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Offseason Preview: Running Back

Posted Jan 12, 2012

On Wednesday, we analyzed what the Eagles quarterbacks did in 2011 and previewed what could be on the horizon for that position group in the offseason. Now, let’s continue with a look at the running back position which was certainly bolstered by the All-Pro performance of LeSean McCoy in 2011 …

2011 Season In Review

With quarterback Michael Vick and the Eagles’ dynamic passing game running the show in 2010, LeSean McCoy and the Eagle backfield was an afterthought for many fans, going into 2011. Although the Eagles’ lead back was coming off a sophomore season in which he rushed for 1,080 yards, added 78 catches for 582 yards and scored nine touchdowns, the thought was that he would serve mainly as a complement to the Eagles’ explosive aerial attack. In the end, the opposite proved to be the case.

McCoy began the 2011 season in fittingly explosive fashion, rushing for 122 yards and scoring two touchdowns in a season-opening 31-13 win over the Rams. Over the next seven contests, he racked up 100 or more total yards in each game except for one. During that stretch, he scored a touchdown in every single game. In fact, there were only two games started by McCoy all season in which he did not score a touchdown, which is not surprising since he crossed the goal line 20 times in his 15 starts.

The former Pitt Panther finished the season with 1,309 rushing yards, 315 receiving yards, a league-leading 20 total touchdowns, and his first trip to his first Pro Bowl.

Of course, McCoy was not the only man who lined up behind the quarterback for the Eagles this season. We mustn’t forget fullback Owen Schmitt, who led the way as a blocker for McCoy in his All-Pro season. Schmitt also contributed mightily on special teams and was the third non-specialist on the team in terms of special teams production points, behind Colt Anderson and Akeem Jordan, respectively.

With McCoy turning into one of the league’s top backs in 2011, his fellow rushers understandably did not see many touches. In the offseason, the Eagles signed Pro Bowl running back, and former No. 2 overall pick, Ronnie Brown to serve as a change-of-pace back. The season prior, the 230-pound back had added 734 yards rushing and five touchdowns as a starter for the Miami Dolphins. With the way the Eagles’ lead back ran the ball, a change of pace proved to be unnecessary last season. Brown carried the ball just 42 times, contributing 136 yards and a touchdown.

Rookie Dion Lewis, who coincidentally took over as Pittsburgh’s primary rusher when McCoy left for the NFL in 2009, served as the team’s third running back. The 5-7 speedster was also the Eagles’ primary kick returner, totaling 669 yards on the year. He, along with Ronnie Brown, picked up whatever scraps were left by McCoy. On the year, Lewis rushed 23 times for 102 yards. Fifty-eight of those yards, and his first-career touchdown, came in the team’s regular-season finale against the Redskins, which McCoy missed with an ankle injury.

Impressive Stat

LeSean McCoy’s 20 total touchdowns (17 rushing, three receiving) were the most ever by an Eagle. The third-year back broke the previous record of 18 total touchdowns (15 rushing, two receiving, one kick return) set by tailback Steve Van Buren just three months after the end of World War II in 1945.

End of Season Depth Chart

RB: 1. LeSean McCoy, 2. Ronnie Brown(UFA), 3. Dion Lewis

FB: Owen Schmitt (UFA)

To Be Answered

The biggest question going into 2012 will be how LeSean McCoy will grow as a back in his fourth season. Already in the conversation for top rusher in the league, McCoy is just 23 years old and may just be scratching the surface of his NFL potential. So long as he does not take a major step backwards, McCoy should, again, prove to be the primary weapon on a talented Eagles offense.

With Ronnie Brown set to hit free agency, what the Eagles decide to do in free agency and the draft will give fans an indication of whether or not they believe Dion Lewis is ready to become McCoy’s primary backup. Whether they re-sign Brown, or not, the Eagles will need to bring in a third running back; the question is whether that back will serve as a complement to McCoy or will serve as the reserve third man behind the Eagles’ two former-Pitt rushers.

At fullback, the Eagles will have to determine whether or not they want to re-sign Owen Schmitt, who has served as the team’s fullback for the better part of the last two seasons. Another option is 2011 draft pick Stanley Havili, who spent all of last year on the practice squad. The USC-alum is a weapon in the running and passing games, but does not have the lead blocking experience of Owen Schmitt. In his four years as a Trojan, Havili caught 116 passes for 1,290 yards and scored 12 touchdowns. The Eagles could, of course, bring in another fullback through the draft or through free agency.

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