Doug Pederson considers making Darren Sproles Eagles' primary back

Doug Pederson considers making Darren Sproles Eagles' primary back

Doug Pederson said Monday he’s considering replacing Ryan Mathews with 33-year-old Darren Sproles as the Eagles’ primary running back.

Pederson said he's evaluating how to proceed at the running back spot, which has been somewhat muddled for the Eagles this year.

Asked whether Sproles will be the Eagles’ featured back moving forward, Pederson sure sounded like he was leaning that way. Or at least seriously considering it.

“I can't say that 100 percent,” he said. “It's something we'll evaluate in these next couple of days and make that determination. 

“But until then, it's still Ryan Mathews and then Darren in those situations. And then we've got to get Wendell [Smallwood] and Kenjon [Barner] going a little bit, too.”

Mathews, a two-time 1,000-yard rusher and a Pro Bowler in 2011, leads the Eagles with 71 carries and 272 rushing yards but got only four carries on eight snaps in the loss to Dallas on Sunday night. 

Sproles ran for 86 yards on 15 carries — his most carries since 2009 and his most rushing yards since 2011.

Sproles is now averaging 5.0 yards per carry and also has 22 catches for 227 yards.

Mathews has four rushing touchdowns this year but is averaging just 3.8 yards per carry and is the only NFL running back with two fourth-quarter fumbles this year.

Pederson said his decision to elevate Sproles over Mathews was not related to Mathews’ fumbles.

“It wasn't a reaction,” he said. “I just think that Darren had the hot hand [Sunday]. Darren was playing outstanding, and he was doing some great things out there. So, just wanted to keep Darren in the game.”

Sproles is on pace for 105 carries, which would be a career high in his 10th NFL season.

No running back in NFL history has ever reached 100 carries for the first time at 33 or older.

With nine games to go, Sproles’ 81 touches are already the fifth most in Eagles history by a player 33 or older, and his 455 yards from scrimmage are third most.

Sproles is on pace for 1,040 yards from scrimmage this year. Only nine backs 33 or older have been over 1,000.

Pederson said he’s not concerned with overusing Sproles, who has had double-digit carries in only 10 of his 169 career games.

“I definitely think he's capable,” Pederson said. “I think you don't want to give him any more than what he got [Sunday], with his role on special teams and all that, too. 

“If you know Darren like I know Darren, the way he works during the week and the way he prepares himself and prepares his body and mind, he's definitely capable of handling that type of load.”

Smallwood is averaging 3.8 yards on 29 carries but fumbled on his only carry Sunday night. Barner is averaging 5.3 yards per carry on 19 attempts but has only five carries since the bye.

The Eagles and Panthers are the only teams with four backs that have at least 19 carries.

With high expectations, Derek Barnett knows he still has plenty to learn

With high expectations, Derek Barnett knows he still has plenty to learn

Back near the far hedges of the NovaCare Complex's practice fields, a small group of defensive linemen in white jerseys and shorts participated in some drills. There were barely enough of them to even assemble a defensive line. More than half of the 90 men on the Eagles’ current roster were not at the team’s facilities. 

One of those few defensive linemen was Derek Barnett. On the first day of his first training camp, reporters later crowded around the first-round pick’s temporary locker as if he were the second-coming. Someone asked if he had any issues, considering his high-profile status, with the location of his locker, which is in the middle of the room and not one of the permanent stalls along the wall.

“I ain't made no plays yet,” Barnett said Monday, “so I'm cool with this locker until I make some plays.”

Good point. In terms of both Barnett’s career and this Eagles season, it is early. Very early. And to overhype the magnitude of Monday’s practice with rookies, quarterbacks and selected veterans would be silly. But Barnett knows where he stands, and he took the day as another opportunity to learn. He knows he must.

"Just keep on repping," Barnett said. "I come in and get better each day. It's not a sprint, it's a marathon."

