Wendell Smallwood and Lane Johnson returned to practice Tuesday, giving the Eagles' offense a major boost as they prepare for Monday's game against the Washington Redskins. Johnson missed one game with a concussion and will be back at right tackle on Monday to solidify the offensive line. Smallwood could be the Eagles' most-used running back after missing two games, but that can only happen if the second-year Delaware native is on the field.
"Held me out of these two," Smallwood said, "but I should be ready for Monday."
In the Eagles' first game without Darren Sproles on Oct. 1, Smallwood took 44 percent of the offensive snaps. He has sat ever since with a swollen right knee – the same knee that ended his season last year in Week 14 because of an MCL sprain. He did not offer details about the nature of the injury.
"It's been coming along," Smallwood said. "Felt good these past few days, really since the Carolina game, feeling good. I was full go [Tuesday]. Practiced with the guys. Didn't bother me that much."
Johnson missed last Thursday's game with a concussion; the league-mandated concussion protocol made it difficult for him to play with only three days between games. The extended rest during the weekend offered ample time for Johnson to get cleared, and he was back on the field Tuesday. Johnson is one of the most valuable players on the roster and last Thursday's was the only game he has missed due to injury since joining the Eagles in 2013. He has missed 14 career games due to suspension.
The question is whether he'll block for Smallwood. As long as the swelling doesn't reappear in Smallwood's knee, he will join LeGarrette Blount and Corey Clement among the top three running backs on the team. After Sproles' Week 3 injury, Smallwood took over the third-down duties, requiring him to catch and block. Tight end Zach Ertz said Smallwood's return would be "huge for us" because Smallwood is a "beast on third down and protection." That wasn't how Smallwood was used last year, but he filled it well against the Chargers.
"He's that thrashing downhill runner," offensive coordinator Frank Reich said. "He's got some explosiveness. He's a three-down back. He's good out of the backfield. He's really good in protections. It brings all those things."
In 17 career games for the Eagles, Smallwood has 106 carries for 425 yards (4 yards per carry) and two touchdowns. He also has 13 catches for 111 yards, and a touchdown on a kickoff return.
Smallwood felt knee pain early in the Chargers game, but adrenaline carried him through. After the game, he realized there was a problem. Smallwood did not practice leading up to the Arizona game or Carolina game, and the team has been purposefully vague about his absence.
He progressed in recent days, noting that the extended absence helped. He underwent "extra treatment" and benefited from more rest than usual. Smallwood said he's even planted his knee and made cuts, which is often a challenge for players with knee injuries.
"I've been doing that since last week, been getting my foot in the ground and not thinking about it at all," Smallwood said. "It feels good. I know that's the hardest part of the knee [recovery], but I've got it."
The Eagles have survived without Smallwood, who was the third running back entering the season. They won the past two games and topped 100 rushing yards in both games. But the Eagles need talent in the backfield, and Smallwood is best suited to complement Blount in the Eagles' running-back committee. He is the team's best remaining running back catching the ball out of the backfield, with four catches against the Chargers.
In his brief career, Smallwood has been on the injury list too frequently. The MCL injury last year followed a quadriceps injury and concussion during the preseason. He missed time this past summer with a hamstring injury. He does not want to receive the "injury-prone" label and is frustrated whenever he's not in a game plan. If he wants a big role, he needs to stay on the field.