At the beginning of the year, Chip Kelly was feeling so good about his stable of running backs that he said he would put his group up against any in the National Football League. There was talk of creating a nickname for the trio of LeSean McCoy, Bryce Brown and Chris Polk. “Earth, Wind and Fire” was the apparent leader in the clubhouse.
It’s turned into more of a solo show. McCoy is the league’s leading rusher with 1,009 yards through 11 games. He is also second in carries (behind Adrian Peterson) with 213, and is on pace to comfortably set a personal high in that department.
Meanwhile, Brown has failed to get off the ground. He has carried the ball 53 times for 165 yards (3.1 avg.) and has just one run of 10-plus yards on the season — a 32-yarder against Oakland. After back-to-back scintillating performances last season against Carolina and Dallas, when he posted 347 yards and four touchdowns, expectations shot up for the seventh-round pick. This season, though, the images most closely associated with Brown are of him fruitlessly bouncing it to the outside or slipping to the turf before he hits the hole.
"I think the difference between this year and last year is that [McCoy] is healthy so a lot of times where Bryce ran for 170 in one game, well, because LeSean didn't play in that game. When you've got health, then the guys that are the number two are not going to get as many reps," said Kelly.
"But I think he's had some big plays for us when we've called upon him. I think when he has a limited amount of carries like he has, when he does slip, I think it's over-amplified. If he had 20 carries in a game and slipped on one, you don't really talk about the slip. When he has three carries in the game, and slips on one, you kind of think about the slip. I think it's more his numbers are not what they were a year ago but I think it's because we are healthy at the other spots."
When asked about those slips, Brown said he doesn't consider it an issue and no changes [different cleats, etc.] were made.
To Kelly's point, the second-year back is averaging under five carries per game. There isn't much of a sample size this season and Brown has had little time to get warm.
"I think any running back will tell you, when you have more opportunites, when you can feel a game out, get in the flow of things, you can do more," said Brown. "I really haven't had an opportunity to do that. But that's all right. We won our last three games, and we're just looking to win our next five."
On one hand, if McCoy is rolling, who cares how his backups are doing? On the other hand, the mileage is piling up for No. 25 this season, and it would only benefit the Eagles if they could get more production out of the reserves in the name of keeping McCoy fresh.
In that respect, how is Brown viewing the final five games?
"Same as I do every game -- try to take advantage of the opportunities when I get in, and just leave it at that," said Brown. "Keep it as simple as I can. I don't really get caught up in how many carries he has. When my number is called, just expect to be ready."
Henery on job security
Alex Henery is fully aware that he is not having his best season, but hasn't allowed himself to think about the possibility that his job might be in danger.
"Once that creeps into your mind, you're on a downward hill," he said. "You don't want that creeping into your mind. If [getting cut] happens, it happens. It's one of those things: do your job, if they replace you they replace you, if they don't just keep your confidence and keep going."
The coaching staff has stuck by Henery despite his shaky 2013 campaign. He says he talks to Kelly as much as any other player on the roster, and has received nothing but encouragement.
"It helps, just from a mental standpoint, to know they are on your side, pushing for you to get better, and that they're not going to just abandon you if you have a bad game or whatever," he said.
The most accurate kicker in NCAA history has converted 17 of his 22 field goal attempts this season (77 percent). He is 5-of-9 on attempts from 40-plus yards. One issue, as identified and corrected by special teams coach Dave Fipp, was that Henery was a beat too quick on his approach, which threw off the timing. Henery mentioned things like not keeping his head down or "falling off to the side" as other reasons for why a few of his kicks have gone astray.
"It hasn't been my...I've been better the last two years, but I feel like I'm hitting my stride," he said. "I feel like I'm hitting a good ball. What's in the past is in the past. You can't really take any of those back so now it's just, be 100 percent these final five games and wherever the playoffs take us."
It might not be the sexiest or most talked-about story line, but the Eagles are going to need an accurate Henery down the stretch in what promises to be a competitive final five games.
There was a pretty funny moment earlier this week when Mychal Kendricks was asked what he remembers about Todd Bowles from last season.
"Todd Bowles...last season," said Kendricks, drawing a blank. "You've got to remind me."
Your defensive coordinator at the end of last year.
"Oh my gosh," said Kendricks, putting his hand on his head. "That's my dude. That's my guy."
See what happens when you have three defensive coordinators over two seasons? His memory was quickly jogged.
"He's an aggressive guy. I mean as far as the pressures, they didn't fall off when we made the change [from Juan Castillo]. If anything, they picked up. He's a good coach. Good guy, good person. And if he sees this [looks into camera], hello, what's up?"