Eagles RB Wendell Smallwood in Better Shape, More Focused Going Into Sophomore Season

He wasn't in shape. He wasn't focused. He wasn't prepared.
When Wendell Smallwood talks about his 2016 season, he just shakes his head and marvels at how far he believes he's come.
With both LeGarrette Blount and Donnel Pumphrey sidelined from practice Tuesday with minor injuries, Smallwood got most of the tailback workload with the first offense, and he responded with a very impressive series of plays during live drills.
"One guy goes down, gotta be ready," he said. "It's real important. Opportunities like that don't come around a whole lot so you've got to be ready to step up and take control.
"This was the first day and I was in their the very first rep, so I had to bring it and represent the running backs."
If Smallwood looks like a different guy this year, there's a very good reason for it.
He spoke after practice about how he wasn't prepared for the grind of the season a year ago, how he wasn't in shape, and how that led to a lack of focus and a poor finish.
"I definitely think there was an element of … not being in shape, not being able to stay in the game, not being able to focus," he said. "When you get tired you kind of lose focus and your mind gets everywhere, you miss assignments, (make) mental errors, and that was one of my problems last year.
"Not being in shape. Not being in condition. Not being focused on things I need to be focused on. Most of the time what got to me was little things, the little details, and I think that's my No. 1 thing learning from last year, the little details. I was taking it serious but I think fatigue got to me a little bit."
Smallwood finished last year with 312 rushing yards, just six receptions and a 4.1 average, but he did not finish strong. After averaging 4.7 yards per carry through Week 9 -- with an 86-yard kick return TD against the Redskins -- he averaged just 3.2 the next four games, then missed the last three games of the season with a knee injury.
A disappointing end to what began as a promising season.
"I don't feel I was ready for that long season, and I think after every day, after every practice, it's about getting to the next one, being prepared for the next one, not going in not being ready," he said.
"So you've got to get your body back after practice, and that's what I've been more focused on. Getting back ready for tomorrow. So starting with that whistle, getting ready for tomorrow and come back maybe even better than I was yesterday."
Smallwood, a fifth-round pick out of West Virginia last year, said he had an entirely different approach this offseason.
It was all about preparing his body for the long haul so he wouldn't fall apart like he did a year ago.
"I definitely was more in-tune this offseason," he said. "I don't think I was in-tune last offseason. I know what to expect now, and (it's important) to know what to expect heading into something and know what's required and what you need to focus on.
"I felt conditioning was my No. 1 focus, and just staying in football shape and not slacking off."
So far, so good.
Smallwood was given a huge workload Tuesday and responded with a very impressive performance on the first day of live full-team drills.
He had a nice catch and run for a first down on a screen pass on the first offense's first drive and then a long run for a first down and 17-yard TD run on the second and final drive.

"He runs hard, man," Jason Peters said after practice. "Smallwood, he's a good back. He can get up between the tackle and the guard and get some powerful runs and he can also get out on the edge and make plays.
"He knows what he's doing this year compared to last year, and that makes him run even better."
Darren Sproles said he could see the difference in Smallwood right away when camp began.
"He's more comfortable now," Sproles said. "He knows the offense much better, and when you know the offense, you can just go out there and make plays instead of thinking about it, and that's what he did today."
Smallwood got the offense fired up when he ran around left tackle and down the sideline and after a 10-yard gain lowered his shoulder on safety Terrence Brooks and stayed upright for a few more yards.

"That's what Duce (Staley, running backs coach) wants to see more out of me," he said. "Being aggressive, being a physical runner." 
His teammates noticed Smallwood's big day.
"He looked good," Carson Wentz said. "I think with Wendell, it's kind of the best of both worlds. He can do a little bit of everything. He catches the ball really well, he can run in between the tackles, outside the tackles.
"We've got LG (Blount) and we've got Sproles and we have Wendell kind of right in the middle there. He brings a little bit of a different element. Kind of a hybrid of both of those guys. It's good to get him out there in those live situations and see him make some plays today."
We're still more than a week from the first preseason game, but it will sure be interesting to see what Smallwood can do once the games begin.
"I think I'm more mentally there, more focused, more prepared," he said. "Things aren't surprising me. I'm not saying I've got it all figured out. but I think I know more about what's required of me.
"I think it manifests a lot (on the field). Knowing where to focus at, knowing when I'm tired I have to pick it up, knowing when I have to dig deep and knowing what I'm expected to do and then trying to go further than that."

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