This is the sixth in a series. Click here for the earlier posts on the defensive positions.
Chip Kelly’s Oregon team averaged more than 52 rushing attempts per game in 2012, sixth-most in the nation.
Part of that was because they ran so many plays overall. Part of that was because they often held big leads. And part of that was, well, because it’s what Kelly liked to do.
Going into the 2013 offseason, the one area where the Eagles did not need much of a makeover was at running back. LeSean McCoy didn’t match his 2011 performance, but at 24, is still a key component of the team’s future. Seventh-round pick Bryce Brown had fumbling issues, but still captured the imagination of fans with back-to-back 178- and 169-yard performances in Weeks 11 and 12.
The Eagles dealt Dion Lewis to the Browns in the offseason and signed veteran Felix Jones. They also added TCU’s Matthew Tucker as an undrafted free agent and still have second-year player Chris Polk.
Here’s a look at all the running backs:
Bryce Brown 6-0 223 22 1/4
Felix Jones 5-10 215 26 5/23
LeSean McCoy 5-11 208 24 4/44
Chris Polk 5-11 222 23 1/0
Matthew Tucker 6-1 227 21 0/0
Pencil ’em in: McCoy, Brown.
McCoy has had a couple off-the-field transgressions this offseason, but on the field, he should be as excited as anyone about the hiring of Kelly.
“There’s definitely a difference,” McCoy said, when I asked him to compare the new scheme to the old one. “Just being in shotgun all the time, for one.
“And two, being able to run the ball a lot more. I mean, look at his track record. A lot of his backs touched the ball quite a bit, so that’s the other different point that you’ve got to look at. And just the ability to get the guys in the open field. Our defensive guys can get so mixed up from trying to follow their keys, and there’s so much misdirection, going here, going there, the bootlegs, going deep, then running it. There’s so much you have to look at where sometimes a big hole might just happen from guys being out of place. The backs we have here, you don’t even need that much room to get going.”
McCoy’s numbers were down across the board last year (4.2 YPC, two rushing touchdowns), but he was playing behind a depleted offensive line that offered very little help. According to Football Outsiders, he broke at least one tackle on 44 plays, a league-high. McCoy should have the opportunity for plenty of big plays in Kelly’s offense.
And Brown too. The second-year back averaged 4.9 yards per carry as a rookie, totaling 564 yards on the ground. Brown’s issue was holding onto the football. He fumbled four times, or once every 28.75 attempts, way too high of a rate. If he can get that problem fixed, he should see plenty of touches in 2013.
Fighting for spots: Polk, Jones, Tucker.
The Eagles will likely keep one or two players from this group.
Polk was active for seven games, but did not play an offensive snap and was a non-factor on special teams. For what it’s worth, in college, he didn’t have much success against Oregon, running for 280 yards on 73 attempts (3.8 YPC) in four games.
Jones has a skill set that appeals to Kelly and is only 26, but when a free agent who’s not asking for a lot of money can’t find a team until May, there’s usually a reason. Jones will have to show he’s healthy and can be productive to stick.
Tucker was a rotational player in college and will have to beat out one (or both) of the players listed above.