With running back LeGarrette Blount excused for personal reasons Tuesday morning, Wendell Smallwood and Corey Clement got a healthy serving of reps during the Eagles’ first live-hitting practice.
“It’s real important,” Smallwood said on capitalizing in Blount’s absence. “Opportunities like that don’t come a lot and you never know how it’s going to go, or who’s going to be here and who’s not. So I think you have to be ready to step up and take control.”
Smallwood turned heads during the padded practice, getting the bulk of the reps with the first team on offense. He showed great physicality and aggressiveness that riled up his teammates and gave the coaching staff the forcefulness they’ve been waiting for.
“I think especially for me being able to lower my shoulder and run through guys and get those positive yards after contact I think is very important,” Smallwood voiced. “That’s what Duce (Eagles running back coach Duce Staley) wants to see more out of me, being aggressive. Being a physical runner.”
Head coach Doug Pederson affirmed that Smallwood would have a role this upcoming season and thought it would be beneficial to give the second-year player extra reps.
“This is the time of year where, I'm trying to get them all some reps, all some touches. I think he's going to have a role, obviously, on the football team,” Pederson said of Smallwood. “We're just wanting to see all the guys right now. I think as camp goes, you begin to see how we're going to use certain players and schemes. We're not scheming right now, so it's just a matter of getting everybody some reps.”
The Wilmington, Delaware native prioritized improving his overall physical endurance over the offseason. During his rookie season, Smallwood became the first Eagle to record 300 rushing yards and 250 kick return yards in a season since Correll Buckhalter in 2007. However, Smallwood tailed off towards the end of the season. In his last three contests (three starts), he averaged fewer than 3 yards per carry then landed on Injured Reserve with a knee injury. He attributed his late-season struggles to fatigue and worked tirelessly to shore up his conditioning.
“I definitely think I was more in tune this offseason. I don’t think I was in tune last offseason and I kind of didn’t know what to expect,” Smallwood said. “So when you know what to expect heading into something, you know what’s going to be required and what you need to focus on. I felt as though conditioning was my number one focus and just staying in football shape, not slacking off, not missing a lot of things, and just getting there mentally and being ready physically.”
Smallwood seems to be building upon his strong offseason. He ended the Tuesday’s live session on a resounding note. After receiving a handoff from quarterback Carson Wentz, Smallwood broke free from a tackle by defensive end Steven Means and zipped about 30 yards down the left sideline toward the end zone for a touchdown.
“It was good,” Smallwood commented on his play. “I was wondering which running back was going to get into the end zone today. We had a long drive and I know (the defense) was getting worn down a little bit and so were we, so it was good to cross that line for the first time.”
One of Smallwood’s running mates, undrafted rookie Clement, had himself a notable outing as well. He’s out to prove to the coaching staff that he is deserving of a role in the offense.
“I think they want to depend on me and see what I can handle being that Blount wasn’t here today,” Clement said. “I kind of took that as an advantage for my reps and it’s to win football. When your number is called upon, you have to be ready for it.”
The Glassboro, New Jersey native came into this year’s Training Camp 12 pounds lighter at 215 pounds much to the approval of Staley. He credited his regimen, diet, and training over the pre-Training Camp break for placing him in the position he’s in right now.
“Feels great. I feel lighter,” Clement admitted. “Still feel as if I have all my strength there. And at the same time, it’s all about what I did this offseason to prepare me for my time now.”
Clement also got a few opportunities to go up against the first team defense.
“It was great to get back into the pads and get in contact again. And it’s football. Football is back August 1, can’t ask for better weather. It’s a good time to be out here competing with veteran guys,” Clement said.
“I think going against better guys always elevates your level, so you want to be at the highest peak that you possibly can and not play down to anyone’s level. So going against Fletcher Cox and everybody else in the back end was a great experience, but I’ll be going against them all camp.”
Clement and Smallwood will look to solidify the Eagles’ backfield behind Blount.
“I think we kind of took to him. We were happy to have him in the offense,” Smallwood said. “I know (Darren) Sproles and I were excited that we just get to add the competition. (He’s) making the team better, making the room better.”