Eagles Wake-Up Call: RB Training Camp Preview

Photo by: Jeff Fusco.

Leading up to training camp on July 25, we’ll have a position-by-position preview of the Eagles’ roster. We have already covered the defensive linequarterbacks and outside linebackers. Now it’s on to the running backs.

The pressing question: Will Chip Kelly lighten LeSean McCoy’s workload?

On his way to setting the franchise record for rushing yards, McCoy led the NFL in carries (314) and touches (366). Only Chicago's Matt Forte played more snaps. The Eagles added Darren Sproles in the offseason. Does that mean they want to give McCoy more of a breather in 2014?

The answer, as I see it, is no. McCoy often mentions how his running style lends itself to fewer big hits, and the numbers suggest there could be something to that. In the Eagles' final four regular season games, he piled up 519 yards and averaged 6.3 YPC. In the fourth quarters of games, he led the NFL with 441 yards and averaged 6.0 YPC, according to STATS, Inc. In other words, there were no signs that his production took a hit because of the heavy workload.

McCoy is only 26 years old and the focal point of the Eagles' offense. Matching last year's number of touches would be no surprise. Assuming health, he's as close to a lock as there is to finish as one of the top three rushers in the NFL.

Roster battles

McCoy and Sproles are obvious. Chris Polk in all likelihood will claim a spot too.

That leaves at most one more running back space on the 53-man roster. Matthew Tucker, Henry Josey and David Fluellen will battle it out in training camp and the preseason. Tucker, an undrafted free agent last year, earned praise from Kelly earlier this offseason. Josey has a great story and was a productive player last year in college. Fluellen is another undrafted free agent who could be in the mix.

Given that Sproles is 31, the Eagles might be more likely to keep four RBs on the active roster this year. But whichever guy earns the final spot will have to prove himself on special teams.

One thing I think

The degree to which the organization has wanted to emphasize that Sproles is a running back and not a wide receiver has been strange. I don't know if all the receiver talk bothered Sproles or annoyed Kelly, but the team's brass bristled at the notion that he would help only in the passing game.

All we have to go off is the evidence. Sproles averaged 3.5 rushing attempts per game last season and 3.7 the previous year. Meanwhile, he caught 146 balls during that span. Given how Kelly utilizes his running backs in the passing game, the smart guess is still that's where he'll be the biggest factor.

But maybe the coaching staff has a trick or two up its sleeve and really believes Sproles can be an effective ball-carrier at this stage of his career.


What pisses Chip Kelly off? McCoy offers his answer.

I subbed in for T-Mac this week to answer your mailbag questions, including what happens if Nick Foles struggles.

Our latest training camp preview focused on Marcus Smith and the outside linebackers.


CSNPhilly.com's Geoff Mosher thinks Matt Tobin may have an impact this year:

It’s extremely unlikely the five starters (Barbre for Johnson Weeks 1-4) will make it through all four games without an injury, so don’t be surprised if Tobin gets some early playing time. Tobin’s linemates speak very highly of him. He plays with good leverage and technique. He just needed to add some weight and strength in the offseason, which he did. He came to OTAs looking more stout and more like an NFL lineman than a college prospect.

Tommy Lawlor of IgglesBlitz.com takes an in-depth look at the defensive coaching staff around Bill Davis:

So Bill Davis has a staff full of veteran teachers. He also has smart, creative defensive coaches to help him scheme and make adjustments. This group knows how to come up with a good gameplan and then get the players to execute it.

Beyond that, there is good chemistry on the staff. Azzinaro worked with McGovern at UMass many years ago. Azzinaro worked with Minter at Marshall not too long ago. Lovett is an outsider, but has a background very similar to Azzinaro in that he’s from New York, played football at a small college, and then began coaching at small northeastern schools.  These coaches get along. They work well together. Eagles fans only need to look back to 2012 to see that a dysfunctional coaching staff can kill a team. 


Is training camp eve a thing? If so, we're one week away from training camp eve.

Josh Paunil contributed to this article.

