The rookie from Delaware prepares to earn playing time with the Eagles, his favorite NFL team
Delaware’s own Wendell Smallwood realized a childhood dream in April when he was chosen by the Philadelphia Eagles in the fifth round of the NFL draft. Smallwood, originally from Wilmington, played his first three high school seasons at Red Lion Christian Academy in Bear before finishing at Eastern Christian Academy in Elkton.
He went on to West Virginia, where he had an impressive senior year in 2015. He was named the Mountaineers’ offensive player of the year while earning All-Big 12 second-team honors after scoring 12 touchdowns and setting career highs with 1,519 yards on 238 carries, for an average of 6.4 yards. Also a threat as a receiver, he had 68 career receptions for 618 yards (9.1 avg.), finishing fifth all-time among running backs in WVU history in both receptions and receiving yards.
In the latest Eagles depth chart, Smallwood is listed third at running back behind no. 1 Ryan Matthews and Darren Sproles. West Virginia used him largely as a safety valve in the flats, rarely asking him to protect the quarterback, so experts have speculated that this inexperience as a pass protector could limit his playing time in his rookie season. While he needs to improve that part of his game, he could see significant playing time if Matthews, who has a history of injuries, misses some time.
O&A caught up to Smallwood not long after the Eagles final OTA (optional team activities) and prior to the opening of training camp on July 24. Speaking by phone from his new digs near Lincoln Financial Field, Smallwood discussed his NFL experience thus far, his support system, and his plan to complete his education.
O&A: Were you an Eagles fan growing up?
WS: Yes. Brian Westbrook, Deuce Staley—I remember watching them growing up. And Shady (McCoy, now with the Buffalo Bills), of course. I was kind of star-struck when I met Deuce.
O&A: Yes, Deuce is your position coach now. How is he as a coach?
WS: He’s a great coach. And I think he’s the reason I’m an Eagle. [He scouted me] and he really liked me.
O&A: What has been the most surprising aspect of moving from the college game to the NFL?
WS: Just the way the coaches pay attention to really little stuff, details. Everything matters. It makes the difference between winning, losing and whether you play. Even some off-the-field stuff, like being somewhere on time for appointments and events, is important to them.
O&A: How about the speed of the game?
WS: It’s definitely faster. I would say it’s similar to the transition from high school to college. And there are more schemes, more defenses hiding things. But the more reps I got, the more it slowed down.
O&A: How have they divided the reps in practice so far? Are you getting nearly the same number as Matthews and Sproles?
WS: I got a lot of reps, especially when Sproles was gone. I’ve been running with the twos and threes, and the ones a little bit. I’m on all the special teams except punt returns. The special teams coach thinks I can do it at a fast level. I did the same thing in my freshman year in college.
O&A: Has there been any hazing of you rookies?
WS: No. Our team might be one of the best when it comes to that, based on some of the rookies I know and talked to. We do have to fill up the refrigerator, mostly with Gatorade and water, and we have to bring them [the veterans] candy. They like candy.
O&A: So you won’t have to sing the West Virginia alma mater during training camp?
WS: I may have to, but if I do I won’t mind at all.
O&A: Do you know the alma mater?
WS: No, I’ll have to learn it.
O&A: What’s Head Coach Doug Pederson like?
WS: He’s a cool guy. He’s straight up with you. And he pays attention to everything you do, even when you think he’s not watching. And he’s open to doing things different ways if that’s what’s comfortable for us.
O&A: So would you call him a players’ coach?
O&A: How are you interacting with the other backs? Are the veterans helping you or is the competition too intense for that?
WS: I’ve been talking to each and every one of the other guys. They take me out to eat, and they definitely are looking out for me. Anything I need to know, they tell me. There’s definitely competition, we all want to start, but we’re just like one unit, not individuals, just trying to win games together.
O&A: How’s your weight? Have you bulked up for the NFL? How about your speed? What’s your 40 time?
WS: No, I haven’t put on weight. I’m at about 210. They want me between 205 and 210. I ran a 4.44 at the Combine and my pro day time (at West Virginia) was 4.38.
O&A: What’s your support system like—family, advisors, former coaches?
WS: I talk to the coaches from Eastern Christian every day, and also to Dave Sills (who was a key figure in the football programs at both Red Lion and Eastern Christian). I talk to my parents, even though they aren’t together. And I talk to my running backs coach from college every day—Ja’Juan Seider.
O&A: Have you had much interaction with fans, here or in Philly?
WS: Yeah, they’ve been great. I just did an autograph session at Concord Mall and I’ll be going to the ice cream festival (at Rockwood Park). A lot of people in Delaware have my information and I try to do what I can when they contact me.
O&A: I know you’ve addressed this previously with the media, but can you comment on the issues from your past—the witness intimidation and the tweets about Philly? (In 2014, Smallwood was charged with trying to get a witness in a murder case to recant her statement implicating his friend. The charge was eventually dropped. Also, after he was drafted, Eagles fans discovered some crude tweets he posted in 2011 that were critical of Philadelphia, in the context of a rivalry between inner-city youth there and in Wilmington. Smallwood quickly took down the account).
WS: The charge came down to there was never any evidence against me. All the charges were dropped. I never did try to intimidate anyone. I was just caught up in a bad situation, and I was 100 percent cooperative with the police. With the tweets, I was young and I sure don’t feel that way about Philly. I took full responsibility for it. I’ve always been around the city and I love the city.
O&A: Do you have your degree from West Virginia, and if not are you planning to earn it? What was your major?
WS: I’m 18 credits short of a degree in criminology. I plan to take three credits this fall and plan to get my degree. I’ll take courses throughout my career until I get it. It never occurred to me not to do that.