Smallwood Isn’t Resigned to Reduced Role
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) — While much of the speculation stemming from the Jay Ajayi trade has focused on LeGarrette Blount and how the latter's role may be reshaped, the Eagles' RB1 before the latest addition is still going to be a big part of this offense moving forward.
The same probably can't be said for Wendell Smallwood, the second-year player who took on a larger role for a few weeks in the wake of Darren Sproles' ACL injury until a balky knee of his own stunted things.
Now with the talented Ajayi on board, Smallwood looks like the one back on the roster who isn't going to have a defined role even if coach Doug Pederson denied it earlier this week.
“Nothing changes with Wendell,” Pederson claimed. “We just keep him coming and keep feeding him when we can.”
Actually, something already changed even before Ajayi arrived. Against San Francisco last week, Smallwood found his role scaled back dramatically, participating in just 13 offensive snaps with one touch of the football.
Injuries have contributed to Smallwood's failure to seize on his opportunities to this point. During his rookie season, it was a hamstring and a knee and similar issues have cropped up this time around (the hamstring in camp and the knee in-season).
Considering coaches often preach the best ability is availability, the organization's reach for another running back is a direct correlation to its inability to count on Smallwood.
That doesn't mean the West Virginia product can't change that narrative, however, and for now, that starts with a positive attitude.
"One game it might be this person. One game it might be another person," Smallwood said. "If you’re all about winning, and putting your best out there and wanting this team to win, and help us achieve what we’re trying to achieve."
Before the latest knee injury, which was suffered against the Los Angeles Chargers, kept Smallwood on the sidelines for two games he was the one in the Eagles' running back-by-committee playing more than anyone else.
Now with Blount and presumably Ajayi (when up to speed with the offense) splitting most of the touches, Smallwood is the option who probably isn't going to have a consistent role. Rookie Corey Clement is a key contributor on a number of Dave Fipp's special teams units and while Smallwood is a capable kick returner so is Kenjon Barner and the Barner is the one who also handles the punt return duties, meaning he has to be up on game days.
Despite that landscape, Smallwood stayed positive while speaking at his locker on Thursday.
“I think it’s going to be a game plan every week, and every week the game plan is different or it may stay the same," he surmised. "You never know.”
Pederson advised all the running backs approach their jobs with that kind of mentality.
“Those that embrace it [the competition] and challenge themselves individually are going to get better,” the coach assessed, “and those who don’t fall by the wayside and it sorts itself out.”
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen