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Duce Staley praises Eagles’ running backs, but stops short of saying they don’t need to trade for one

Duce Staley said he liked the fact that Clement told Howie Roseman the Eagles didn't need to trade for a RB. "You don't want them saying the opposite," he said.

Assistant Head Coach Duce Staley speaks at the Eagles' NovaCare Center Philadelphia, Pa., Monday June 11, 2018. DAVID SWANSON / Staff Photographer
Assistant Head Coach Duce Staley speaks at the Eagles' NovaCare Center Philadelphia, Pa., Monday June 11, 2018. DAVID SWANSON / Staff PhotographerRead moreDavid Swanson

Last October, with the NFL trade deadline approaching, the Eagles decided they needed running back help and traded a fourth-round pick to the Dolphins for Jay Ajayi.

With Ajayi out for the season with a knee injury and 35-year-old Darren Sproles still on the shelf with the hamstring injury from hell, executive vice-president of football operations Howie Roseman and his personnel lieutenants are once again pondering whether they need a shot in the arm at running back to help them make another Super Bowl run.

The Eagles currently are 14th in rushing (110.3 yards per game) and 18th in rush average (4.2 yards per carry). That's 21.9 yards per game and .3 per carry less than last season.

Before the Eagles' 34-13 win over the Giants last week, one of the team's running backs, Corey Clement, told Roseman that the Eagles don't need to add another runner. Roseman told him to prove it.

Until Sproles gets back, the Eagles' top three backs are Clement, Wendell Smallwood and undrafted rookie Josh Adams. Clement, who had missed the previous two games with a quad injury, and Smallwood combined for 94 yards and a touchdown on 29 carries against the Giants.

Smallwood, who opened the season as the team's No. 4 running back, is averaging an impressive 4.7 yards per carry. In the last four games, he has averaged 6.1 yards per carry on first down.

Eagles assistant head coach/running backs Duce Staley was asked Friday whether he agreed with Clement about the team not needing to add another running back.

"Right now, those guys who I have in front of me are playing and they're playing well,'' Staley said. "So all I can do is go from week to week and coach those guys. If Corey said that to Howie, now he's got to go prove it, which is awesome.''

>> READ MORE: Corey Clement on the run the keep his job with Eagles | Bob Ford

Staley said he likes the fact that Clement has enough confidence in himself and the team's other runners to say that to Roseman.

"Definitely, definitely,'' he said. "You don't want them saying the opposite. You don't want them saying, 'Go get somebody. I need help.' I don't want that kind of guy around.

"I want those guys to show their personality. I want those guys to show their swag. The good thing about that is that now he has to go out there and prove it. So you can hold it over his head a little bit when he's not proving it.''

Staley said he's been happy with Smallwood's play this season, but would like to see him start a little faster, though the kid is averaging 5.1 yards per carry in the first quarter.

"With Wendell, it takes a little time to warm up,'' he said. "I tell him all the time that I need him to be like a microwave. I need that instant heat from him.

"That's one of the things we're working on now. But he's doing a great job. I'm proud of him.''

Clement is averaging 4.1 yards per carry. He had a 1-yard touchdown run against the Giants that was set up by an impressive 14-yard run two plays before that.

"Corey just needs to keep improving,'' Staley said. "On this level, you need to understand that every day matters. It's the everyday routine [that's important] when it comes to running back.

"Running back is a violent position in this league. We're one of the guys that has to be the quarterback on the field along with the quarterback as far as [understanding] protections, the routes, blitzes, etc., etc. So Corey just needs to get better every day at everything.''

Last season, the Eagles had two running backs who were effective short-yardage runners – Ajayi and LeGarrette Blount. The Eagles didn't re-sign Blount, and Ajayi is out for the season.

But Staley thinks both Smallwood and Clement, as well as Adams, all can be effective short-yardage runners.

"I think all of them can do that,'' he said. "It's all about how we design the play. The one thing about being a short-yardage guy or a power guy or whatever you want to call him is, it's all about the situation.

"Your mentality should change when it's third-and-1. You don't have to put a guy out there who's 6-3 and 240.

"When it's third-and-1, you should play like you're 6-3 and 240 if you're Wendell, if you're Corey. Because it's third-and-1. Or because it's fourth-and-inches. Understand the situation.''

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Sproles' absence has weakened the Eagles in the area of pass protection, which isn't a good area to be weak in when you're franchise quarterback is returning from a major knee injury. There may not be a running back in the league better at blitz-pickup than Sproles.

Asked Wednesday whether he was comfortable with Clement and Smallwood's ability to protect Wentz, Staley said, "I wouldn't say comfortable because we can always get better at pass-pro.

"That's one of my main things, and I tell them this all the time. You can't play for me if you can't protect the quarterback.

"You may be the best runner. You may have the best hands on the team. You might be able to make everybody miss. But if you can't block the linebacker or the safety, you can't play.

"I think these guys prepare well. I think they watch film well. Now, are they going to be perfect? No. But I think they know what they're doing and I think they're capable of going out there and doing what we teach them.''