Wendell Smallwood Bringing Some Pop in Eagles' Live Periods of Training Camp

Last year, the question with Eagles running back Wendell Smallwood was whether he would be big enough to be an every-down back in the NFL. This year, Smallwood is running over and through would-be tacklers every chance he gets at training camp.

Smallwood has stood out this week, in part because he's been getting the opportunities with LeGarrette Blount (personal reasons) and Donnel Pumphrey (hamstring) missing practice. But in addition to the extra reps, Smallwood is also making the most of the live-tackling periods, which the Eagles held two of the last four days.

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"Live is a running back's game," Smallwood said after practice Thursday. "We finally get to get out there and showcase what we can do. Some of the [defenders], when we're not going live, they'll run up and think, ‘Play over.' We can bounce off of them, we can make you miss."

The second-year back already looked sharp before the live periods began. The past few days, he's taken his game to another level.

"It's enormous for me," Smallwood said. "When we work on ‘thud' and things like that, you can't really see the end of the play. The whistles are blowing, players are being stopped, guys are assuming they make the tackles.

"When we go live, you have to actually get the running backs to the ground and get the receivers to the ground. It's a different ballgame."

Listed at 5-foot-10, 208 pounds, some might consider Smallwood undersized for the position - though that is debatable. Regardless, people tend to think of the 23-year-old as shifty or elusive, rather than a downhill runner. That's why the Eagles signed Blount in the first place.

Only that perception of Smallwood may not be entirely accurate.

"It's very important to show your power, show you're able to break tackles, show you're able to make guys miss," Smallwood said. "It's going to be rough. You're not always going to be in the open field. You're going to have to run through some guys or run some guys over, fall forward.

"I think that's what the coaches wanted to see, and most of that is just getting your pads down, lowering your shoulder and getting ready to make some contact. I was just getting my shoulders low and getting ready for that contact. Some guys might just slide off."

Even when Smallwood doesn't break a tackle, he's dishing out as much or more punishment than he's taking, and falling forward for extra yards.

Smallwood isn't merely comfortable with running hard and playing physical, either. In lieu of daylight, he's actively seeking out contact from defenders - heeding the advice of Eagles running backs coach Duce Staley.

"I'm not shying away from it," Smallwood said. "That's what Duce wants to see out of me. He wants to see me be a physical runner, and be able to lower my shoulder and have that power.

"I think I've got it when I'm rolling. I just have to keep showing that and keep embracing it."

Eagles offensive coordinator Frank Reich described Smallwood as "fearless" and "a thrashing runner."

"He's just a football player," Reich said. "He's got really great instincts. Everybody has good instincts - Wendell has above-average instincts. I think that just shows when it goes live.

"I think Wendell is making progress, and we are very happy he's on our team."

A fifth-round draft pick from West Virginia, Smallwood carried 77 times for 312 yards and one touchdown as a rookie. It gave the Eagles a glimpse into his potential, but the body of work wasn't large enough to name him the starter.

Now, Smallwood is making up for lost time at camp, and may be playing himself into a much bigger role for 2017.

"It's been great for me," Smallwood said. "It's been doing nothing but making me better, getting my conditioning up. I believe the more plays I get, the better I'm going to get.

"It's unfortunate those guys are out, but with them not here, somebody has to step up and take advantage."

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