It is, like everything else in the world of NFL spring football, a work in progress.
The Eagles know they have some pieces to work with in the offensive backfield and they’re trying to figure out how to fit everything together into a neat, productive puzzle.
“The talent in this room is impressive,” Boston Scott said. “You know that if you don’t bring it, you aren’t going to get your reps and you aren’t going to be here long. It brings out the best in you.”
As much – more, maybe? – as any group on the roster, the running backs have had a makeover this offseason. The Eagles traded with Chicago to acquire Jordan Howard, a powerhouse back in his three seasons with the Bears. One month later, the team used the 53rd overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft to select Miles Sanders.
And just like that, a position that was a major question mark following a season during which injuries ravaged the room was remade and pointed in the right direction.
There are still questions about the backfield, but most of them go something like this: Just how good and how diverse are the Eagles now with a running back room headed by the power of Howard and the big-play upside of Sanders, along with some intriguing pieces returning from the 2018 roster?
“I feel like I’m more of a power back and he has power as well but he’s shifty, too,” Howard said of teaming with Sanders in a potentially 1-2 punch backfield (Thunder and Lightning?) “We can definitely work off each other.”
While tandem of Howard and Sanders is something to watch, the Eagles have other pieces that fit into a dynamic picture in the backfield. Third-year man Corey Clement continues to rehab from a 2018 knee injury and figures to compete as an all-purpose performer, a role he’s done so well over the past two seasons. Clement is a terrific pass protector and receiver, and he has shown a hard-charging running style as well.
Josh Adams returns for his second season after leading the Eagles in rushing yards as a rookie and he’s out to show that he is a year older, wiser, and better.
“I learned so much last year,” said Adams, who ran for 511 yards and three touchdowns, averaging 4.3 yards per carry in 2018. “One thing you learn is that you have to continue to move forward. Staying the same is moving backward in this league. I’ve worked on my game and I’m in a totally different place. I’m a much better player. I know the competition is always going to be there for me, so I’ve got to keep improving myself.”
Wendell Smallwood has been productive when called upon in his three Eagles seasons and has the most experience in the system. He knows he has a fight on his hands as the running back roster shapes up.
"That's always been the case and I expect it to remain that way," Smallwood said. "You just have to focus on doing your job the best you can every single day."
Scott joined the Eagles last December from the Saints’ practice squad and averaged 24 yards on kickoff returns in the regular season and 18 yards on kickoff returns in the two playoff outings. Head coach Doug Pederson mentioned Scott’s name on Monday morning during his press conference and then, as Scott dressed at his locker at the NovaCare Complex, reporters surrounded him.
“He's a guy that can kind of fill a Darren Sproles (role),” Pederson said. “He's in that same body type and same quickness. We're working him in a couple of different situations as a runner, as a punt returner, and just kind of getting a feel for him because he wasn't a guy we initially brought onto our team early. Of course, there's other guys, but he's kind of been the one that, if you say you're going to try to replace Darren, which you really can't, he would be the guy that has kind of taken that role over right now.”
Scott was blown away by the comparison with Sproles, one of the greatest all-purpose players in the history of the league. Nothing is guaranteed for Scott, of course, but he was encouraged by the kind words.
“Just to be mentioned in the same sentence with Darren Sproles, that’s amazing,” Scott said. “He’s the one who paved the way for players my size (5-6, 203 pounds) to play in this league. What he’s done is incredible in this league. His preparation is second to none. His production, that speaks for itself. It’s quite a compliment to be mentioned with him.
“But that doesn’t change the way I’m approaching this. I am just going out there every day trying to make myself a better player who can help this offense. That’s not going to change. I’m taking anything for granted.”
Rounding out the backfield is Donnel Pumphrey, a fourth-round draft pick in 2017 who has yet to find his role in the Eagles' offense. Pumphrey looks quick and confident with the ball in his hands in the spring, but the Eagles also have a lot of competition in the renovated backfield.
Add it all up and running back is going to be an extremely competitive position in Training Camp and in the preseason. The Eagles know they have a lot of talent with which to work. What’s taking place now is a plan on how to use all the talent. The work in progress continues, and the Eagles couldn’t be more excited about a running back group that has a new look, a different personality, and exciting possibilities in 2019.