ANAHEIM, Calif. – When Sidney Jones was drafted by the Eagles in the spring, he looked at their schedule and saw two away games in his native Southern California.
While it was unrealistic to expect the rookie cornerback to be recovered from an Achilles tendon rupture in March for the Chargers game on Oct. 1, a return by the Dec. 10 game at the Rams wasn't unrealistic, at least based on the Eagles' initial characterization of his rehabilitation.
But Jones said this week that he never circled the date in ink or expected to play in front of his family and friends this season.
"They have many more years to see me," Jones said Wednesday after practice at Angel Stadium.
Jones' patience has been tested his rookie season, particularly since Week 7, when he was eligible to come off the non-football injury list.
"I know it's been frustrating for him," Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins said.
Time is running out. The Eagles have three weeks of regular-season practice remaining after Sunday's game, and that would be the maximum amount of time – 21 days – for Jones to train before the team must decide whether to put him on the 53-man roster or place him on season-ending injured reserve.
The Eagles can extend the period into the postseason, but they have yet to clinch a spot, although a berth is likely. Nevertheless, coach Doug Pederson said Wednesday that Jones had yet to be cleared by the Eagles' medical staff.
"He's still rehabbing and still going through his strength, conditioning," Pederson said.
Asked if there was any chance that Jones could return before the end of the season, the Eagles coach said, "I'm not going to stand up here and speculate on that. But he's on task to be healthy even toward the end of the season."
If Jones is 100 percent healthy, the Eagles would have little to lose in allowing the 21-year-old to work out with the team for the three-week minimum. It would give him a head start on next year.
But barring an injury, it's unlikely that Jones will play in his first NFL game this season. The Eagles have gotten strong performances out of their cornerbacks, even during an eight-game span without starter Ronald Darby.
"That would be a tough spot for him to come back, having no practice and try to play," Jenkins said. "That would honestly be unfair as much as he wants to play. It is good that we have this situation. We feel comfortable and confident with the guys we have, and we can slowly develop him and get him to learn the defense and not rush him back."
To keep Jones engaged, defensive backs coach Corey Undlin has given him several tasks. For instance, he'll log third downs for the defensive backs during Thursday practices. Undlin will also throw questions at Jones rather than to the active players during meetings.
"To keep him from just sitting on his butt," safety Rodney McLeod said.
Jones' most recent assignment is to watch film of Rams quarterback Jared Goff, whom he had faced in college at Washington, and fill out a report that has 10 categories (such as favorite play-actions) for him to analyze and present to the defense on Saturday.
"The biggest thing is we got to keep him feeling like he's a part of the team, that he has something to contribute," Jenkins said. "Because he does."
Cornerback Jalen Mills said that he'll often go to Jones during games and ask for a sideline view of what's happening away from his side of the field. The Eagles don't typically take injured players to road games, but Jones has been at every away game and has been with the team for its entire West Coast stay.
"He's engaged each and every day," McLeod said. "He's in meetings. He's just kind of learning our culture and how things go and how to be a professional. That's why he comes on the trips."
Jones grew up in Diamond Bar, Calif., which is about 30 miles east of Los Angeles and 20 miles north of where the Eagles have been practicing this week. On Monday, a day after the Eagles flew from Seattle to Orange County, Jones surprised his younger brother, Chance, and posted the video on Twitter.
"I knew he was going to come out of the corner, so I was like I got to get this on video," Jones said. "I'm not around too much, so I got to catch up."
He's catching up on his rehab. Jenkins and McLeod said that Jones recently showed them video of his going through individual drills.
"I know he's eager to do something," Jenkins said. "I'll walk in sometimes, and he's just watching himself do drills on tape. He obviously misses it."
Sproles to retire?
Darren Sproles returned to the Eagles on Wednesday. No, the running back hasn't recovered from his injuries, but he was back on the practice field with his teammates for the first time since he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his knee and fractured his forearm.
Sproles, who has been rehabbing near his home in San Diego since suffering the season-ending injuries against the New York Giants on Sept. 24, was at Angels Stadium as the Eagles continued preparations for Sunday's game against the Rams.
After practice, the 34-year-old Sproles told the Inquirer that he hasn't yet decided if this season will be his last in the NFL but that he was leaning toward a return.
"I'm going to wait until the offseason and see how I feel," he said.
He struck a similar tone in a clip for virtuallinc.com, an Eagles-affiliated Web series that chronicles life off the field for players.
"I don't have to play next year, but I'm leaning toward coming back," Sproles said. "I can't end like this."
Sproles, who turns 35 in June, isn't under contract for 2018. Before his injuries, he was averaging 4.1 yards per carry, 10.4 yards per reception and 10 yards on just one punt return. The Eagles brought Kenjon Barner back primarily to handle Sproles' return role. He is averaging 11.1 yards on 18 returns.
The Eagles have yet to find a replacement as consistent catching the ball out of the backfield or blocking on third down, though. Wendell Smallwood was given first crack, but he has been inactive for the last three games. Rookie Corey Clement has mostly handled Sproles' third-down duties since.
