Could the return of Darren Sproles really make a difference, for an Eagles team that desperately needs to beat the Washington Redskins Monday night to keep alive any reasonable playoff hopes?
Slimmer straws have been grasped, as NFL calendars turn to December. Even at age 35, Sproles might be the Eagles’ quickest back; he certainly is the most experienced at picking through holes and at picking up blitzers. At minimum, he can be a settling presence and a calm voice in the ear of undrafted rookie Josh Adams, the just-anointed feature back.
Sproles has been a limited practice participant twice this week, after not having played since the season-opening victory over Atlanta. Two previous attempts to practice after rehabbing a hamstring injury suffered in practice Week 2 resulted in setbacks, so Sproles’ affirmative answer Friday when asked if he would play Monday was a surprise.
“That’s the plan … I’m ready to go,” he said.
Eagles fans empathized with Sproles last season, when he suffered devastating knee and arm injuries in Week 3 and missed the Super Bowl run. Management’s decision to bring him back after Sproles rescinded his preseason decision to retire was well-received; after all, in his previous 11 seasons, Sproles had never played fewer than 13 games.
But carrying Sproles on the active roster through 10 games he couldn’t suit up for this season has not been a popular decision, especially with the offense and the running game foundering. The Eagles released popular punt returner DeAndre Carter back on Nov. 6, thinking Sproles was ready to play. He didn’t make it through his first day back at practice. The Houston Texans claimed Carter on waivers.
Fans have been salty on social media.
“But the thing is, they’re always going to say something,” Sproles said Friday. “You’ve got to have a tough skin.”
As the weeks went by, Eagles coach Doug Pederson denied there was anything wrong with Sproles beyond a simple hamstring injury. Sproles contradicted that narrative Friday, though he would not go into detail.
“The hamstring I had wasn’t any normal-type hamstring injury ... I can’t go too much in depth about it, but it was more than a simple hamstring injury. It took some time,” he said.
This, on top of the long, exhausting rehab of his serious 2017 injuries, was a lot to bear.
“You know it’s tough … You can’t never quit,” Sproles said. “You work so hard to get back from one thing, and something else happens.”
He said the episode has been the most frustrating of his 13-year career.
“You think you’re good to go and you go out there and try to burst or something and you could make it worse,” he said.
Sproles said he doesn’t blame the team’s medical staff. He said nothing was missed or misdiagnosed.
“They were working hard to get me back on the field. They didn’t do anything wrong,” he said.
“We’re going to see” what role he has against Washington, Sproles said. In the opener, Sproles carried five times for 10 yards, caught four passes for 22 yards, and returned three punts, for a 9.7-yard average, playing 29 offensive snaps.
Pederson’s rediscovered commitment to the run resulted in Adams gaining 84 yards on 22 carries in last week’s victory over the Giants. It was the most yards and most carries for an Eagles runner this season.
“Josh’s been looking real good. Great vision, he’s been doing a great job,” Sproles said.
Teammates definitely liked the idea of getting Sproles back.
“I hold him in the same regard that I hold [left tackle Jason Peters] in,” right guard Brandon Brooks said. “Anybody who’s played this game this long, at this level, really without any falloff, is a special guy.
“I’m happy for him and excited. He’s going to bring a lot for us.”
Center Jason Kelce called Sproles “a dynamic player that the defense is going to have to account for. He can do a multiplicity of things.”
Kelce said that even though Sproles hasn’t been able to play, he has “been to every meeting I’ve been at.”
Wideout Nelson Agholor said: “That’s my guy. I’m really happy he’s healthy … When he’s on the field, he makes an impact. He’s a dawg. He’s a great player.”
Right tackle Lane Johnson said the timing of Sproles’ return is good, with the season in the balance against NFC East foe Washington. He called Sproles “a veteran that creates a lot of energy for our football team. We need him most right now. Darren’s always very smart, as far as pass [protection] and stuff. He’s good at helping younger guys ... I’m excited to get him out there, man.”
The Eagles’ most prominent other hamstring victim, second-year cornerback Sidney Jones, indicated he expects to play on the outside Monday night, as he returns from the Nov. 18 reinjury of the hammy he originally strained back on Oct. 11.
Most likely, Jones and Rasul Douglas will start on the outside, but Cre’Von LeBlanc as the nickel corner, but if Washington tries to pound the ball with Adrian Peterson, the Birds might stay in their base defense more than usual.
Jones has suffered several hamstring strains and tweaks since returning late last season from the Achilles’ tear that dropped him out of the first round of the 2017 draft. He said he has thought about that a lot.
“It’s real frustrating,” said Jones, who has played in seven games this season. “You see a lot of guys coming back from ACLs, Achilles’, kind of with the same [hamstring problems]. That’s a pattern I’ve noticed a little bit. Or it’s just luck … Who knows why these things happen?”
Eagles defensive tackle Treyvon Hester played at Toledo with running back Kareem Hunt, now of the Kansas City Chiefs. When a reporter approached Friday, Hester had just found out about the TMZ video apparently depicting Hunt punching at and kicking a woman at an Ohio hotel last February.