Barnett has never lived anywhere outside of Tennessee. He hails from Brentwood, a suburb of Nashville. He attended the University of Tennessee, where his 33 sacks in three seasons broke Reggie White’s school record. Now the 21-year-old lives in Philadelphia, away from his family — especially his mother, whom he credits as his greatest influence — for the first time. They talk just about every day, and she’s been helpful in his move. Google Maps has been an aid, too. Barnett wants to know more about the city and its history.

He can absorb that knowledge over time, but the Eagles, of course, would prefer that he learns how to beat NFL offensive tackles as quickly as possible. Barnett joined a defensive end unit led by its only clear-cut starter in Brandon Graham. After that, Barnett, along with Chris Long and Vinny Curry, will get time. He might start, he might not. Any pressure that came along with going 14th overall, Barnett said, he doesn’t feel. But an internal force drives him.

“I have very high expectations for myself,” Barnett said. “And that's every year I go into a football season. I'm the biggest critic of myself.”

To get out on the field a few days early was good for Barnett, he said. After spending the time off over the last few weeks at home in Tennessee and working out with former All-Pro end Chuck Smith and Atlanta, he relished the opportunity. Given the limited numbers, Barnett lined up on both the right and left sides of the ball. He said he feels comfortable on either side. It was the not the game action he’s been anxious for, and it didn’t feel “real” without all the veterans, but it was a start.

The vets are on their way, though. The first full-team practice is Thursday, and with that will come the more polished Graham, Curry and Long. That’s three more sets of eyes to critique him, and three more sets of skills for him to watch; Barnett said observing their methods will help him get “mental reps.” The competition won’t hurt either.

The transition appears to be smooth so far. Barnett said he’s had to “unlearn” some of what he did in college, replacing it with a new set of muscle memory. The pace Monday was faster than during OTAs, but Barnett acknowledged that there are no days off in a league where everyone on the field is more capable. You can’t “slack mentally.”

"Coming in today, my coaches said, 'Just play, go, you can make mistakes, and if you do we'll correct them,'" Barnett said. "I didn't feel like there were many mistakes, but I still got some technique things … Things I need to do better."

All of it is new — the techniques, the coaches, the team and the city. Still, familiarity remains.

“It feels like I'm a freshman again, but I'm a rookie,” Barnett said. “I gotta come in and work hard and prove to my teammates that it's important to me and show the coaches they can trust me if they put me on the field.”

Eagles sign Canadian rugby star Adam Zaruba to be tight end

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AP Images

Eagles sign Canadian rugby star Adam Zaruba to be tight end

The Eagles didn't just look north of the border for their newest player. They looked to a completely different sport. 

On Monday afternoon, the Birds signed undrafted free agent and Canadian rugby star Adam Zaruba to a three-year contract, although the length of the contract is standard. 

Zaruba, a 26-year-old Vancouver native, had a tryout before being signed, Eagles head coach Doug Pederson confirmed earlier on Monday. 

Listed at 6-5, 265 pounds, Zaruba is the Eagles' biggest tight end, even bigger than Brent Celek (6-4, 255). While the Eagles have three tight end spots locked up — Celek, Zach Ertz and Trey Burton — Zaruba will likely need to shine on offense and as a special teamer if he has any chance to make the team. 

While this isn't Zaruba's first time playing football, it is his first time playing football in a while. His last competitive football game came in high school, according to TheProvince

Zaruba redshirted as a football player in his freshman year at college and then never played after that, becoming a full-time member of the Canadian national rugby team by 2014. 

He's apparently made a name for himself in the rugby world. Here are some highlights, including an impressive one-handed grab: 

It likely won't be an easy transition from rugby to American football, but the Eagles were probably impressed by Zaruba's athleticism. On June 29, he posted a video to his Instagram account claiming he ran a 4.49 in the 40-yard dash while weighting 260 pounds. To put that into perspective, that time would have ranked second among all tight end competitors at this year's combine and would have been faster than the time put up by 19th overall pick O.J. Howard. 

Zaruba isn't the first rugby player to attempt the conversion to the NFL. The most famous example is Patriots' special teamer Nate Ebner. The U.S. rugby player has played for the Patriots since 2012 and was a second-team All-Pro in 2016. 

After signing Zaruba, the Eagles' roster is full at 90 men.