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What has happened to Eagles’ Corey Clement? | Early Birds

The running back hasn’t come close to matching his performance from Super Bowl LII.

Eagles running back Corey Clement warms up before the opener against the Washington Redskins.
Eagles running back Corey Clement warms up before the opener against the Washington Redskins.Read moreTIM TAI / Staff Photographer

Good morning, Eagles fans. Your Birds are back in first place in the NFC East. Two weeks ago, they seemed on the precipice of falling into an early hole. But back-to-back victories over the Packers and New York Jets, and back-to-back losses by the Cowboys, have both teams atop the division at 3-2. The Eagles can’t look past Sunday’s game at the Vikings, but a measuring stick of sorts looms the week after in Dallas. The Eagles begin a three-game road stretch, their first in two years, and will have to board planes to three cities in three weeks for the first time in over 40 years. Even worse, their last trip will be to Buffalo.

This practice week will bring business as usual without any alterations. Doug Pederson and Carson Wentz will hold news conferences Wednesday before the workout. Several injured players are unlikely to return this week, the most prominent on the 53-man roster being receiver DeSean Jackson (abdomen), cornerback Ronald Darby (hamstring), cornerback Avonte Maddox (neck), and defensive tackle Tim Jernigan (foot). While cornerback Sidney Jones (hamstring) is expected to make a return this week, running back/punt returner Darren Sproles is expected to miss some time after he strained his quadriceps Sunday.

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What’s happened to Corey Clement?

Corey Clement picked a perfect time to have the best game of his career. But it’s been nearly two years since the Eagles running back came close to being voted MVP of Super Bowl LII after his 108 yards of total offense, and he since hasn’t come close to matching that performance.

Clement wasn’t just a one-game pony in 2017. He had several weeks during the regular season when he contributed as a running back, receiver or returner. He scored six touchdowns during his rookie season after not getting drafted.

During the 2018 offseason, and after Jay Ajayi suffered a season-ending knee injury early in the campaign, some fans clamored for Clement to be the Eagles’ lead running back. He had some productive games and flashes of the 2017 version, but he was never consistent enough.

And then in December he, too, suffered a season-ending knee injury. Clement would recover in time for the start of 2019, make the roster, and be tabbed as the Eagles’ kick returner. But the running back position had been upgraded with the additions of Jordan Howard and Miles Sanders, and Darren Sproles was brought back for another go-around, and Clement had been mostly relegated to special teams.

And then he suffered another injury in Week 2 when he fell awkwardly on his shoulder after fumbling the second-half kickoff in Atlanta. Clement missed only one game, but Sanders took over kick-return duties, the last job that was his solely.

But Clement was thrust back into the limelight against the Jets. Unfortunately for him, he literally muffed his opportunity when he filled in for the injured Sproles on a punt return. Clement was replaced by Nelson Agholor on the Eagles’ next punt return, but Doug Pederson indicated Monday that he will fill in for Sproles in that capacity.

“We just have to get him reps this week," Pederson said. "He’s missed some time, obviously, but he hasn’t done enough of it in practice because he’s been working special teams and other areas.

“Nelly obviously can do it.”

Agholor cleanly fielded his punt, but his return was a meandering mess.

Whether Clement will take over Sproles’ role as the third running back remains to be seen. Eagles offensive coordinator Mike Groh was noncommittal. The Eagles may just split snaps between Howard and Sanders.

“I think we’ll just have to figure that out as we go," Groh said Tuesday. "We like to mix all the backs in there and keep them fresh. I have a lot of confidence in Corey, in all phases. In protecting the quarterback and running the ball or as a receiver out of the backfield.

"He can do all three of those things well for us, and I know he’ll be ready when his number is called.”

What you need to know about the Eagles

From the mailbag

Jeff...I hope all is well. My question is what should we reasonably expect once Jalen Mills returns? — @Bmore_Al on Twitter

Bmore_Al, if that’s your real name, that’s a good question. I don’t think I can say with any certainty that Mills will actually return this season, certainly not by next week when he is eligible to come off the physically unable to perform list. I’ve seen a little more of Mills conditioning with a trainer on a side field during practices, but it’s been nearly a year since he’s played actual football. There’s no way to know if he’s fully recovered from foot surgery and ready to play at game speed until he actually practices.

Maybe he can ready for the Cowboys. The Eagles absolutely could use him considering injuries to Ronald Darby, Sidney Jones, Avonte Maddox, and Cre’Von LeBlanc. And we know how much defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz loves Mills. All he needs is the medical green light before he throws Mills back out there.

Does Mills have his performance issues? Certainly. He doesn’t have long speed and often needs safety help. But he loves to compete, he keeps receivers in front and he tackles well. I just wonder if he’ll be the same player after a mysterious foot injury -- he has called it only a sprain -- has kept him off the field for so long. There’s really only one way to find out.