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June 05, 2017

Eagles using Donnel Pumphrey in the slot 'a lot'

When the Philadelphia Eagles selected running back Donnel Pumphrey in the fourth round of the 2017 NFL Draft, many wondered if Pumphrey would be utilized more so as a slot receiver than as a running back.

While he is most definitely playing the running back position, Pumphrey has gotten plenty of looks from the slot as a receiver. 

"So far, that's really where I've been a lot, just catching the ball," said Pumphrey last week during the Eagles' second round of OTAs. "They've been working me from the slot a lot, moving me around as a running back out of two-running back sets. I look forward to catching the ball and showing that I can catch the ball."

In the Andy Reid years, the Eagles were effective when they used two-running back sets, most notably with Brian Westbrook and Correll Buckhalter. It appears that they are now exploring similar possibilities with Pumphrey early this offseason, even using the 5'9, 170 pound Pumphrey alongside the Eagles' other diminutive back, Darren Sproles. 

"With our two running back set, I'm going to have to show that I can move around and do a lot of different things, because this is going to be Sproles' last year, Pumphrey explained. I'm just trying to stay under his wing and learn from him.

"With both of us back there, we can do crossing patterns, keep the linebackers all mixed up. And even when we motion out, there's most likely going to be a linebacker on us, and that creates a mismatch."

Pumphrey has also taken a lot of reps as a punt returner and kick returner in the early going. While he did not return kicks or punts much in college, fielding kicks and punts is something Pumphrey worked on quite a bit at San Diego State. So far in practice, as we've noted in our practice observations, Pumphrey looks completely comfortable catching kicks and punts, which is a lot harder than it looks.

"During practice, I caught all of the punts," he said. "Even before games I was catching kicks and punts. It's natural for me. We had great specialists at San Diego State, and most of time on offense we were running the ball so they wanted to keep my health level up and just focus on the running back spot."

In other words, Pumphrey was the offense, and his coaching staff did not want to risk getting him injured on special teams. In the pros, it appears that the Eagles envision a diverse, creative role for Pumphrey, and are heavily testing out what he can do for them in multiple phases.

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