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Big Question: A Bigger Role For LeGarrette Blount?

Posted Oct 23, 2017

You've got questions. Our writers have the answers. Here's a preview of tonight's prime-time NFC East showdown with the Washington Redskins.

Dave Spadaro: We will find out. I believe it is, but time is going to tell on that one. The Eagles are 5-1. The season has a long way to go. If players on this team don’t realize that, then the Eagles are going to be in for a rude comeuppance. I can tell you, the players certainly got their share of “How good are you?” questions in the locker room this week. There are enough pros here to understand that it’s a long season, and the coaching staff has emphasized that point as well.

Fran Duffy: We obviously don’t know that for sure (yet), but I believe it is, and that starts from the top. Doug Pederson has consistently preached a "next play mentality" of going one game at a time and trying to not look at the big picture. This team knows that it’s a marathon, not a sprint, and when you have veteran leadership in place, especially players who have won Super Bowls in safety Malcolm Jenkins and running back LeGarrette Blount, along with young players who seem to "get it," that’s a recipe for long-term success.

Chris McPherson: The common phrase heard in the locker room this week was, "We haven't done anything yet." I think the pain of starting last year 3-0 and 4-1 before unraveling is serving the team well now. Doug Pederson has done a tremendous job of preparing the team each week. I think it's arguably the most underrated aspect of his first 22 games in the role of head coach. And Pederson trusts the locker room that has the leaders like Fran mentioned, and I'd certainly include quarterback Carson Wentz who already has the respect to keep his teammates accountable.

Fran Duffy: We’ve talked about the priority on draft day and the acquisition of Brandon Brooks (who has been rock solid whenever he’s on the field for this team), but from a pure coaching standpoint I love what this staff does both in the run game and the pass game to help support this offensive line. The coaches utilize a number of run plays that play to the offensive line’s strengths, and by having such a diverse scheme you keep defenses on their toes so that it’s tough to predict exactly which run play is coming next. The run-pass options in the passing game help get the ball out quickly, and an effective play-action game helps the offensive line as well. Lastly, the impact Carson Wentz and his ability to both reset plays at the line of scrimmage as well as navigate the pocket after the snap of the ball help keep sacks and hits to a minimum.

Dave Spadaro: I would say that everyone here thought it would be a strength from the very start. The preseason was uneven, but for the most part I think the entire team felt really good about the offensive line. Everyone returned from last year. Lane Johnson had nothing looming over him as far as a suspension. There was some quality depth as well.

Nobody here ever saw the line as a “weakness.” Don’t know where that comes from. The preseason? Yeah, well, it’s the preseason. The Eagles had a strong game to beat Washington and the season was off to a good start. The line knows defenses are going to blitz and try to create havoc, so that’s something to keep an eye on. As long as the starters stay healthy up front, this is going to be one of the league’s best offensive lines.

Chris McPherson: There's talent - Jason Peters is still playing at a ridiculously high level and Stefen Wisniewski has solidified that left guard spot. Jason Kelce is putting forth arguably the best tape of his career. Brandon Brooks has been consistent and Lane Johnson is the lynchpin at right tackle. There's great coaching and play calling. Pederson has balanced the offense which helps keep defenses off balance. Wentz is outstanding at the line of scrimmage. The Eagles' ability to win pre-snap is critical to the success of the offense as a whole.

Dave Spadaro: Let’s hope Darby is back soon, and if he is and if he’s able to return to playing at a high level, the secondary becomes quite a bit better because the Eagles will get back a terrific athlete, a cornerback who ran run with the speedy receivers on the schedule ahead. The cornerbacks have compensated very well in Darby’s absence, but clearly his ability to be a playmaker would be welcomed back.

As far as Sidney Jones is concerned, I don’t have any expectations. He’s never played in this defense. I have no idea if he will get back on the field this season. So until he’s in uniform and shows he can grasp the system and play at an NFL game tempo, I’d rather not speculate on his impact. In the big picture, I know the Eagles have high expectations for Jones, a first-round talent in April’s draft.

Fran Duffy: If a healthy Darby and Jones enter this rotation at cornerback, it’s going to be really interesting. Will we see more subpackage looks? I’m interested to see how things are handled in the slot. Will Ronald Darby travel with receivers? Will Sidney Jones get reps inside? Will Patrick Robinson play there full time? It’s a great problem to have, and the Eagles will cross that bridge when they come to it, but having a young core of Darby, Jones, Jalen Mills, and Rasul Douglas bodes very well for the future of this defense, both on the long term and the short term for this season.

Chris McPherson: I would compare Darby's return to that of Lane Johnson from suspension in that you get a critical piece back and a young player (in Johnson's case Halapoulivaati Vaitai, here it would be Douglas) benefits from critical reps that can help in the future. We saw what a difference Darby could make in his two games as an Eagle (preseason vs. Buffalo, season opener in Washington). He possesses physical traits that no one else on the roster has and creates a multitude of options for defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz. I'll be honest. I have no idea what's in store for Jones until we him in practice.

Fran Duffy: I don’t believe that to be the case. I think we’ll probably see a little bit less of Corey Clement and far less of Kenjon Barner in the backfield when Smallwood re-enters the lineup. One of the areas he’ll be a huge help in is pass protection. Coach Duce Staley has said that is an area where Smallwood has improved dramatically from Year 1 to Year 2, and while he did give up a sack in the preseason, his abilities in pass protection were missed last Thursday in Carolina after what I thought was an outstanding performance against New York in Week 4.

Dave Spadaro: The Eagles are going to rotate their running backs throughout the season so, yeah, in theory the answer is yes. But Blount has his role, and it’s a significant one and he’s going to get all the touches that the Eagles want him to get. I think the key is keeping Blount from getting too much work and having Smallwood healthy and keeping him healthy is key to those plans.

We’ve seen how talented Smallwood is and how well he fits into this offense. The question is his ability to stay on the field. Don’t worry about Blount. He’s going to get his touches every week. He’s going to score touchdowns. He’s going to be a power in this running game.

Chris McPherson: You could certainly make a valid argument for Blount getting more touches after the loss in Kansas City. But there are fans who continue to clamor for even more carries for the 250-pound bulldozer. The key is to keep him fresh for late-game situations and the end of the year. I don't think Blount's role will be impacted by Smallwood's return. I agree that Clement's and Barner's touches will be reduced, but I've been impressed with how the rookie's contributions in critical situations. At the very least, both Barner and Clement will be able to focus on making an impact on special teams.

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