Head coach Doug Pederson says it will be a "game-time decision" on running back Wendell Smallwood and his status for Sunday's game against Arizona, potentially altering the three-back system the Eagles used with so much success last week in Los Angeles.
Smallwood has missed practice all week with a knee injury that cropped up out of nowhere after the Chargers game, in which Smallwood accounted for 79 yards and a touchdown on 14 touches from the line of scrimmage. He looked terrific, but apparently tweaked his knee enough that he's now in question for Sunday.
So what would it mean if Smallwood can't go?
The good news is that the Eagles feel great about the way LeGarrette Blount is playing, understandably so. He is coming off his best game of the season, barreling his way to 136 yards on 16 carries and adding a 20-yard reception to help defeat the Chargers. He did that while playing just 26 snaps, so asking a very fresh Blount to stay on the field for more reps won't be a problem.
No. 2 on the depth chart, should Smallwood not play, would be rookie Corey Clement, who has made such a rapid and encouraging rise in a very short time. A long shot to make the roster when he signed with the Eagles after the 2017 draft, Clement is now a key piece in the offense.
You see his reps rising – eight against the Giants and then 19 in Los Angeles last Sunday. Clement has handled every responsibility the Eagles have thrown his way – he's become a big piece of Dave Fipp's special teams and he's working his way into the offense. Clement is fast, has quick feet, can make people miss, and he runs with power. Based on his performance in the preseason, Clement is also a capable pass protector, although he will see things for the first time in the regular season the more he plays.
This is a tricky situation for the coaching staff at all positions, really. With two games in five days – home with Arizona on Sunday and then at Carolina on Thursday – the roster is going to be stretched to the limit. The Eagles are already taxed from a physical standpoint with defensive tackle Fletcher Cox (calf) out and cornerback Ronald Darby (ankle) still rehabbing from his Week 1 injury. The offense lost running back Darren Sproles for the season in the win over New York.
And we're in Week 5.
With a long, long way to go.
That's why it's important that a rookie like Clement is up to speed. He appears to be. It's a credit to the hard work he's put in and it's a credit to running backs coach Duce Staley, who made no secret of his fondness for Clement throughout the spring and summer. Clement has applied himself like a veteran since Day 1. He was no sure thing to make the team, not with Blount, Sproles, Smallwood, and fourth-round draft pick Donnel Pumphrey ahead of him on the depth chart.
But Clement worked through all of that, shined when he was given practice reps and then played better than any of the Eagles' backs in the preseason. He won a job on the 53-man roster and now Clement is rising up the depth chart.
It won't be ideal if Smallwood – who played 35 snaps against the Chargers – can't go on Sunday, and you wonder if he then will be able to play in Carolina with the short week between games. But the Eagles can compensate for those 35 snaps by splitting them between Blount and Clement and their contrasting styles.
The running game is in focus in a lot of ways for Sunday, and Smallwood's questionable status is part of the equation. It could be that a rookie, Clement, has to show that he's ready for his next big step forward teaming with one of the hottest backs in the league in Blount.