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For Eagles RB Donnel Pumphrey, the 2018 season already has begun

A hamstring injury ended Donnell Pumphrey's first NFL season before it even began. The 5-9, 185-pound running back is more determined than ever to prove he belongs with the Eagles.

Eagles’ Donnel Pumphrey talks with reporters as the Eagles clear out their lockers at the NovaCare Complex in Philadelphia on February 7, 2018.
Eagles’ Donnel Pumphrey talks with reporters as the Eagles clear out their lockers at the NovaCare Complex in Philadelphia on February 7, 2018.Read moreDAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer

Most Eagles players will spend the next few weeks enjoying some well-deserved R&R.

You'll find them on a golf course or a tropical island or in a London pub or strolling down the Champs-Elysees, or maybe just chilling at home and letting their body heal from the brutality of a long season.

Not Donnel Pumphrey.

Less than two days after the Eagles' 41-33 Super Bowl victory over the New England Patriots, the rookie running back was at the NovaCare Complex lifting weights and working on his footwork and route-running.

"I can't wait for OTAs," he said on Tuesday. "I'm not even taking an offseason. I'm going to stay grinding. I'm excited to get back into things."

Pumphrey's eagerness to move forward is understandable. His rookie season didn't turn out anything like he — or the Eagles — had hoped.

Vice president of player personnel Joe Douglas could barely contain his excitement last April after the Eagles snared the 5-foot-9, 177-pound Pumphrey, who had broken the FBS career rushing record at San Diego State, in the fourth round of the draft.

He talked of Pumphrey's "prolific production" and his "lightning feet," and said "he's a little dog who thinks he's a big dog, and he plays that way."

Despite his small stature, Pumphrey had been unstoppable — and invincible — in college. Started 42 straight games. Had 1,059 career carries, including 658 his last two years. His most serious injury was a turf toe, and he managed to play with that.

He had a promising spring with the Eagles, but then tweaked his hamstring early in training camp and just wasn't the same player Douglas had watched at San Diego State.

"I tweaked it before (the first preseason game against) Green Bay," Pumphrey said. "I wasn't healthy throughout training camp. But I was trying to make the team, so you play hurt."

He averaged just 1.9 yards per carry in the preseason. Caught 13 passes, but wasn't the nightmare to bring down in space that he had been in college. One comparison look at his college tape and preseason tape with the Eagles made it obvious this wasn't the same runner.

Undrafted rookie Corey Clement passed him on the depth chart and made the team's 53-man roster. Pumphrey spent the season on injured reserve, even though his hamstring had completely healed by late October.

"It was bittersweet," Pumphrey said of his rookie year. "Bitter because I wasn't able to really play. And this is the longest I've ever gone without really playing football.

"But it also was sweet because we won the Super Bowl and I was able to put in the work all during the season just lifting weights and everything else and showing them upstairs that I'm committed.

"I never tried to think about the negative part of my situation. I always tried to stay positive. When you take things in a negative perspective, they can just ruin you. So I try to stay positive about everything."

Many Eagles fans probably already have tossed Pumphrey's name onto the "bust'' pile. But as Nelson Agholor emphatically proved this season, you might not want to rush to judgment on some of these kids, including Pumphrey.

The Eagles clearly have not given up on him. With 31-year-old LeGarrette Blount not expected back, with Jay Ajayi entering the final year of his rookie contract and playing on arthritic knees, Clement really is the only Eagles running back currently on the roster that you can pencil in beyond 2018 with any real degree of certainty.

"Everybody in the organization has been great," Pumphrey said. "They've been treating me as if I've been playing. They had me go to all the meetings and really just stay with all the guys. It seemed like they wanted me around.

"That helped me build a relationship with everybody. That alone helped me feel like a part of the team."

Pumphrey was in the locker room every day this season. He was on the sideline with the team during Super Bowl LII. He was on the buses with his teammates during Thursday's victory parade. And next fall, he hopes to be in the backfield helping them go for a Lombardi repeat.

"The playbook I know in and out," he said. "I'm just waiting for next training camp when I can put it all out there. I know the way I can play. And the guys upstairs, they know the way I can play as well.

"It's an unbelievable feeling being a part of this organization. I'm even more motivated knowing how good we are and what we can keep doing. It just makes me want to work even harder in the offseason that I can actually play in the big game next time."

Pumphrey has been adding weight. He weighed just 177 when he was drafted. He's up to 185 now. Hopes to be at 190 by the summer.

"That's my goal," he said."I'm trying to get bigger and stronger."