With Ketchup, Wendell Smallwood, Darren Sproles Share Special Bond

From the time Wendell Smallwood arrived to the NFL last spring, veteran Darren Sproles has tried to help the rookie catch up. 

Smallwood has repaid him with ketchup. 

At least that's what happened last week when Sproles' bottle ran dry. He hit up his neighbor and rookie mentee, who was happy to help. See, in addition to sharing a common wall on their stalls in the Eagles' locker room, the two are neighbors at a nearby apartment complex in Philadelphia. 

"Having the easy access to Darren Sproles is great for me," Smallwood said. "It's a great experience."

Smallwood said he and Sproles didn't plan on living next to each other. It just sort of happened that way, which has turned out to be a great help for the rookie. Smallwood said Sproles has taught him a lot without ever having to say much. He watched how professionally his new mentor took football and how seriously he took care of his body. 

And despite their age gap - Sproles is 33, Smallwood is 22 - the two running backs became friends during the 2016 season. 

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"I bang on the wall when he's up running around and he bangs on the wall when I'm up running around," Smallwood said. 

While Sproles was able to finish the 2016 season, Smallwood's season ended when he suffered a knee injury against Washington on Dec. 11 and was placed on injured reserve. 

A couple weeks ago, head coach Doug Pederson expressed some disappointment Smallwood was missing valuable playing time toward the end of this season, but Smallwood said he's been getting better without playing. 

The last three weeks have given him a chance to gain a new perspective on the game as he's watched from the sideline. 

The timing of the injury was rather unfortunate, in that Smallwood is just about completely healed and has resumed running recently. He healed just in time for the offseason. 

"Yeah, you're right," he said. "Healed in time for nothing. I can't really worry about it. I look at it and realize it could have been worse. Just have to attack the offseason, because, you know, one play and you could be done. Gotta take advantage of the opportunities."

When Smallwood did play this season, the Delaware native found some success. The fifth-round pick from West Virginia University carried the ball 77 times for 312 yards and a touchdown. He also caught six passes for 55 yards. 

Smallwood became the first Eagles' rookie running back to average over four yards per carry in a season (minimum 70 attempts) since Bryce Brown in 2012. He's just the 10th Eagles' rookie in franchise history to do so. 

That's a decent start, but Smallwood expects to get better. He wants to use this offseason to spend time in the weight room, getting stronger and more explosive. 

Aside from his work in the weight room, Smallwood will also use the offseason to study himself from this season. He said he'll analyze and grade each of his plays after watching them about four times each. 

The Eagles' running back situation is somewhat cloudy heading into next season. Sproles is expected to be back for his final NFL season, but Ryan Mathews will likely be cut to save $4 million in cap space. Kenjon Barner will be a restricted free agent. And after that, Smallwood, and undrafted players Byron Marshall and Terrell Watson are all that's left. 

Sure, the Eagles are probably going to add another running back either through free agency or through the draft, but Smallwood said Monday he's ready for a bigger role next season. 

"I definitely think so because I want to take from it and learn from it and not make the same mistakes that happened last year," Smallwood said. "And I'm going to know what's going on."

He can thank Sproles for that – with ketchup. 

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