Eagles Coach Doug Pederson seemed certain Wednesday that running back Darren Sproles would make his return to the field Sunday night against the Cowboys. The veteran running back, who announced in July that he plans to retire after this season, injured his hamstring in practice after Philadelphia’s season opener and has not played since.
“He feels great. We’re going to just mix him in. . . . It’s a great opportunity for him,” Pederson told reporters Wednesday, adding that Sproles would be a big part of the team’s offensive game plan.
Then the Eagles practiced, and things went south: Sproles re-aggravated the hamstring injury. According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, he’s expected to miss Sunday night’s game and is “highly disappointed.”
It’s been a final season to forget for the 35-year-old Sproles, who also missed most of the 2017 season after suffering a broken arm and torn ACL on the same play in a Week 3 game against the Giants. In a letter to fans announcing his plans to retire, he said he didn’t want to go out like that.
“Coming back from any injury is tough — especially a knee injury for a running back. I wondered if I was going to come back the same, if I would still have my quickness,” he wrote. “That’s the main thing because I don’t want to go out there and start getting smacked. Once I started rehabbing and running again I could tell I was good and ready for one more healthy year.”
A three-time Pro Bowler who has carved out a lengthy NFL career despite standing just 5 feet 6, Sproles has the sixth-most all-purpose yards in NFL history.
The Eagles' running game hasn’t been much of a factor this season with Jay Ajayi (out for the year with a torn ACL), Wendell Smallwood, Corey Clement and more recently Josh Adams all getting a chance to carry the ball. Philadelphia ranks 18th in the NFL in both rushing yards per game (106.6) and rushing DVOA, a measure of efficiency that’s adjusted for situation and opponent. No Eagles running back has had a run longer than 22 yards this season. Last season, LeGarrette Blount (now with the Lions) had five such carries.
There’s also the question of who is going to return punts for the Eagles. Perhaps anticipating Sproles’s return, Philadelphia this week cut DeAndre Carter — who had been handling punt-return duties in Sproles’s absence — and he was picked up by the Texans. That job may now fall to the newly acquired Golden Tate, who has returned 92 punts in an NFL career that began in 2010. Tate has averaged 10.6 yards per return, which ranks eighth in the NFL since 2010 among players who have at least 50 returns and is slightly better than Sproles’s mark of 10.1. However, Tate last fielded more than two punts in a season in 2015.
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