Where does Wendell Smallwood fit in crowded Eagles backfield?

Where does Wendell Smallwood fit in crowded Eagles backfield?

When the Eagles' 2016 season came to a close, Wendell Smallwood could only watch. With a small MCL tear, last year's fifth-round selection was relegated to the sidelines as his team escaped its final three games with a pair of wins against divisional rivals and nearly a third last-gasp win in Baltimore.

And up until only about a month ago, it seemed as if Smallwood was potentially going to be the lead horse in a crowded Eagles backfield.

But with the signing of LeGarrette Blount, the Eagles made clear that they needed to add more at the running back position and Smallwood's role was thrown back into question. At minicamp practices this week, he was primarily used in second-team reps with Blount and Darren Sproles mostly on the field alongside the first unit.

For most 23-year-old players in just their second season — especially those with fewer than 80 career carries and only one touchdown — a signing like that of Blount could easily shake their confidence. But for Smallwood, it's all about creating a dynamic foursome that can give Carson Wentz and the Birds' offense plenty of backfield diversity.

"I definitely think [signing Blount] adds diversity to our offense. I think our room is going to be the best room on the field," Smallwood said. "That competition we're up against and that we'll get better is going to make this team lean on us and be those dogs on offense that are going to push this team forward.

"I've been doing it all. There's nothing that I don't do in practice — I run routes, I run the ball. There's nothing that I don't think I can do."

The contrast between the Eagles' top four backs is stark. There are two veterans (Sproles and Blount have 21 seasons combined between them), and then there's Smallwood along with rookie Donnel Pumphrey. Sproles and Pumphrey are both smaller, quicker weapons at 5-foot-8 and 5-foot-6, respectively, each weighing in at 190 or less. And although Smallwood isn't necessarily the 6-foot, 250-pound bruiser that Blount is, he's definitely not the shiftiest of the group.

That also excludes a pair of undrafted free agents from the last two seasons, Byron Marshall and Corey Clement, as well as Ryan Mathews, who is likely to be released once healthy.

Still, Blount's presence changes the entire narrative in the Eagles' running back room. This is a guy who has two Super Bowl rings with the New England Patriots in the last three seasons to go along with more than 5,000 career rushing yards and 50 touchdowns. Excluding Mathews, the entire current running back corps has just 34 scores and only 3,600 combined yards on the ground (although Sproles has done most of his damage in the passing and special teams games during his career).

"LeGarrette just brings the boom," Smallwood said. "He's that kind of guy that can run you over, that can make you miss. He adds that load to us. He gives us that power and just him driving us, doing what he can do great and driving us good to be as good as him ... it takes our running back room to the sky."

So where does Smallwood fit into the mix now? Blount is certainly going to be the bruiser of the group and Sproles will be the pass-catching threat that he's been throughout his time in Philly. Pumphrey is likely to be somewhat of a development project as he grows into his smaller frame, despite setting NCAA rushing records in his time at San Diego State.

Is Smallwood the run-blocking option, improving in an area in which he struggled last season? Is he the perfect hybrid of the group who ultimately emerges as the lead back that many expected him to be in early May?

Or does he wind up getting left out of the mix?

"With all the guys we have, everyone can do different things and I think it's going to be great to have that game plan and be able to switch it up," Smallwood said. "We're not going to be that one-guy team where they can play for one guy. They're going to have to prepare for Sproles, Pump, me, everyone who's here, so I don't think it's going to be easy for anyone."

Although Eagles vice president of football operations Howie Roseman brought in plenty of passing-game options for Wentz, he also provided stability for the entire offensive unit. Jason Kelce remains as the team's starting center and with Jason Peters now signed through 2019, the team will return the same O-line group that enabled the offense to flourish in the final three games — after scoring 24 or fewer points between Weeks 5 and 14, the Eagles finished with 26, 24 and 27 points and at least one rushing TD.

That continuity should benefit Smallwood as much as anyone, who will now need to make an even bigger jump in training camp if he hopes to find himself on the field once September rolls around.

"We've kind of gotten a feel for each other," Smallwood said. "We know the guys and we know where they're going to be. In the running back room this offseason, we've been studying their blocks and studying what they're doing and how they're doing it.

"The most important thing is being decisive. That's the major jump I've made already and being more confident in what I'm doing. And then coming to the field, if I do something wrong, I know I did it 100 percent."

NFL Notes: Patriots reach deal with former Jets LB David Harris

NFL Notes: Patriots reach deal with former Jets LB David Harris

BOSTON -- A person familiar with the situation says the New England Patriots have agreed to terms on a deal with former New York Jets linebacker David Harris.

The new two-year pact could be worth as much as $6.75 million, the person told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity Wednesday because the deal has not yet been announced.

Harris, a 2007 second-round pick from Michigan who has spent all 10 of his NFL seasons in New York, was released earlier this month by the Jets in a series of offseason moves to cut high-priced veterans. He was the franchise's second-leading tackler.

He now moves within the division to play for Bill Belichick, who has lauded Harris' play in the past. It also gives the Patriots some veteran depth to pair with Dont'a Hightower.

Jaguars: Rhaney claimed off waivers
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The Jacksonville Jaguars have claimed offensive lineman Demetrius Rhaney off waivers from the Los Angeles Rams.

