first day," Pumphrey admitted. "Last year, I didn’t really know what to expect. I didn’t know the playbook as much as do now, so it’s really just playing ball now and I’m able to move fast."
Maybe the bigger issue was repairing the relationship with his boss, however.
Corey Clement, the undrafted free agent who turned into a Super Bowl hero last season, also received instructions from Staley. His were to lose weight to gain more quickness and Clement took the feedback and ran with it both literally and figuratively.
With plenty of time for retrospection, Pumphrey had a heart-to-heart with his position coach in the hopes of putting pre-conceived notions from both sides in the rear-view mirror.
"I've matured a lot," Pumphrey said. "... I was taking a lot of criticism from [Staley] and I just felt like that’s where I needed to look at myself in the mirror and really just learn from him. It’s not about how they’re saying it; you just have to listen to the message they’re saying. That was the biggest thing, being coachable."
Things are different this year and now Clement is the one who is expected to be part of the Eagles' RB-by-committee approach with Jay Ajayi and Sproles. Pumphrey, meanwhile, is fighting for a roster spot with Wendell Smallwood, the recently-acquired Matt Jones, and this year's high-profile undrafted option, Josh Adams.
“We have a lot of great guys," Pumphrey admitted. "I just want to control what I can control, work on my game and compete in training camp."
And who knows, maybe the "college Pump" as Roseman describes it ultimately shows up.
“There’s no other industry where you take a guy out of college and if they don’t look exactly like you’re hoping a month in, you just look to dump them,” Roseman said. “We want to develop our players.”
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen
Want more NFL? Check out John's piece on NFL polling its fans on Colin Kaepernick at GetMoreSports.com