The ultimate Eagles OTA preview part 2: running back edition

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After taking a closer look at the quarterback position and what to look for with OTA’s just three days away, it’s time to look at the committee of running backs who will be supporting Carson Wentz in 2017. OTA’s will be instrumental when it comes to evaluating not only the progress of the backfield, but some of the new faces who will be putting on midnight green for the first time. Here’s some key storylines to keep an eye on when it comes to running backs over the next few weeks.

The ultimate Eagles OTA preview part 1: Quarterback edition

Blount force:
The most exciting aspect of the Eagles backfield is no doubt the addition of seven-year veteran, LaGarrette Blount. Many have wondered whether any running back in Pederson’s Offense could receive over 20 carries per game..but there may be no more fitting candidate than the two-time Super Bowl winner. With 470 rushing yards and eight touchdowns in as many career playoff games, Blount is a back who can dominate the game when chewing the clock if needed..and it will be the first time that the Eagles have sought to utilize such a powerful rusher since failing to do so with DeMarco Murray under Chip Kelly..and our first glance of what Blount brings to the table, will be on display from May 23rd.

Likely working with the “ones”, it will be interesting to see just how much action Blount receives during the early stages of the offseason workouts. It would also be the first time that the Eagles have consistently opened up the trenches for a back to power through, as opposed to pushing the pass rush for a zonal effort, which means the run blocking ability of Jason Kelce could be on full display, while the likes of Isaac Seumalo and Stefen Wisniewski will be licking their lips at a chance to prove their worth in helping the new-look backfield. Will the Eagles adapt their rushing attack for Blount, or will the former Pats rusher find himself rushing outside a little more often than he did in New England?

 

Pumphrey’s podium:
It was widely debated after the Draft whether or not San Diego State’s Donnel Pumphrey could be the Eagles three-down back. The signing of Blount all but cements that won’t be the case, and Pumphrey will instead begin the process of inheriting the change-of-pace role from Darren Sproles, exercising his versatility and explosiveness when breaking tackles. One of the other key questions surrounding Pumphrey however, has been his use in the passing attack.

There had been murmurs suggesting that Pumphrey could see some action in the slot next season, and if there is going to be any weight to them, OTA’s will be the testing ground. Known for his dual-threat ability, it will be enticing to see how the Eagles use Pumphrey alongside Darren Sproles. Could the elusive rusher see some time in the slot, or will he be allowed to find his feet in the backfield before branching outside?

 

The unexpected:
One of the most underrated aspects of OTA’s is the additions of new pieces to the puzzle that go far beyond the players. Doug Pederson and Duce Staley caught many off guard last year by experimenting with pistol formations during the program..and with an even more dynamic approach this year, the Eagles coaching staff may have even more aces up their sleeve..especially given that  with such a strong group in terms of versatility, backs will have to go above and beyond to prove themselves worthy of a spot in rotation.

 

Smallwood’s shot at shining:
With Ryan Mathews still rehabbing and hoping to rejuvenate his NFL career, the chances of him retaining a spot on the Eagles roster now seem minimized with the addition of Blount. However, one back who runs in a similar, albeit less explosive fashion to Mathews, is Wendell Smallwood. The West Virginia product amassed 312 yards and a touchdown on 77 carries before an injury cut his rookie campaign short.

With Mathews unable to defend his turf, and Smallwood experiencing several roles already in the Eagles backfield, this will be the perfect opportunity for last year’s fifth round pick to go all out and show coaches that he can assume the role that Mathews will leave behind.

 

What does the future hold for Corey Clement?
One of the UDFA darlings of this year’s class was set to be Wisconsin’s Corey Clement..until the arrival of LeGarrette Blount. The 5’11, 220 lbs, back stole the spotlight in his final season as a Badger, despite sharing the backfield with multiple backs. He managed to rush for 1,375 yards and 15 touchdowns, proving his redzone value after a strong campaign in the previous year.

Clement has a huge uphill battle if he is to make the final 53-man roster, but he will be one of the favorites to land on the practice squad if he’s able to set the tone early and turn heads during the opening few workouts next week. If Clement can show the dominance he flashed at College, there is a chance he will battle with Wendell Smallwood for the role likely to be left by Ryan Mathews. If that battle is to happen, Clement simply has to shine during OTA’s.

 

Slotting in:
It was announced earlier in the offseason by Dave Spadaro, that the Eagles had moved former Oregon Ducks running back, Byron Marshall, to wide receiver. At 5’9, 201 lbs, Marshall’s arguably a little undersized for the position, resembling a frame close to that of Paul Turner. Although his college prowess saw him receive for over 1,000 yards and rush for 3,000, Marshall actually flashed potential of an NFL running back during his Eagles debut.

He may have only rushed the ball 19 times for 64-yards, but the undrafted rookie was able to adapt extremely quickly after a tough start. It’s rare to see someone’s style adapt and evolve in a one-game period..but that’s exactly what we saw from Marshall against the Ravens. He then responded by averaging 4.2 yards per carry against the Cowboys in the final game of the year.

If the Eagles are moving Marshall outside, that would likely put him in direct competition with Donnel Pumphrey and Darren Sproles for the so called “slot” role to create mismatches..or likewise with Paul Turner for a backup WR3 spot on the roster. It’s unknown to what extent the Eagles wish to use Sproles and Pumphrey when it comes to receiving, but Marshall’s position could well be a knock-on effect of this decision, and a strong showing at OTA’s will set a nice tone for Training Camp, allowing Marshall to show the flexibility and production he flashed last year, putting him in good stead to compete with whomever the Eagles put in front of him for a roster spot battle.

 

Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

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