The Jaguars announced the move Wednesday and said they released rookie offensive lineman Parker Collins to make room on the roster for Rhaney.

The 6-foot-2, 301-pound Rhaney was a seventh-round draft pick out of Tennessee State by the Rams in 2014. He spent his first season on injured reserve but played in every regular-season game the past two seasons, starting once at left guard in 2015.

Packers: Guion arrested on suspicion of DUI
HONOLULU -- Green Bay Packers defensive lineman Letroy Guion has been arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence of an intoxicant in Hawaii.

Honolulu police booking records show Guion was arrested early Wednesday in Waikiki. He was released after posting $500 bail.

Packers spokesman Aaron Popkey says in a statement that the team is aware and will refrain from making further comment because it's a legal matter. He says he doesn't know what Guion was doing in Waikiki.

Guion was suspended without pay by the NFL for the first four games of the 2017 season for violating the league's policy on performance-enhancing drugs.

He started 15 games last season, making 30 tackles. The nine-year veteran agreed to a three-year deal worth $11.25 million in February 2016.

NFL: Former player Ryan Jones shot dead
RENO, Nev. -- Nevada authorities say former NFL linebacker Ryan Jones was shot dead over the weekend in a Reno apartment and two other people suffered non-life threatening gunshot wounds.

Reno Police Department spokesman Officer Tim Broadway declined comment Tuesday on the circumstances that led to Sunday's shooting because detectives were still interviewing people for their investigation.

Jones, 26, signed a free-agent deal with the Baltimore Ravens in 2014 and had a stint with the New York Giants before becoming a mixed martial arts fighter.

He was the first Montana Tech football player in the college's history to sign an NFL contract.

Jones graduated from Hug High School in Nevada before attending Sierra College and then Montana Tech in 2011.

Eagles LBs coach thinks there's more ceiling for Jordan Hicks

Eagles LBs coach thinks there's more ceiling for Jordan Hicks

Jordan Hicks is a good middle linebacker. 

After his first two seasons in the NFL, the former third-round pick has piled up some eye-popping numbers. 

In his first 24 games in the league (his rookie season was cut short with a pec injury), he has seven interceptions, 14 passes defensed, four fumble recoveries, a forced fumble and two sacks. 

He's just the fifth player in NFL history — and only linebacker — to have that many INTs, fumble recoveries and forced fumbles in the first two years of his career. 

Hicks, who turns 25 later this month, is already really good. The next step is to become great. 

Is there room for more growth? 

"I would hope so," Eagles linebackers coach Ken Flajole said last week. "We're all emotionally tied in with our guys. I think he's done a great job for us. Is there room for improvement? No question. But he works at it. It's important to him. I know it's important for him that he puts the team success above himself. 

"I would suspect that there's more ceiling for him at linebacker. And I expect him to work at those things." 

Hicks actually had a chance to work on some of those things this offseason. As he exited last year, it was clear Hicks possessed ball-hawk traits, but admittedly needed to get better against the run. 

After his first NFL season, Hicks was stuck recovering from his torn pectoral and subsequent surgery. The rehab didn't allow him to strength train as much as he would have liked. 

This year, it's been a different story. He's hit the weight room hard, put on some extra weight, and hasn't been hamstrung by a tedious rehab process. 

"It's been great, man," Hicks said. "Having a full offseason to get in rhythm, having a full offseason to lift and get stronger and not have to take a step back to rehab and do everything over again, it's huge. Huge. To just build and stack and stack on top of each other."

Flajole agrees with Hicks, that the extra time in the weight room will help him against the run, specifically at the point of attack.  

Flajole isn't the only person in the NovaCare Complex who thinks big things are still ahead for Hicks. After the season finale against the Cowboys last season, Malcolm Jenkins said he thought Hicks is "trending to be one of the better linebackers in this league."

While Hicks wants to improve his run defense, it's undeniable that the strength of his game — to this point — is his knack for being around the ball. He always seems to be making a big play, whether it's an interception or a fumble recovery. 

It might seem like chance, but Flajole doesn't discount it as such. 

"He's a very instinctual guy and I think he understands the game," Flajole said. "The thing that can't be discounted for Jordan is that he works at it. He watches a lot of tape and because of those things, he feeds off of tendencies that the offense would give him, either by down and distance or formation. And he uses those to his advantage." 

For the second straight year, Hicks will be in the same defense under Jim Schwartz and will have the same battery mate in Nigel Bradham, who enters the second year of his two-year deal. 

At some point before the 2017 season starts, Hicks will set some personal goals for himself, like he does every year. While he hasn't set them yet, Hicks said they are normally leadership-based or stat-based. 

"It definitely gives you something to reach for and keep you on track," Hicks said. "Just like you set team goals. If you're not setting goals, you're just working towards nothing, just shooting in the air at nothing." 

One thing the goals won't be is accolade-based. Sure, Hicks would like to be named to his first Pro Bowl, but that won't be on the checklist. 

If he gets better than he's been in Year 1 and 2, it'll only be a matter of time before the recognition catches up with his stats. 

"I'm not really worried about the accolades at this point," he said. "It's not really what I'm focused on. I believe that if you're doing what you need to do, day in and day out, you're giving it everything you got, the rest will come. I'm focused on what I can do for this team, what I can do to make this team the best it can be. And let the rest fall in place."