Forgot About Trey?
Birds RB Sermon Faces Uphill Climb Despite Stellar Preseason
While the vast majority of NFL starters and key contributors idly watch from the sideline donning the latest team-issued attire in late August, those who find themselves clawing to the fringes of a 53-man roster are conversely vying to preserve their shelf life.
Each series – every snap, really – constitutes as a snapshot in time in the eyes of evaluators as the regular season dawns.
So when Eagles third-year running back Trey Sermon – in the midst of a hotly-contested backfield competition – fumbled away a 14-yard reception near midfield with just over five minutes to play before the break of Thursday night’s preseason game, it appeared his fate had been sealed.
For many players, a blunder of this magnitude – with the margin for error already minute – might well have did him in.
But Sermon didn’t flinch.
Instead, he almost appeared to harness the fumble as a springboard to igniting a mostly hapless offense in the second half.
Coming out of intermission, rookie quarterback Tanner McKee led a 76-yard scoring march, propelling the Eagles to a 10-8 lead.
But the showstopper was Sermon, who capped the possession with a 33-yard touchdown rumble down the right sideline. He accounted for 49 of the offense’s 76 yards.
As usual with volume runners, the 24-year-old back eventually seemed to find his rhythm, showcasing his growing comfort level within the offense.
“No doubt,” Sermon said after the game. “Every time I touch the ball, I feel like I’m closer and closer to getting in a rhythm. I feel like that’s the biggest thing for a running back.
“Once they get into that flow, they get the feel of the defense and get in that rhythm, it just takes off from there.”
Sermon’s resilience wasn’t lost on head coach Nick Sirianni.
“I was really happy with Trey, the fact that he bounced back,” Sirianni said after the game. “Fumbled the ball on the screen. A guy made a good play on it, but we weren’t quite right enough with our ball security right there and he played the next play. The worst thing you can do is put your head down and sulk in the play that you didn’t make.
“So that was a great lesson for him and great lesson for our team to keep going. Couple really nice runs that he had, so, yeah, that’s good momentum for Trey. Obviously, he’d want to have the fumble back, but good momentum from him to finish out this preseason with.”
With fellow halfbacks D’Andre Swift and Kenny Gainwell assured a spot on the 53-man roster – and established veterans Rashaad Penny and Boston Scott with the decided inside track – Sermon always faced a disadvantage.
But the backfield quandary hasn’t detracted from the optimism surrounding the 2021 third-round pick of San Francisco, who was claimed off waivers by the Eagles prior to last season.
For the better part of the offseason, Sermon has been the apple of the eyes of many, drawing effusive praise from coaches and players despite his uphill climb.
“Just knowing I got coaches and teammates believing in me, it’s very uplifting,” Sermon acknowledged. “It makes me wanna work 10 times harder, because, I mean, I don’t wanna let anybody down. I also set high expectations for myself. So, it’s also just a great feeling, having guys believe in me.”
And, to the team’s credit, no stone has been left unturned throughout Sermon’s long shot bid for a roster spot.
When the Eagles opened preseason play a week ago at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore, it was Sermon who was surprisingly unveiled as the team’s kick returner.
The results were typical of what one would expect from someone new to the role, as Sermon appeared tentative and lacked the requisite juice to turn it loose, averaging a pedestrian 23.7 yards per return.
The experiment didn’t exactly correlate into positive development against the Browns either, with Sermon yielding an 18.7-yard return average.
Still, growing pains notwithstanding, Sermon remained optimistic.
“The more I’ve been getting returns, the more comfortable I’ve been getting with it,” Sermon said. “My first one was a bit shaky, but after that, kinda getting in a rhythm, kinda getting a feel for it more. I’m pretty comfortable with it, but I still have some things to work on.”
Auditioning Sermon in an unfamiliar role would appear to bode well for his roster prospects, or at least better his odds.
The expanded role also validates the effusive praise of Sermon echoed throughout the offseason from coaches, as the actions aligned with unwavering organizational support.
Though he spent his second season largely toiling in relative anonymity on the team’s inactive list – presumably stashed for this extensive summer evaluation – the 6-foot, 215-pound Ohio State product could see the forest through the trees.
He knew his time would come.
But even with the acknowledgement of a legitimate opportunity to grab a roster spot, Sermon refused to deviate from his proven offseason formula.
“I just kinda stuck to the same routine as last offseason,” Sermon explained. “I feel like I have the recipe of what helps me be efficient, getting my body right and stronger, faster, and everything.
“Of course, I just tried to hone in a little bit more because I knew that I’d have more opportunities, starting in camp and preseason. So, that’s just been my main objective; just making sure I’m ready and try to take advantage of it.”
And for the most part, Sermon really has taken advantage of those opportunities, scarce as they’ve been.
The big-bodied bruiser, who leads the Eagles this preseason with 75 rushing yards and a pair of touchdowns on 14 carries, looks noticeably leaner, quicker, and more decisive than at any point in his young career.
He’s also improved as a pass-catcher and demonstrated encouraging development in pass protection. Further enhancing his appeal, the Eagles would conceivably have Sermon for two more years of his rookie contract.
Still, it’ll be hard to find room for him on a crowded roster. And with Gainwell and Swift locked into roles – and presumably Penny as the between-the-tackles and short yardage specialist – it would be hard to justify keeping him.
Sermon, however, refused to let circumstances cloud his vision.
And as the grains of sand passed through the hourglass on what might perhaps spell Sermon’s final days in Philadelphia – similar to his response Thursday night – the running back didn’t flinch.
“Really just finishing where I left off,” Sermon said of what he hopes to achieve the remainder of the preseason. “Just continue to work hard every day and get better and better. As long as I’m getting better, that’s all I can really do.”
– Andrew DiCecco (@AndrewDiCecco) is a Staff Reporter/Content Producer for InsideTheBirds.com.
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