It’s been a rocky season for the Eagles backfield. From fumbles and inconsistency to flashes of committee excellence, it’s a position that’s still finding an identity under Doug Pederson. But just one week after a 113 yard rushing effort against the Seahawks and a further week removed from a 208 yard showing against Atlanta, the unit could see a complete overhaul.
Both Ryan Mathews and Darren Sproles picked up injuries in the game against Seattle, with Ryan Mathers spraining his MCL and Sproles obtaining a seventh rib fracture. The duo have been held from practice this week so far and in a worst case scenario, could miss Monday Night’s game against Green Bay.
Doug Pederson told the media today that Darren Sproles should be ready to go on Monday but if Mathews plays, he could well see a backup role. In either instance, it would leave Kenjon Barner and Wendell Smallwood to carry the workload.
Smallwood took the reins against Seattle following the injuries of Sproles and Mathews, rushing the ball 13 times. In fact over the last two weeks, Smallwood has rushed the ball 26 times for 118 yards.
In recent weeks, the Eagles backfield has become far more reliant on the committee aspect and with Sproles and Mathews potentially being limited, the team could well turn to Byron Marshall.
The former Oregon running back has been stashed on the Eagles practice squad this season, after an interesting preseason. The versatile running back caught 8 passes for 60 yards and rushed 34 times for 86 yards during the four game span.
When talking about the decision to activate Paul Turner this week, Pederson made an interesting point.
Pederson: Part of putting Turner on roster is that other teams look at your practice squad this time of year, as injuries mount
— Les Bowen (@LesBowen) November 23, 2016
Even if the Eagles didn’t utilize Marshall, protecting him by assigning him to the team’s active roster may be in their best interests. With running backs and receivers beginning to rack up injuries in the depths of the 2016 season, someone as elusive and versatile as Marshall could be seen as a steal by many.
Marshall is widely known for being one of the most versatile running backs in his conference. Marshall stunningly received and rushed for 1,000 yards during his college career and is the ultimate dual-threat back..but even he has a hidden ace up his sleeve.
During his time at Oregon, Marshall returned 19 kicks for 450 yards, averaging over 20 yards per return.
The Eagles have often found success on the ground when they utilize Darren Sproles as a pass catcher..and that’s an area where Marshall thrives. Carrying a similar swiss-army knife reputation, Marshall could slot straight into the Eagles backfield as a weapon while allowing Smallwood to still lead a marginalized backfield.
Activating Marshall would give the Eagles five active running backs..which is obviously a big hit on the roster. But with Vaitai’s injury being week-to-week and Lane Johnson returning soon, there’s no reason why the Eagles couldn’t move some pieces around in order to bandage a wounded committee until both Sproles and Mathews are back to 100%.
The Eagles backfield has been at its best when the ball has been shared among the abundance of running backs. Having just two on the roster in a worst case scenario would not only put a lot of pressure on rookie Wendell Smallwood to carry the load, but also quarterback Carson Wentz..who would lose another leg on his stool. With wide receivers failing to produce and a new found reliance on Zach Ertz, Wentz would be left in a very tough position if the backfield began to stagnate too.
It remains to be seen if Pederson will decide to promote Byron Marshall and even if he does, whether or not he will see any game-time. But as the injuries begin to pile up, the idea of a dual threat back with such an electrifying college record will entice more than a handful of teams at this stage in the season.