Good morning. Week 6 is finished, and the Eagles are now preparing for this weekend's game against the Carolina Panthers. They're back on the practice field on Wednesday. There are no scheduled news conferences today.
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— Zach Berman
Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz talks often about how the Eagles "cross-train" players, which is his term for preparing a player for a different position in case he's needed in an emergency. An example was Rasul Douglas stepping in at safety in last week's win — and Avonte Maddox becoming the starting safety even though he spent the summer as a slot cornerback. (Read here for more on the secondary's adjustments.) It happens at linebacker, too, with players learning multiple linebacker spots. The Eagles have 46 players active on game days and need to prepare contingencies in case there's an injury to any player.
Injuries are a reality in the NFL, but the Eagles have felt the injury bug more at specific positions this season. The defensive backfield has been one of those spots, and the Eagles will be without two of their top five defensive backs on Sunday (Rodney McLeod and Sidney Jones). If Corey Graham doesn't play, that's three of their top six.
"That's one of the reasons we cross-train so many guys and put such an emphasis on versatility is because of this," Schwartz said. "We had some pretty well-recognized injuries last year that we were able to overcome. … Injuries are nothing new. When you start getting multiple at a position, it can become challenging. That's what we do."
Schwartz said he saw the value of cross-training defensive backs in the early-to-mid-2000s when teams started using three wide receivers more often than two players in the backfield. That changed the nature of the safety position. There are fewer safeties in the NFL that play in the box, which is why Schwartz likes safeties with cornerback backgrounds. Malcolm Jenkins, Graham, Maddox, and Deiondre' Hall all came into the NFL as cornerbacks and converted to safety.
"Everybody had to play in space and pretty much everybody had to be able to cover a wide receiver that was in the back end," Schwartz said. "If you just blitz one guy, somebody's got to cover a wide receiver, so you need corner skills in the back end. I think probably somewhere mid-2000s, early 2000s that model started to change, and I think you're seeing it not just with us but pretty much across the league now."
It's clear that the Eagles trust Wendell Smallwood more this season than they did last year. When the Eagles acquired Jay Ajayi, Smallwood was the odd man out on game days after an injury muddled his standing on the depth chart. The Eagles played Ajayi, LeGarrette Blount, Corey Clement, and Kenjon Barner over Smallwood.
Smallwood needed to play his way onto the roster during the summer. Doug Pederson acknowledged Smallwood might have "felt like there was a little heat on him," which Pederson said can be "a great motivator for any athlete and player." Smallwood responded with a strong start to the season. He's averaging 4.7 yards per carry and figures to remain a part of the Eagles' running back committee.
"I think it's that he's been able to stay on the field," offensive coordinator Mike Groh said. "He started off last season, had a role, and then he got banged up and he wasn't ever really able to fit back into that role. Whether he ever felt 100 percent after that [injury], I don't know. But he's been very consistent in his performance and very diligent with his preparation in all areas, whether it be running the ball, catching the ball out of the backfield, and protecting the quarterback. Wendell has done a good job."
The Eagles had a rare weekend off. Malcolm Jenkins spent it watching football, but he didn't have his notebook in front of him. Jenkins consumed the games like a fan.
"It's not often we get a chance to sit back and watch the games," Jenkins said. "So you sit back and see what's going on around the league. Take a little bit of time off, watch some college ball."
Jenkins started his game-planning for the Panthers on Monday, when the team came in for meetings.