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  • myeaglescantwin

    Definitely looking forward to a run heavy offense.
    there’s something that hits on a man’s pride when the other team decides they are going to bully you up and down the field.

    Running games are based off of attitude. the SeaHawks and 49ers will tell you that.
    Chips attitude, “we are philly, we fight.”
    What better way to prove that point than to punch a team in the mouth early and often with a strong rotation.
    Then when that team is tired from chasing the read option and trying to handle Sproles, and their arms are beat from holding onto the 230lb Polk, , we load up and crush some skulls with McCoy in the 4th. .

    i’m really hoping for 55-45 R-v-P ratio this season.
    Just smashing suckas to a 2nd straight NFC East Title.

    seeyall at Franklin Field.
    (section EH)

  • Dominik

    One thing I think: LaMichael James will be cut by the 49ers. They just can’t use him. Was a bad scheme fit to begin with.

    If he’s on the street (or if Howie thinks there will be competition for him, even through the waivers – he could send a 7th rounder) I think there is a real possibility we’ll pick him up. Scheme fit, reunion with Kelly (LMJ was one hell of a College RB in Oregon). Size isn’t a factor at this position, otherwise we would have never traded or signed Sproles.

    And it makes sense. Maybe Tucker improved, but he was an UDFA – with all due respect, what is his ceiling? Josey is a great, great story – but he maybe needs one year at the PS, anyway.

    With LMJ in the mix, I would feel much more comfortable if Shady goes down with an injury. Not that LMJ can replace him – no one can, at least no back-up in this league. But we could rotate our RBs and still have a decent running game. Sproles maybe still is a RB, but not a RB that can carry the workload of a run heavy offense. He will get carries, but not all game long. Polk showed flashes, but I wouldn’t want to give all the other carries to him. With Polk, Sproles and LMJ, we’d have a really nice mix. And it wouldn’t cost us anything significant if he gets cut.

    • JofreyRice

      Solid insight. Yeah, I would hope they gave LMJ a look if he gets cut. I’m sure he’d look forward to a reunion with Chip. As a second-round pick, I’m sure he wants a chance to prove h’s not a bust. A nice split-the-difference guy between pure running back and waterbug type receiver from the backfield. Could play a backup role for the duties of Shady or Sproles.

      • anon

        i’m sure SF would have taken the 5th for him, but we went with sproles. tells me a little about what they think.

        • JofreyRice

          See the thing with Sproles is that it seems like they think he’s the guy he was a year or two ago. If you operate from that mindset, a 5th rounder seems like a good deal, even if you only get 2 years out of him. James has never been that kind of headache at the NFL level.

    • https://www.skinnypost.com/ GayleSaunders

      Right now they’re reporting LMJ roster spot looks “secure.” Sounds like the 49ers are happy with his ability on return duties. But the idea of having him if he was released would be super nice. LMJ was trying to force his hand to get traded but teams are probably just waiting it out. Right now they have Frank Gore, Bruce Miller, Kendall Hunter, Carlos Hyde, Marcus Lattimore and then lil ol Lamichael James bringing up the rear. Can you say “crowded backfield”?

      • Dominik

        Right now they have Frank Gore, Bruce Miller, Kendall Hunter, Carlos Hyde, Marcus Lattimore and then lil ol Lamichael James bringing up the rear. Can you say “crowded backfield”?

        I wouldn’t count Miller, since he’s a clear FB. If you play a power run scheme, you need FBs. He’s no real competition for LMJ since he probably will be on the roster anyway (he and/or former Ducks player Tukuafu).

        Otherwise I agree with you, obviously.

  • Rick H

    I keep waiting for LaMichael James to be cut or traded but I do not think it will happen. Gamble knows The 49ers front office. I believe if they were going to trade/waive/cut James it would have happened by now. Just my sense of things regarding James.

