Eagles Wake Up Call: RB Training Camp Preview
Leading up to training camp on August 2, we’ll have a position-by-position preview of the Eagles’ roster. Let’s start with the running backs.
The pressing question: Can DeMarco Murray do it again?
The reigning rushing champ racked up 1,845 yards on the ground and outgained his closest competitor (Le’Veon Bell) by nearly 500 yards in 2014, yet has curiously faced a degree of criticism from some members of the running back fraternity for not doing more.
Former teammate Joseph Randle kickstarted the narrative by saying he felt like “there was a lot of meat left on the bone” last season. Emmitt Smith followed that up by suggesting Murray could have run for 2,500 yards behind that Cowboys’ offensive line. LaDainian Tomlinson agrees.
“As a guy that watches a lot of film, Emmitt is correct,” he told DFW.com. “There was a lot of times, and DeMarco is a very physical runner and instead of making that last guy miss and taking it for 50 or 60, he would try and run him over. That’s just his style and he would end up getting tackled for 20 instead of 50. So Emmitt is right in that sense, but at the same time, one thing that I do respect about DeMarco is he knows his strengths. He is not a juke guy, he’s a downhill, physical runner.”
That’s exactly the type of runner that Chip Kelly prefers, and will surely take what Murray offered Dallas a year ago. Realistically, though, it will be difficult for Murray to put up the same gaudy numbers. While the Cowboys’ offensive line is probably getting a bit too much hype and more credit than it deserves for last year’s ground-game success, it is a grade above the Eagles’ front (at least on paper). And Murray likely won’t come close to the 392-carry mark, as Kelly will want to lessen the load by getting Ryan Mathews and Darren Sproles involved. Plus, last year was the first time he appeared in all 16 games in his career. Can he do it again?
The number Kelly might be more interested in is 4.7 — that was Murray’s yards-per carry last season, which was actually a tenth of a point less than his career average.
Three of the spots will be occupied by Murray, Mathews and Sproles barring injury. In each of the last two seasons, Kelly has opted to carry three backs and four tight ends onto his initial 53-man roster. There’s a chance he goes four backs and three tight ends this time around given the respective depth at both positions.
Kenjon Barner could find his way onto the team if Kelly does in fact go that route. Matthew Tucker and speedy rookie Raheem Mostert are the other options currently.
One thing I think
The Mathews signing was overshadowed by the Murray addition for obvious reasons, but he could end up being a key component in this offense. Watching him this spring, the natural ability is clear. Health has been the big thing with him. Mathews missed 10 games last year and has played all 16 games just once in his career.
Kelly is hopeful that the team’s sports science and conditioning program will be a benefit to guys like Mathews who have been hampered by injuries during their time in the NFL.
His teammates are looking out for his well-being also. According to trainer Todd Durkin, Sproles took Mathews under his wing when the group was together out in San Diego. “Immediately, he said, ‘Ryan, you’re with me. Let’s go,'” said Durkin. “He’s showing him the work ethic that it takes to be at that next level. Not being good, not being mediocre, but being great.”
Like several of Kelly’s offseason acquisitions, there is some risk involved with Mathews. But the upside is there.
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WHAT THEY’RE SAYING
Reuben Frank of CSN Philly is worried that Murray may be a bit fatigued after his brutal workload last season:
NFL teams seem to be realizing how risky it is to the long-term health of running backs to give them that many touches. Most offenses are pass-oriented now, and the teams that do run the ball a lot use multiple backs.
Where does Murray fit in?
The odds say he’ll drop off this year, but there have been notable exceptions, and the presence of Ryan Mathews will certainly take some pressure off him.
But history says Murray is in dangerous territory.
But Andrew Kulp of The 700 Level thinks the Eagles running backs will be better than they were a year ago:
As of now, Murray and Mathews are healthy and presumably still in their primes. It’s really wouldn’t be fair to assume otherwise before the fact. With that in mind, it’s pretty clear that combination has more upside than last year with McCoy and… Chris Polk. With Sproles still playing at a high level, and perhaps more dangerous than ever provided he sees more work in the passing game, and the situation in the backfield was clearly upgraded this offseason.
We’ve nearly reached single digits. Ten days until training camp.