Doug Pederson seems to agree with Eagles fans: A healthy Jordan Howard will not supplant Miles Sanders as the team’s go-to running back, the coach said Thursday.
“I honestly don’t think much has to change,” Pederson said. “I think Jordan is a piece to the puzzle. I think he obviously can add depth, but Miles has been sort of the hot hand lately, and we want to keep that going.”
When the Eagles released Jay Ajayi this week, it was clear they expected Howard to return from a six-game shoulder injury absence. Pederson said Howard was to be evaluated by doctors Thursday afternoon, “and the hope is he gets cleared.”
Sanders, a second-round pick from Penn State, has more all-purpose yards than any rookie in Eagles history, 1,590 of them, after gaining 79 yards on 20 carries and catching five passes for 77 yards in Sunday’s upset of Dallas. In the last four games he is averaging 4.63 yards per carry (71 carries, 329 yards), with two touchdowns. He also has blossomed in the passing game, which had lacked a dynamic weapon. Sanders has caught 20 passes in the last four games, for 173 yards and two more TDs.
Running back and returner Boston Scott, promoted from the practice squad, also has come through in Howard’s absence. Asked if Scott will still have a role, Pederson said: “Oh, yeah, Boston Scott has done enough to still be involved. I think you still go in with Miles and Boston. Again, it goes back to Jordan just getting caught up, and I think more so physically getting back to game shape.”
Sanders reiterated Thursday that he welcomes Howard’s return.
“The three-headed monster with me, him and Boston, I can’t wait for that,” Sanders said.
Pederson said right tackle Lane Johnson is “trending in the right direction” and would participate in a walk-through Thursday. Johnson did not practice. “Hopefully, have a couple of days and see where he is at the end of the week,” Pederson said.
Halapoluivaati Vaitai has started the last two games, since Johnson suffered a high ankle sprain in the previous meeting with the Giants. Vaitai probably has played well enough that the Eagles might give Johnson another week to heal, looking toward a playoff game.
“He’s done really well. He’s really kind of settled into that role at the right tackle spot, the more reps he takes,” Pederson said of Vaitai. “Because he’s isolated in one spot now, he can focus on one spot and it’s really helped him, as opposed to getting reps on both sides and kind of bouncing back and forth.”
Carson Wentz is a few days away from finishing a 16-game season for the first time since his rookie year.
The Eagles’ quarterback had his MVP-caliber 2017 season cut short Dec. 10, after tearing his ACL, and was sidelined last December with a back injury.
Wentz said he hasn’t taken his health for granted as the team prepares for its regular-season finale against the Giants with a playoff berth on the line.
"I was just actually asked how I’m feeling, and I’m thankful, Wentz said. “Obviously, the last two years, I’ve been out at this point. To feel the way I do, to still be out here with the guys at this point in Week 17, it’s a blessing, something I don’t take for granted and I’m excited to go hopefully get one more.”
Wentz is on pace to set a career high in passing yards, just 32 yards shy of the 3,782 yards he threw for in his rookie season. He orchestrated game-winning drives in consecutive weeks against the Giants and Washington Redskins before beating the Dallas Cowboys in the biggest game of his career last Sunday.