It’s that time of year, when reporters covering the Eagles suddenly find themselves standing in front of locker stalls they’ve spent most of the season striding past en route to more pressing destinations.
Turns out, rookie running back Byron Marshall dresses right next to Wendell Smallwood, with just a pillar separating them. We probably stood in Marshall’s space a few times while talking to Smallwood and didn’t even realize it. Isaac Seumalo is on the other side of the room, not in the corner with the starting offensive linemen, but up from that row, among the o-line subs and practice squad guys.
With three games left in the season, Marshall is scheduled to make his NFL debut Sunday at Baltimore. Though by all accounts Marshall (5-9, 201) has performed well on the practice squad, he is now on the 53-man roster and should play at least a little because Smallwood is on IR after suffering an MCL sprain last Sunday against Washington, and Darren Sproles remains in the concussion protocol after taking a vicious hit from Deshazor Everett in that same game. The league fined Everett more than $48,000 for penalized hits on Sproles and Brent Celek, who has recovered from a stinger suffered on the play.
“I know they’ve got some plays for me. I think how the game goes” will determine whether those plays are used, Marshall said. “I’m able to make cuts, get reads, catch the ball well for a back.”
Kenjon Barner, who will return punts in Sproles’ absence, was a senior at Oregon when Marshall was a freshman.
“He’s versatile, man,” Barner said. “He can catch a ball out of the backfield. A lot of people wouldn’t think he’s shifty, but he’s extremely shifty.”
For Seumalo, a rookie guard, this will be the third start, assuming Allen Barbre’s hamstring doesn’t experience a weekend miracle of healing. It will be the first start Seumalo has known about more than a few hours beforehand, and his first action at right tackle since a couple of games in college when Oregon State suffered a similar crisis.
Though Eagles coach Doug Pederson said Friday that Barbre would do some light practice work to get an idea of how he was healing, Pederson holding out hope that Barbre could play, the Eagles listed Barbre as not practicing, as was the case all week. If he is active, Pederson suggested it might be in a backup or emergency role.
This sort of thing is common, 13 games into an NFL season, though fifth-year right guard Brandon Brooks said he’s never worked with so many tackles. And by missing last week’s game with an anxiety condition he feels he now has under control (Seumalo replaced him), Brooks didn’t line up alongside Matt Tobin, who replaced Barbre, then suffered an MCL sprain on the next-to-last play and is on IR. So if Seumalo starts, Brooks will only be able to say he played with four of the Eagles’ five right tackles this year.
The Eagles get original starting right tackle Lane Johnson back from his 10-game suspension on Monday. They practice Tuesday and Wednesday, then host the Giants Thursday. Pederson said Friday that if the injury situation doesn’t improve, “it’s almost a no-brainer that we’ve got to put (Johnson) out there, even on a short week.”
Told of that assessment by a reporter who asked if he thought he’d be ready to play so quickly, Johnson texted: “Guess we are gonna see.”
Brooks, asked about this week, said: “At this point, it’s all good,” meaning, he has adjusted to so many different tackles, what’s one more?
“Real smart kid, can play any position on the offensive line. Athletic, quick. He’s going to be fine out there,” Brooks said of Seumalo.
Pederson said Seumalo, a third-round pick, is “smooth, athletic, smart, he understands the schemes. Obviously, the live reps Sunday, we'll find out, but he's done a good job this week."
“In a matter of three or four days, I’ve tried to squeeze as much work in as possible,” said Seumalo. Other than the two emergency starts at right guard when Brooks was ill, his snaps this season have come as an extra blocking tight end.
“Sundays is all about taking what you do the other six days and playing unconsciously,” Seumalo said – meaning, playing without having to think before acting. “The more you think, the slower you play.”
Barbre was not available for interviews.
“Big Al’s gonna do whatever he needs to do. If he can play Sunday, he’ll play, and I’ll be a great teammate, help out,” Seumalo said. “If he can’t, then I’ll step up. But either way, it’s not like I haven’t been the sixth guy already. Whatever happens, happens. It’s kind of part of the job, being ready at all times.”
PART TIME WORK
Before this season, Stephen Tulloch had started all 16 games in five of the previous six years, with Tennessee and Detroit. The one year he didn’t, 2014, he was limited to three games by a knee injury.
Tulloch, a linebacker who turns 32 on New Year’s Day, has dressed for 10 of the Eagles’ 13 games, with no starts. He last played as many as five defensive snaps in the Minnesota game, back on Oct. 23. He’s active each week basically because defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, who coached Tulloch at Tennessee and Detroit, trusts him to call the defensive signals if anything happens to Jordan Hicks. Schwartz apparently doesn’t trust any of his other linebackers to do that. Hicks is one of the Eagles’ best, most indispensible players. So Tulloch gets a snap against Green Bay, a snap against Cincinnati, a whopping three last Sunday against Washington.
“I’ve been a starter for almost 11 years now,” Tulloch said Friday, when asked if this is a tough adjustment. “I know my role. My role is to be ready when my name is called, help the younger guys be prepared every week, help the team (in practice) from a ‘look’ standpoint. Whatever I can do to help the team is what I’m here to do.”
Tulloch was asked if he expected a bigger role when he signed back on Aug. 23.
“I did, I did. But obviously, guys have been healthy this year, played fairly well, so I can’t knock ‘em for that,” Tulloch said.
One crucial question was left unanswered in Friday’s story about new longsnapper Rick Lovato working at the Linwood, N.J. sub shop owned by his father and uncle – do they serve cheesesteaks?
“We do,” Lovato said. “We do it a little different than they do down here – we start by slicing rare roast beef. It’s a very good cheesesteak.”
The more you know.