An Early Look at Eagles' Running Back Battle in Training Camp

One of the more intriguing position battles on the Eagles' roster this summer is at running back, where LeGarrette Blount's departure has opened up about 12 carries per game.

Yeah, Doug Pederson loves to throw the football, but the Eagles did have the sixth-most rushing attempts in the NFL last year at 30 per game, and even without Carson Wentz's keepers, the backs were at 25 carries per game.

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So five days into training camp, what do we know?

We know Jay Ajayi is the de facto No. 1, Corey Clement will catch a ton of passes, and Darren Sproles somehow looks as good as ever.

After that?

It's getting interesting.

Most likely, Wendell Smallwood and Donnel Pumphrey are competing for the fourth running back spot.

But it's early.

With the preseason opener eight days away, here's a look at how things are going at running back.

Donnel Pumphrey 

When training camp started, Pumphrey was an afterthought. A forgotten man. The combination of his lost rookie season and all the talent in the running back room seemed to spell certain doom for the 2017 fourth-round pick out of San Diego State.

But Pumphrey, who never got on the field last year, may be the most improved Eagle in camp. Overmatched and overwhelmed a year ago, he looks like a new man this year. Confident, productive, smooth. He's running with flair, catching the ball comfortably and even picking up blitzes.

"I feel like a different person," Pumphrey said after practice Tuesday. "I had no choice. I had to get better."

Matt Jones

The former Redskin is trying to revive his once-promising career, and at 25 he should be in his prime. But on one carry during Tuesday's 11-on-11 live drill, we saw the best and worst of Jones. Taking a rep with the first offense, he ran powerfully up the middle for an 11-yard gain. Then he hobbled back to the sideline and eventually left practice and went inside with a trainer.

Jones is talented, but at running back, proving you can stay healthy through the training camp grind is almost as important as production. There was no update from the Eagles on Jones, but he's one guy who can't afford to miss significant time.

Wendell Smallwood

The third-year pro similarly has to prove he can stay healthy after a series of injuries limited him his first two seasons. Smallwood started out last year as a key guy on the offense. He had 36 touches the first four games, then started getting banged up and got just 24 the rest of the year and didn't even play in the postseason.

I really like Smallwood's ability. He's a strong runner, a smooth receiver and a good-enough blocker. The five times in his career he's gotten 10 rushing attempts, he's averaged 4.6 yards per carry.

Smallwood said after practice Tuesday he focused this offseason on learning how to take better care of himself physically to withstand the rigors of camp. He knows he's running out of chances. He's having a good camp so far. He said he feels great. But he has to keep it up to be in the mix.

Josh Adams

The undrafted rookie from Bucks County has been on and off the practice field with injuries and when he's practiced he's looked pedestrian so far. 

He's kind of where Pumphrey was last year, still finding his way. Considering the competition, he can't afford to miss any more time.

Jay Ajayi

Last year's mid-season addition is the de facto No. 1 back, although Pederson seems intent on limiting his workload both in practice and on game day.

Ajayi averaged about 11 carries per game after joining the Eagles last year, and the way Pederson rotates his backs I can't see that number going above 13. I think anything over 200 carries and you're asking for trouble.

Corey Clement

He's picked up where he left off in the playoffs and looks phenomenal in the passing game. I honestly believe Clement can become one of the better receiving backs in the game.

Darren Sproles

He's 35? He missed most of last year with a broken arm and torn ACL? I'll tell you what, watching Sproles at practice you would think he's 10 years younger and never got hurt. He looks incredible. He's as fast, as shifty and as elusive as ever. I'm not sure how that's even possible. He's gotta be a Bionic Man or something. 

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