Sproles mostly watched practice on Wednesday, but he helped running backs coach Duce Staley by manning a tackling dummy during individual drills. He said that he enjoyed being home with his wife, Michel, and daughters, Devyn and Rhyan, but that he planned on rejoining the Eagles in Philadelphia on Christmas when they host the Raiders.
Aside from a knee injury that limited Jason Kelce for one October practice, the Eagles center had been healthy through the first 10 games of the season. But he suffered an ankle injury against the Bears on Sept. 26 – coach Doug Pederson said someone rolled over his leg – and was a partial participant through most of last week.
"I'm sure it will be something that's lingering, and it will just get better from here on out," Kelce said Wednesday. "It's a typical ankle sprain."
Asked if it was a high ankle sprain, Kelce declined to answer. If it was and if he played any other position than offensive line, Kelce would likely have to miss more than one game. High ankle sprains have knocked past Eagles out for two or three weeks.
Kelce isn't your normal offensive lineman, however. The Eagles move him in space as much as any NFL center. Kelce, who was an honorary captain before Sunday's game against the Seahawks, didn't pull as often as he typically does.
The 29-year-old center, who is having his best season in years and should garner Pro Bowl consideration in a few weeks, has started in 53 straight games, the last 28 with Carson Wentz under center.
"He's been phenomenal for me coming in from Day 1 last year," Wentz said. "Just having a guy like that, as smart as he is at that position, that can just handle all the calls. He can get a lot of things corrected. I'm rarely overruling him with a call. … We see the game so similar now."
Kelce has been pulled early from two games this season. Starting left guard Stefen Wisniewski is his backup.
Five questions: Fletcher Cox
If you couldn't play the position you now play in the NFL, which position would you want to play? Linebacker. I like hitting people.
What's your least favorite part of the week's practice leading up to a game? I don't really have a least favorite part. [Burps] I don't have one.
What's the hardest you've ever been hit? Friendly fire from DeMeco Ryans my second year. Got a concussion.
What's your favorite play you ever made in football? This year closing the game out [against the Redskins] on my scoop and score.
If you didn't play football what career do you think you would have? I'd be a certified technician and mechanic.
Inside the game
— When the Eagles offense is struggling they often go no huddle to kick start their offense.
"We're usually doing it to get an advantage over the defense and get a jump start, sometimes get an extra boost if we're struggling offensively," Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz said.
The Eagles have had increasing success with their up-tempo offense. Aside from end-of-half or late-game scenarios, the Eagles have gone no huddle on 29 possessions this season.
In their first six games, they used it 11 times and generated only two touchdowns. In the next six games, they employed the tactic 18 times and scored 10 touchdowns and three field goals.
"I think it just gives us a chance to sometimes simplify things and just play fast," Wentz said. "Sometimes it can limit what defenses can do as well. They kind of go to base defenses."
The no huddle also allows Wentz to get to the line of scrimmage quickly so that he can get the defense to show its plans pre-snap. Using the Eagles' "check-with-me" system, he then has the option to audible to one or two other plays that are paired with the original call.
While two third-quarter no huddle series on Sunday resulted in a fumble and a turnover on downs, the Eagles drove deep into Seahawks territory on each.
— The Eagles have tackled well this season. In their first 11 games, they missed an average or six tackles a game, per Pro Football Focus.
But the Eagles were sloppy against the Seahawks, especially in the first half. The numbers weren't egregious, but they missed five tackle opportunities before the break and eight overall.
"For us to play good defense, we have to tackle well," defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said. "When we do, we limit big plays. We don't give up 20-yard plays and more. And that's been a key part of our formula so far."
The Eagles have allowed only 27 passing plays over 20 yards, tied for best in the NFL with the Falcons.
Inside the locker room
— Mike Trout didn't get to see his favorite football practice in the stadium he calls home from April to September – or October, depending upon the Los Angeles Angels' regular season success – but the all-star center fielder and Millville High School product was here in spirit and miniature form.
When the Eagles walked into the clubhouse at Angel Stadium, each stall had a Trout bobblehead from his 2016 MVP season. Carson Wentz said that he had texted Trout this week but that he was back in his native New Jersey "hunting it up."
Wentz and Trout are hunting buddies, but the Eagles quarterback didn't get Trout's stall. That honor went to linebacker Nigel Bradham.
"He's letting me rent it this week," Bradham said.
The Eagles are split between two clubhouses with most of the starters and veterans located in the Angels locker room and rookies, reserves and practice squad players across a long hall in the visitors' space.
By the numbers
Average yards on catches over 20 yards by Nelson Agholor (311 yards on seven catches), which is fourth-best in the NFL among 40 receivers with four or more catches over 20 yards. (Ju-Ju Smith-Schuster 53.3, Marquise Goodwin 49.1, Tyreek Hill 48.3)
Yards per route run by Mack Hollins (201 yards on 96 routes), which is 19th out of 215 total NFL receivers.
Yards per route run by Torrey Smith (308 yards on 326 routes), which is 132nd out of 215 total NFL receivers.
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