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July 26, 2017

Eagles can't help but 'get excited' over rookie Donnel Pumphrey's receiving skills

Eagles NFL

Eagles rookie Donnel Pumphrey broke the NCAA FBS career rushing record at San Diego State, so it was interesting that one of the big takeaways from minicamp and OTAs was the undersized running back’s ability to catch the ball – not just out of the backfield, but lined up as a receiver as well. 

And that’s carried over into his first NFL training camp. So much so that when offensive coordinator Frank Reich was asked about which young players have stood out so far, he mentioned Pumphrey right alongside wideouts Mack Hollins and Marcus Johnson. 

If you didn’t know any better, you’d think he was talking about a receiver, not one of the most prolific rushers in NCAA history.

“I think, so far, the younger players are showing themselves well, all through spring, OTAs, this little three-day rookie training camp,” Reich told reporters on Wednesday. “[It was a] good introduction, good to get re-acclimated. We try to temper – as coaches, we get excited now. We see guys do things. We see Mack Hollins make a play or Marcus Johnson or Pump [Pumphrey].

"Some of the plays that Pump has made, he made a great catch out there today. As coaches, you get excited. On the flip side, you always temper that because the pads aren't on yet. So the guys are doing a good job.”

Pumphrey wasn’t bad as a receiver in college, racking up 99 receptions for 1,039 yards and five touchdowns in his four years, but he never caught more than 27 in a year. And when you compare that to his 1,059 career carries for a record 6,405 yards and 62 touchdowns, it becomes obvious where he did the bulk of his damage.

Whether or not the Eagles had intentions of using Pumphrey in the passing game before they saw him on the practice field, they didn’t think he’d be such a natural, especially given how little he was used as a receiver at San Diego State.

“I mean, I think he's exceeded expectations in that area,” Reich said. “I think that's something that we saw. There were flashes -- as you said, he wasn't used a lot like that in college, but we thought there were some things there that that could be a part where he could develop at. I think he's developed faster in that area than maybe anticipated.

"But, again, you temper that just because the bullets aren't live yet. But very encouraged by his progress, for sure.”

Given his size (5-foot-9, 170 pounds) and the fact that he averaged 329 carries over his final two seasons with the Aztecs, it would be smart for the Eagles to find new, less physically-punishing ways to get him the ball, much like the way they’ve been able to use another diminutive halfback on their roster: Darren Sproles. After all, someone as small as Sproles doesn’t survive in this league for 11 years without finding ways to get the ball in space, rather than plowing head-on into wall of lineman, all of whom are at least twice his size. 

If the Eagles see their fourth-round pick as Sproles clone, then they couldn’t have picked a better mentor, not to mention the fact that they having a backfield-by-committee, which will prevent the majority of the rushing responsibilities from falling on Pumphrey. 

And as Carson Wentz enters his second year, you can expect Doug Pederson to open up the playbook, which may allow Pumphrey to get a decent amount of work as a wide receiver.

“I think being versatile is an absolute requirement in this league,” Reich said. “[Using multiple] formations is a way to do that, but what makes an offense versatile is its players. When you have players you can move around and matchup that do things to defenses, it really puts us, as coaches, in a good mindset.”

Follow Matt on Twitter: @matt_mullin

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