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Domowitch: Big hopes for Smallwood against the Packers

LET'S START with a couple of numbers. The first is 149. The second is 864. The first is the number of picks after the Cowboys gobbled up running back Ezekiel Elliott with the fourth selection in the draft last spring that the Eagles claimed Wendell Smallwood in the fifth round.

LET'S START with a couple of numbers. The first is 149. The second is 864.

The first is the number of picks after the Cowboys gobbled up running back Ezekiel Elliott with the fourth selection in the draft last spring that the Eagles claimed Wendell Smallwood in the fifth round.

The second number is the current difference in rushing yards between Elliott's NFL-leading 1,102 and Smallwood's modest 238.

Elliott and Smallwood clearly are traveling in different circles at the moment. Elliott is a league-MVP candidate for a 10-1 team. Smallwood still is trying to prove his worth to a 5-5 team that got him on the cheap.

"I definitely think I've worked my way up from the bottom," Smallwood said Friday. "Week in and week out, (they've been giving me) a little more responsibility.

"I've never gone down. It's been more responsibility, more responsibility. Giving me challenges. Giving me things they specifically want me to do. I'm happy for that."

Smallwood is expected to get his biggest opportunity yet Monday night to prove to the Eagles that they got an Elliott-like gem with the 153rd pick in the draft.

Ryan Mathews, who injured his knee in Sunday's loss to Seattle, hasn't practiced all week and isn't expected to play against the visiting Packers. Darren Sproles, who has a fractured rib, will strap on a protective flak jacket and play, but it's hard to imagine the 5-6, 185-pounder carrying the ball a lot.

That leaves Smallwood and Kenjon Barner.

With both Mathews and Sproles sitting out the second half of the Seattle game, Smallwood got a season-high 38 snaps.

He carried the ball 13 times for 48 yards and also had four receptions for 31 yards. A week earlier in the Eagles' 24-15 win over Atlanta, he rushed for 70 yards on 13 carries.

"I'm definitely looking forward to it," Smallwood said of the opportunity for a big workload against the Packers. "I'm going to embrace it. It's a challenge and it's a great opportunity for me to show what I can do and show I can take on a bigger role."

Smallwood had a season-high 17 carries for 79 yards in the Eagles' 34-3 Week 3 win over the Steelers. But 15 of those 17 carries came in second-half mopup work.

On Monday night, he'll likely have a chance to play an important role from the very start in a game the Eagles absolutely, positively must win to keep their slim playoff hopes alive.

"I really like what I see in Wendell, both in the run game and in pass protection," offensive coordinator Frank Reich said Friday of the 5-10, 208-pound running back out of West Virginia by way of Wilmington.

"I like everything about him. I think he's a really good football player and I think the more he plays, that's just going to show more and more."

Smallwood has only 57 carries this season, but has made the most of them. He is averaging 4.4 yards per carry, has 14 rushing first downs and eight runs of 10 yards or more.

Before the Seattle game, he had played only 71 snaps this season, including 24 against the Steelers.

Reich said a key for Smallwood on Monday night if he does indeed have an expanded role, will be dealing with the increased physical pounding he'll take take.

"(He's going to need to show that he has) the durability to get hit 15 or 20 times, as opposed to four or five," Reich said. "When he touches the football, we all see the explosiveness (he runs with). But can you maintain that explosiveness on your 15th carry, if he ends up with that many carries?"

Smallwood, who averaged 18.3 carries per game last year at West Virginia, isn't worried about the effect of an expanded workload.

"I think it's actually better," he said. "The more (carries) I get, the better bead I get on the defense. I can wear down the defense when I'm carrying it 15 times. You can't do that with three or four carries."

Smallwood also echoed the sentiment of every other running back who's ever lived when he said that the more carries he gets, the easier it is to get into a rhythm.

"You know what's going on (when you carry the ball more)," he said. You miss things sometimes. But if you're getting more carries, you're going to get the same play again and you won't miss it the next time. So, the more I carry the ball, I expect to get better."

It will be interesting to see how just how much the Eagles run the ball Monday night. The Eagles are averaging 27.7 rushing attempts per game, ninth most in the NFL. In their four games at the Linc - all wins - they averaged 32 carries.

But injuries at cornerback have made the Packers susceptible to the pass. They are last in opponent yards per attempt (8.6), 31st in opponent passer rating (105.5) and tied for 28th in touchdown passes allowed (22).

They are sixth against the run (91.1 yards per game) and eighth in opponent rush average (3.7). But injuries at linebacker have altered the landscape there, as well. They gave up 151 rushing yards to the Redskins on Sunday night and 154 the week before to Tennessee. They lost both games.

"I just have to be ready to step up and fill (Mathews') shoes and pick up the slack for him not being out there," Smallwood said. "Being down a back, we all have to take on a bigger load."

Agholor update

While Smallwood is expected to see his workload increase Monday night, struggling wide receiver Nelson Agholor could see his decrease or even disappear.

Agholor, who has struggled to live up to first-round expectations, had a costly drop and failed to catch a pass in Sunday's loss to the Seahawks. He also negated a touchdown catch by tight end Zach Ertz when he was penalized for not lining up close enough to the line of scrimmage.

After the game, he acknowledged to reporters he was pressing and "worried about so many things" and had to "get out of my own head."

On Monday, the Eagles signed another wide receiver, rookie Paul Turner, off their practice squad. On Wednesday, coach Doug Pederson acknowledged he was considering benching Agholor and possibly not even activating him for the Packers game.

"I've just got to see from his standpoint how he handles this week," Pederson said then. "This will be a big week for him. How he handles it mentally, how he reacts with his teammates and how he reacts on the practice field with the things that have sort of fallen in his lap. It's just about how well he responds and if he can handle a little adversity in his career."

Agholor talked to reporters again on Friday. He was smiling and much more relaxed than after Sunday's game, even as he acknowledged that there is no guarantee he'll play much, if at all, on Monday night.

"What's in front of me right now is an opportunity to show mental toughness, to show resiliency, to show opportunity to prepare the right way and show the next-man-up mentality," he said.

Agholor talked to at least one sports psychologist this week and said he's "in a good place right now."

The wide receiver said the coaches "gave me a challenge. At the end of the day, after this challenge, you get better."

Asked whether that meant he was told he wasn't going to play Monday night, he said, "Whatever the coach's decision is, it's something I've got to respect. You've just got to respond.

"He's put me in a situation where I have to react. My plan is to react in the right way. The opportunity that came to me, in which, obviously, it's hey, you're not sure if you're playing. You might be playing. Just prepare and don't worry about the circumstances. Don't worry about the outcome. Just know yourself and know what your responsibility is, which is to prepare."

If Agholor doesn't play or doesn't play much, Jordan Matthews, the team's leading receiver, who has played primarily in the slot, likely will play outside more in both two- and three-wide receiver sets. Field-stretching Bryce Treggs also figures to see his playing time increase against an injury-ravaged Packers secondary that doesn't have a lot of speed.

"I'll respect whatever happens," Agholor said. "But I know I've gotten better all through this week. That's what it's about.

"At the end of the day, what you deposit in practice, you cash out on game day. And you have to trust that. That's what I'm going to do. I need to know that I'm putting that work in every day. Whoever knows me on this team and in this organization, they know I prepare hard."


Defensive end Connor Barwin (knee) and cornerback Leodis McKelvin (concussion) both were full participants in practice Friday and will play Monday against the Packers.