Everything has changed in Eagles backfield after Ajayi trade, but mentality remains the same

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The Eagles shook the world with a blockbuster trade yesterday, landing themselves esteemed running back Jay Ajayi in exchange for a fourth-round pick. On the surface, everything we knew about this Eagles backfield as changed. But the direction and the mentality remains unchanged. It’s all about winning.

There were of course some concerns over the shape of the backfield moving forward. How long would it take Ajayi to pick up the playbook? How much action will he see against the league’s roughest run defense? Will he replace LeGarrette Blount as the bell-cow back?

The front office and coaching staff have done a tremendous job in building a young and hungry group that is led by veterans who have been there and done it. With rings to their name and achievements that will never fade, the Eagles have sculptured a winning mentality from the ground up…and the arrival of a running back who rushed for 200+ yards three times last year will do anything but change that.

“We like our running back group.” Howie Roseman said after executing the trade. “This was an opportunity that came to us. We thought [he] was a good player who could add to our team. He’s a young player who is under contract for the next couple years. At the same time, everyone has seen the way LeGarrette [RB LeGarrette Blount] has run. Wendell [RB Wendell Smallwood] has had really good games for us. [There’s also] Corey [RB Corey Clement]. We brought Kenjon [RB Kenjon Barner] back, as well. It just adds to the group and all that stuff with playing time is sorted out by the coaches.”

“But LeGarrette continues to be our starter and just really excited to have that group and add a good player.”

The one thing that has consistently been reiterated since the trade is that Blount will remain the starter. With 467 yards and 2 touchdowns to his name this season, Blount’s breakout has been an integral part of the Eagles sustained rushing success. The Birds’ are currently riding a seven-game streak of 100+ rushing yards…and Ajayi’s presence will only boost that. But make no mistake, Blount is going nowhere anytime soon.

“LeGarrette has been productive when he’s gotten the ball.” Roseman went onto say. “He’s a warrior. He’s a two-time Super Bowl Champion and we’re really glad to have him. So you know, I really shouldn’t get into kind of ‘starter roles.’ That’s really up to the coaches, but we are counting on LeGarrette going forward here.”

“This [move] is no reflection of any of those running backs. This was a good opportunity for the Philadelphia Eagles and our job is to add good players who fit what we do and we believe Jay Ajayi does that.”

The new guy meanwhile has had an interesting year so far. Ajayi has been marginalized this year with 465 yards and no touchdowns so far. But when you factor in the weak offensive line, distractions all around and the quarterback controversy, it’s safe to say that behind one of the more consistent lines in the NFL, Ajayi has the potential to wreak havoc.

Originally a fifth-round draft choice of the Dolphins in 2015 (149th overall), Ajayi has played in 31 games (19 starts) and has carried 447 times for 1,924 yards and 9 TDs.

In 2016, Ajayi earned a Pro Bowl berth after finishing fourth in the NFL with 1,272 rushing yards, marking the third-highest single-season total in Dolphins’ history. Over the course of the season, Ajayi registered three 200-yard rushing games, becoming just the fourth player in NFL history to accomplish the feat. His 200-yard games earned him three AFC Offensive Player of the Week awards and he was named Miami’s 2016 Dan Marino Most Valuable Player.

The future for Wendell Smallwood, Donnell Pumphrey, Corey Clement and even Kenjon Barner may seem a little more clouded, but as a group, the future is brighter than ever. Under one banner, the backfield has already seen many different shapes. LeGarrette Blount was left on the sidelines against Kansas City before registering 67-yards one week later. Wendell Smallwood touched the ball 13 times against the Niners, while it was UDFA Corey Clement who led the way in rushing yardage. This “team first mentality” sees the backfield shapeshift on a near weekly basis in order to attain stability. Instead of abandoning the run, Pederson is molding his offense around it.

“Players understand and respect what you’ve done in this league and so you bring in a guy who has done what he’s done — or at any position — and there’s always a mutual, healthy respect.” Frank Reich told reporters on Tuesday.

“But there’s also accountability because we all want the same thing. We all want to keep building what we’re doing here. We’re off to a good start, but we’re not satisfied. We’ve got a long way to go. A long way to go. And we want to keep the mojo we’ve got. That takes buy-in from everybody.”

As far as where the backfield goes from here, it’s all about picking up blitzes and utilizing every aspect possible. The addition of Ajayi primes the Eagles Offense for a playoff run, with depth and optionality at their disposal once again. For LeGarrette Blount? It’s a case of pushing on as normal.

“Keep doing what you’re doing.” Reich said. “You’re a big reason we’re 7-1. You’re a big reason we made the strides we made in the running game. Your tenaciousness running the football, the attitude you’ve brought, the toughness that you’ve brought and the unselfishness you’ve brought is a big part of our identity. So that’s what we hope for to continue.”

 

Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

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