IF YOU'RE one of the five or six people in Philly who still need convincing that this is a football town, consider rookie running back Wendell Smallwood's trip to South Street last Saturday.

Smallwood, a fifth-round pick in the draft, was on his way to Lorenzo's to pick up a pizza when, lo and behold, he was recognized by a group of Eagles fans.

Now, keep in mind that we're not talking about Carson Wentz or Jason Kelce or Jordan Matthews. We're talking about a 5-10, 208-pound guy who was the 153rd pick in the draft and has yet to play in a game.

"I was walking down South Street and saw some people and they stopped me and we started talking and they were like, 'Hey, we need a Super Bowl,' '' he said with a smile. "It's really neat the way they light up when they see you. They love it that I'm a hometown guy."

Well, I'm not sure I'd call you a "hometown" guy, Wendell. You grew up in Wilmington, Del. And those vulgar anti-Philly tweets of yours from high school that re-surfaced after the Eagles drafted you in May didn't make you any new friends at the time.

But midnight green buys a lot of absolution in this town, especially when it's worn by a guy who just might be able to add some much-needed oomph to a ground game that finished 21st in yards per carry (3.9) last season.

The Eagles failed to have an 800-yard rusher last season for the first time since 2009. Chip Kelly signed DeMarco Murray and Ryan Mathews in free agency last year, but Murray went from an NFL rushing champ with the Cowboys to a 3.6-yard-per-carry disappointment with the Eagles and was traded to Tennessee in March, three months after Kelly was fired.

Mathews averaged 5 yards per carry, but has missed three or more games in four of his six NFL seasons and has had more than 225 carries in a season just once.

Darren Sproles turned 33 last month and figures to be used primarily as a receiver. Kenjon Barner had just 28 carries last year.

So, unless Mathews is going to suddenly become a workhorse back in his seventh pro season, the Eagles really, really need Smallwood to step up and make an immediate contribution.

Smallwood led the Big 12 in rushing last year with 1,519 yards and nine touchdowns. But 10 running backs were taken ahead of him in the draft, including five in the 19 picks before the Eagles took him at 153.

"I definitely don't think it means a lot (where he was picked) because the city, the team, they treat me like I was Carson Wentz," Smallwood said Tuesday after the Eagles finished their second training-camp practice with rookies and selected veterans.

"They give us all the same attention. No one gets more, no one gets less. Being here is going to drive me to be better than all of the backs that were picked before me."

A part of Wendell Smallwood still can't believe he's in the NFL, trying to earn a roster spot with the team he grew up rooting for and being coached by running backs coach Duce Staley, who was his favorite player when he was a kid.

"I was just looking at the training-camp (guide) before practice, and I was thinking, 'Dang, I'm here. I'm in the NFL,' '' he said. "It seemed like it was only yesterday that I was visiting the stadium (on a recruiting trip to Temple) when I was in high school. Sitting there (in the Eagles' locker room) and looking at the Eagles' name on my jersey is surreal for me.''

Smallwood played in a spread offense at West Virginia. But so far, he doesn't seem to be having any major problems picking up Doug Pederson's West Coast hybrid offense.

"I'm getting to the point where I'm able to pick up little things and focus on playing and not having to think (about) what's going to happen and how it's going to happen," Smallwood said.

"Knowing my assignment is starting to become second nature to me. I'm not second-guessing the play, second-guessing anything anybody says. (When) I hear something, I put it together and start focusing on my reads presnap instead of still thinking what my job is."

Smallwood was among the nation's leaders in double-digit-yard runs last season.

"Mostly for me it was my vision and hitting the hole when I saw it and hitting it fast," Smallwood said. "Duce said that was the thing he loved about me."

Smallwood also is a capable receiver, which is important in Pederson's offense. He caught 57 passes his last two seasons at West Virginia, and averaged 10.5 yards per catch in 2014.

He got his first up-close-and-personal look at Sproles at the team's three-day June minicamp, and is hoping to learn a lot from him this season.

"When I saw him in the minicamp, I was like, 'Wow,' '' Smallwood said. "I had seen him in games on TV, but being right next to him and seeing how he runs routes and how fast he is, how quick he is, how hard he goes, it definitely drives me. I was picking his brain 24/7."


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