    • Dominik

      There are no roster cuts at the moment. There will be, though, automatically. Of course, LMJ can have a great camp and beat his competition out, but if not, he will be traded or cut. Gore and Hyde are locks to make the team. Then there’s Hunter, who was their #2 last year. And there’s Lattimore, who should be back at full strenght after redshirting his rookie season due to injury – but he would have been a 2nd rounder if not injured, at least that was the concencus, if I remember correctly.

      He would have to beat out Hampton (don’t know anything about him, could be a camp body, was an UDFA) and Lattimore, I guess. That is, if they even keep 4 RBs, but I think they will, since they are a very run heavy team. It’s possible, but far away from a given.

      • JofreyRice

        yep. really comes down to Lattimore. Seems like a really nice kid–I’m pulling for him–but those were some gruesome injuries.

  • Kev_H

    I think the emphasis on Sproles as RB is because that’s what he is and it’s how they plan to use him, not as a specialist. McCoy can do it all, so there is no reason for a situational sub. One of the things that is clear about what they do is that they try to avoid having personnel give hints to what they’re going to do.

    I just see Sproles coming in and playing RB at times and he’ll probably run more relative to his pass catching compared to last year with NO.

  • JofreyRice

    Last season was the first time Pro Football Focus graded preseason games, and Tobin graded out pretty well with them. With 181 snaps played throughout the 4 games, he had the largest sample size of any of the offensive lineman, and turned in a +2.6 rating, which was comprised of a +3.8 run block, and a -0.9 pass block and -0.1 penalty. Pretty damn good for a guy that looked like a stringbean in camp. That was better than Lane Johnson (+1.2 overall). Only Barbre and Kelce graded out higher–which you’d expect from vets.

    It looks like they’ve got him down for giving up a sack and six hurries in those games. As we saw with Johnson, it seems adjusting to passively blocking NFL caliber rushers is the biggest leap. I can’t say I remember who Tobin was going up against, or that he stood out to me specifically–most likely he was facing 2nd or 3rd stringers–but I trust PFF a good deal. I’m definitely excited to see if Tobin can build on his performance. Plucking a 6’6 315 pound 24 year old tackle that can actually play from undrafted free agency would be a real coup for Chip & Howie,

  • https://www.skinnypost.com/ GayleSaunders

    Sproles position is most likely Chip Kelly’s “Taser” position. Which guys like Lamichael James, and DeAnthony Thomas all excelled in Kelly’s Duck offense. A Hybrid mix of RB/TE/Slot WR. While Kelly might not define it now…you bet Sproles will be the wild card in the Eagles offense. Ohhhhh I can’t wait to see how they line up Sproles and move him all over the place. He will expose those LBs in space. Alex I’ll take “Move the chains” for 1000 please.

  • OregonDucksFan

    — “Does that mean they want to give McCoy more of a breather in 2014?
    The answer, as I see it, is no.”

    Sheil, back in March I heard Gil Brandt talking about Chip Kelly on SiriusXM NFL Radio. Brandt spoke to Chip at one of the pro days they attended and he congratulated Chip on the Sproles
    trade. Chip told Brandt that it would help a lot because McCoy was getting
    “run down” at the end of last season.

    • Dominik

      I don’t want to comment about what Chip said or didn’t say, but if you look at the stats, Shady wasn’t getting “run down” at the end of last season.

      Career day against the Lions in Week 14 – 217 Yards, 7.5 YPC. 133 Yards against the Bears Week 16 (7.3 YPC), 131 Yards against the Cowboys in Week 17 (4.9 YPC).

      Didn’t look good against the Saints or the Vikings in Week 15 (altough he had 68 Rec. Yards in this game). But he’s a human being, you can’t rush for 130 Yards on every sunday. And against the Vikings, nothing went right for the whole team.

  • Sconces

    Sproles has yet to play in a zone blocking scheme. This offense fits his running style loads better than in New Orleans. In 2011 he was a pretty damn good ball carrier anyway. I’d like to think he can average 5+ YPC in Philly.

  • dnabrice

    That coaching staff really was dysfunctional. They had great stories individually, but flopped hard.