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How the Eagles can replace Derek Barnett, the running back rotation, and NFC East updates | Early Birds

What will the Eagles do at defensive end after Derek Barnett's season-ending injury?

Eagles defensive end Derek Barnett gets a hug from teammate Eagles defensive end Chris Long with defensive end Brandon Graham after a stop against the Washington Redskins on Monday, October 23, 2017 in Philadelphia. YONG KIM / Staff Photographer
Eagles defensive end Derek Barnett gets a hug from teammate Eagles defensive end Chris Long with defensive end Brandon Graham after a stop against the Washington Redskins on Monday, October 23, 2017 in Philadelphia. YONG KIM / Staff PhotographerRead moreYONG KIM

Good morning. The Eagles take the field at 1 p.m. today for their first practice session leading up to Sunday's game against the Jacksonville Jaguars in London. Doug Pederson has a 10:30 a.m. news conference. It will be the first time Pederson comments on reports that Derek Barnett is out for the season.

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— Zach Berman

What happens now at defensive end?

Derek Barnett's season-ending shoulder injury is another blow for the Eagles, adding to the list of key players who must be replaced. (What else is new?) The injury and need for surgery, reported by ESPN and the NFL Network but not yet confirmed by the Eagles, comes at a position where the Eagles have perhaps their most depth. It's also the position where they use the most players.

Brandon Graham, Michael Bennett, and Chris Long will all take on bigger roles. Of course, with the Eagles undermanned at defensive tackle, Graham and Bennett already had roles in the interior. This also moves fourth-round pick Josh Sweat up the depth chart, but don't expect him to get an equal amount of work as the other defensive ends. The Eagles will rely more on their top three going forward.

To give you a frame of reference, Barnett missed the Week 5 game against the Vikings. Graham played 84 percent of the defensive snaps that day, Bennett played 79 percent, Long played 47 percent, and Sweat played 13 percent. The Eagles missed Haloti Ngata in that game, too, so Bennett and Graham were options on the interior. They'll continue to play on the interior during passing downs even when Ngata is back. Long will likely take more snaps than what he played that day. But that's an idea of the workload that is coming to the defensive ends now that Barnett is gone.

However, remember that Graham, Bennett, and Long are all over 30. They need to stay healthy and must not wear down. The Eagles' youngest — and one could argue their best — defensive end in the rotation was Barnett. The Eagles have the depth to withstand the injury, but that doesn't mean they won't miss Barnett. He was an ascending player, too, so his absence will stunt his development. That's why Tuesday was a bad day for the Eagles.

Who’s playing running back?

Since Jay Ajayi's injury, Wendell Smallwood has been the top running back in the Eagles' committee. He's had the most playing time and carries the last two games. Clement has been working his way back from an injury, so that could factor into it. But it's clear the Eagles trusted Smallwood in recent weeks.

"I think Duce [Staley] manages those guys, and they all have a role in each and every game," offensive coordinator Mike Groh said. "Corey was just working himself back in from an injury, and Wendell has done a really good job for us. We got a lot of trust and confidence in both those guys that when called upon, they are going to be productive."

The rotation will evolve throughout the season. Darren Sproles' eventual return will affect playing time. The Eagles used Josh Adams more on Sunday, and he could carve a bigger role.

Smallwood is averaging 4.5 yards per carry this season, although he's averaged only 3.1 yards per carry during the last two games. Clement is averaging 3.5 yards per carry and had only 6 rushing yards on eight carries on Sunday. So the Eagles need more from their running game if they're not going to add another player.

Going into the Panthers game, I didn't think the Eagles would prioritize running back over some other needs. But Sunday was far from a strong endorsement for this group.

Elsewhere in the NFC East

Washington is atop the NFC East with a 4-2 mark. They're riding a two-game winning streak after beating Dallas, 20-17, on Sunday. At this point, they must be considered the Eagles' best challenge for the division crown. And they could add to their win total this weekend against the lowly New York Giants. After allowing 43 points to New Orleans in Week 5, Washington kept their last two opponents to 17 points each.

The Cowboys are tied with the Eagles with a 3-4 record after the loss to Washington. They acquired wide receiver Amari Cooper on Monday, which shows they're trying to make a mark in the wide-open NFC East. They're off this week before playing the Tennessee Titans on Nov. 5. They then visit the Eagles on a short week while the Eagles are coming off their bye. That will be a pivotal game for both teams.

The Giants are clearly the worst team in the division. At 1-6, their eyes might soon turn to 2019. They traded cornerback Eli Apple to the Saints on Tuesday. They host Washington on Sunday.

What you need to know about the Eagles

  1. The Eagles suffered a meltdown on Sunday, and now they lost one of their top players. Les Bowen covers both.

  2. Temple is looking to extend its lease at Lincoln Financial FieldMarc Narducci writes, although that's news to the Eagles.

  3. What was on the minds of Eagles fans on Tuesday? Find out in the weekly chat.

  4. The latest Birds' Eye View podcast looks at the loss of Derek Barnett and much more.

From the mailbag

I received different versions of questions about Rasul Douglas. The Eagles don't think Douglas is a safety, as Week 6 showed. They view him as an outside cornerback. If Jalen Mills or Ronald Darby suffered an injury, Douglas would have entered the game. But the Eagles did not want to play him at slot cornerback or at safety.

"I think his skill-set fits best as an outside corner," defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said. "He can do some other things for us, but if you're looking at trying to put him in the best position, I think it's always been outside corner for him."

They went with Dexter McDougle at slot cornerback because they wanted to make fewer moves with Sidney Jones on a week-to-week injury. If Jones missed the season, they'd consider a permanent solution.

As I've said before, I would have moved Mills to the slot in the nickel and played Douglas on the outside. I'd find a way to play my five best defensive backs. Schwartz has no plan to make that move, although it's not because he has anything against Douglas. He wants Mills on the outside.

"I think Jalen plays better outside than he does inside, but he can play inside," Schwartz said. "I liked where we were with Sid in there, and Darby and Jalen outside with Rasul being the next man up. We're just not there right now with injuries, particularly with losing Rodney [McLeod] and then Avonte moving to safety."