The Eagles, for the second time in training camp had live tackling drills and ran several periods of full-contact 11-on-11 Thursday.
In a starring role was second-year running back Wendell Smallwood, who had a larger and larger role on the team as a rookie in 2016 before an injury derailed his freshman campaign.
Now in Year 2, Smallwood has taken advantage of every single rep — making the most of LeGarrette Blount’s continued absence (he’s missed three practices for “personal reasons.”) Smallwood is a brusing, powerful downhill runner and he’s been an undeniable force in the early going at the NovaCare Complex.
“He is a footbal player he has really good instincts,” Eagles offensive coordinator Frank Reich said after practice Thursday. “I think he has above average instincts and it shows when he goes live. Wendell is making progress and I am very happy he’s on our team.”
When called on, Smallwood was solid in 2016. In Week 3 he had 17 carries for 79 yards and in Week’s 9 and 10 he had 13 carries apiece. With Blount expected to be the most utlized back and Donnell Pumphrey and Darren Sproles likely to be change of pace and receiving backs, Smallwood could split the difference as a bonafide No. 2 to Blount on goalline, short yardage and other running situations.
“It’s very important to show your power, show you are able to break tackles and make guys miss,” Smallwood, a Delaware native, said. “It’s not always going to be easy, it’s not always going to be an open field. Most of that is lowering your shoulder.”
Lowering your shoulder is exactly what running backs coach Duce Staley loves to see, and it’s earned Smallwood more time on the practice field. In Thursday’s impressive showing, the back scored several touchdowns at the goalline and made even more impressive plays by breaking through tackle attempts from Eagles defenders.
“Sometime you run plays and a defender breaks through and it looks like it’s a negative run but then you have live periods and what looked like negative runs turn into five or six yard gains because you have to takle the guy to the ground,” Reich said, no doubt referring to one of Smallwood’s takle-breaking rushes. “It gives us a chance on offense to see our backs, who can make guys miss, who can keep their balance, who can turn those negative plays into positive plays.”
If Smallwood continues to do it, he’ll be a steal in a late round of your fantasy draft as he climbs the Eagles depth chart.