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 line, quarterbacks 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.
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 YOU MISSED
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.
WHAT THEY’RE SAYING
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.