The Eagles backfield looks promising on paper but as we all know has had several dark clouds looming over it ever since Pederson stated his intention to roll with a committee effort in 2016.
From the aging Darren Sproles to the worrying injury history of Ryan Mathews..the Eagles chose to trade away the star-power of DeMarco Murray and place their efforts on a multi dimensional effort that could well utilize fifth round pick Wendell Smallwood and ever the underdog, Kenjon Barner.
The styles of Barner and Mathews are coincidentally very close to those of Spencer Ware and Charcandrick West, the duo that rushed for over 1,000 yards last season in the absence of Jamaal Charles and helped Pederson’s Offense in Kansas City run rampant. This, partnered with the versatility of Smallwood and the abundance of screen passes Pederson used during his play-calling last year that have Darren Sproles written all over them, project a quietly confident backfield to cause a few surprises behind a recently reinforced Offensive line.
But on the eve of the team’s first full 90-man Training camp practice, the Eagles announced this:
#Eagles sign WR David Watford. RB Ryan Mathews placed on Active/Non-Football Injury List. He suffered an ankle injury training last week.
— Philadelphia Eagles (@Eagles) July 27, 2016
Shocker, the man who according to Jimmy Kempski has appeared on the injury list a staggering 53 times since 2010 has fallen injured yet again…before camp has even started. The injury isn’t said to be serious and should only keep Mathews sidelined for a portion of camp, but it paints a very worrying picture.
The Eagles are going to be hitting harder in practice, going through stints of 3 consecutive practices in which the pads are on in what could be the most important Training camp of the last five years. With positional battles all over the roster and 27 rookies vying to earn their spot..tempers will flare and the hits are going to come in hard..and fast.
Not only that, but this is a Jim Schwartz Defense. One primed on aggression, ruthlessness and striking fear into the Offense. Training camp or not, the running backs are going to take a hit..and if this pre-camp injury is any kind of indication, there may be a few setbacks heading into a season where the Eagles will be playing 13 games without a Bye.
So surely it makes sense to add another running back to the roster..right?! Why wouldn’t the Eagles attack Free agency when there are so many appealing veterans on the market?
From Ray Rice to former Eagle Chris Polk, Joique Bell to Fred Jackson..the Eagles have plenty of backs to pursue if they wanted to add some reinforcement, reliability and production to the backfield..but the likelihood is, they’ll pursue none of these.
There are a few simple reasons for this, starting with the fact that Doug Pederson is a coach who thrives on stability. Somehow, through a rollercoaster offseason that has seen everything from a quarterback controversy to a linebacker getting arrested days before camp, Pederson has kept this team glued together. How? By dealing with issues away from the field in private and ensuring the effects don’t roll over into the locker room.
Pederson has walked through a quarterback minefield and come out swinging in regards to Sam Bradford..so why would a minor ankle injury that will keep a running back sidelined for days prompt him to look for an expensive free agent replacement?
The Eagles drafted Smallwood in the fifth round and they have the ultimate junior swiss army knife in Byron Marshall. Both of whom have realistic shots of making the final roster..adding a free-agent would not only upset the apple cart, but revoke the idea of competition and instead instill one of a lack of confidence in the units overall ability.
Pederson having interest in Anquan Boldin prior to his signing with the Lions was slightly different. The WR unit has more in the way of uncertainties and is coming off of a much weaker year as a unit. The core is extremely young and in terms of rookies, the Eagles only have undrafted free agents on the roster. So all of the talent besides Randle, Givens and Graham are all guys who were on the roster prior to his arrival.
Pederson knows what he wants out of his receivers and it’s not like he didn’t address the needs that would help him create an intimidating unit..it’s just that there were far more prominent concerns to deal with first..like a leaking Offensive line and potentially losing Sam Bradford.
The running back position may not be one of the biggest strengths on this team, but it certainly isn’t one of the biggest weaknesses. If the Eagles were to pursue a veteran free agent, it would completely disregard the “committee” idea and instead refocus the attention around the new addition who would be almost certain to take reps away from players previously primed to make the roster.
Camp injuries happen..and they happen regularly. But that doesn’t mean that the Eagles need to add a sixth running back to the roster when there are players who fit Pederson’s vision, styles and mold absolutely perfectly.
The Eagles backfield is loaded with potential. There might be a bunch of reasons to doubt the efficiency of the unit..but you can’t doubt the direction. The powerful yet elusive Smallwood could one day take over from Mathews and the swiss army knife that’s known as Byron Marshall will learn from one of the players who forced the media into using “swiss army knife” as a way to describe his playing style. Kenjon Barner can be the “dirty yards” back if needed and after an eyebrow raising bulk up in the off-season, has every chance of earning more snaps during the regular season.
Adding a free agent back may give the Eagles backfield an insurance policy deeper into the season..but it’s an insurance policy that covers items we don’t own. The Eagles don’t want a veteran and a former star. They’re not after a back to constantly charge up the middle and break tackles. Pederson wants to create versatility and layers in his offense..and he can do that absolutely perfectly regardless of how bad the injury situation becomes with the starters.
Photo credit: AP Photo/Bob Leverone