Undrafted free agents always have to run faster, work harder, and be better just to keep up with the dizzying pace of change on an NFL roster. It doesn't take much to fall through a gap that opens and disappear forever. The line of replacements behind you stretches forever.
Corey Clement, the second-year running back for the Eagles, dodged one trap already this season when he came back from a quadriceps strain that put him on the inactive list for one game and kept him off the field for another. The Eagles were already thin at that position, with Darren Sproles coming back slowly from a hamstring tear, and now the situation has been worsened by the loss of Jay Ajayi to a season-ending knee injury.
The Eagles haven't sought out additional help yet — help that would probably relegate Clement and Wendell Smallwood to more marginal roles — but Sproles still isn't healthy and the Oct. 30 trade deadline is looming.
A year ago at the trade deadline, the Eagles sent a fourth-round draft pick to Miami to add Ajayi, even though the running back room was healthier than it is now. It makes sense that Howie Roseman, the executive vice president of football operations, will engineer a similar move this season, even if it is not for a high-profile back.
The situation was on Clement's mind before the Thursday night game against the Giants. He and Roseman exchanged greetings on the Meadowlands field before the game and, taking the opportunity, told Roseman that he really didn't need to bring in a new running back.
"I definitely told him that. We don't need to look to the outside," Clement said. "We've got to have confidence in our room. We know we have [what we need] to win with."
Roseman probably appreciated the attitude even if he knows that the guys on his roster are usually better as players than as general managers.
"Make me believe," Roseman said, according to Clement.
The Giants game was just fine in that regard, but it wasn't a slam dunk. Clement and Smallwood, also a second-year player, but a fifth-round draft choice, combined for 29 carries and 94 yards in the easy win. Smallwood got a majority of the snaps compared with Clement, but that might have been a product of a game plan that was put together before Clement's availability was certain.
There are two more games before the trade deadline: Sunday's game at home against Carolina and then the Oct. 28 game in London against Jacksonville. It's possible the team could wait to finalize a deal in the midst of transatlantic travel, but it's more likely that, if there is still doubt, the tale will be told against the Panthers. Make me believe.
"You've got to take the challenge for what it's worth," Clement said. "It's football. It's the nature of the game."
And the game doesn't stand still, nor does the roster. Not for an undrafted free agent who has been solid but unspectacular, even if he did take the direct snap in the most famous play in Eagles football history. Put it this way: The Philly Special didn't keep Trey Burton on the team.
"I think we graded out well," Clement said after practice this week. "It was definitely a B-plus. It wasn't a perfect game, we all know that, but when the situation comes around, you have to step up. One game can't solidify [things], so we've got to keep stacking on wins, keep stacking on production, and make it difficult for them to go get someone else."
One aspect working against Clement and Smallwood is that both are just about the same type of running back. They are quick but not lightning fast; tough but not especially punishing. Both are pretty decent at augmenting pass protection, and reliable receivers. (Clement is the only rookie running back in NFL history to record 100 receiving yards in a Super Bowl.) They are a matched set of 5-foot-10 backs that is perfectly serviceable, but adding a breakaway guy or a goal-line guy does have its appeal.
"I don't question anything or anybody," Clement said. "When my number is called, I just have to make the most of it."