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Three And Out: The Backfield

Posted Jun 28, 2011

In the second installment of our three-and-out series, we look at the biggest questions facing the running back and fullback positions heading into the 2011 season.

1. What will LeSean McCoy do for an encore?

After a breakout sophomore campaign in which he rushed for 1,080 yards on a 5.2 yards-per-carry clip (second among running backs), McCoy is poised to take the mantle as the next great Eagles running back. Let's also not forget that McCoy's production didn't just come on handoffs and tosses, he also caught 78 passes, the most receptions of any NFL running back in 2010. So where does the versatile soon-to-be 23-year-old, who has already set the franchise record for rushing yards in a player's first two seasons, go from here? That's hard to say.

After his rookie year, the knocks on McCoy were that he needed to improve his pass protection, which he did, and that he might not be able to hold up to the grind of a full season as the primary ball carrier. McCoy answered any toughness questions emphatically by playing in every game, even when he had a broken rib, except for the Week 17 matchup with the Cowboys when most starters rested. So yes, McCoy will continue to hone his abilities in blitz pickup and his overall game awareness, but all in all he looks like a player ready to break out on a national scene - so much so in fact, that the Eagles may need to rein in his touches to keep him fresh. 

2. Who will be McCoy's primary backup?

Jerome Harrison filled in nicely as the No. 2 running back behind McCoy after coming over midway through 2010 (he ran for 6.0 yards a carry on 40 rushes with the Eagles) but he is likely slated to his the free agent market when business resumes this offseason. Harrison could very well return to the Eagles, and Andy Reid has said he was more than pleased with Harrison's performance, but the Eagles certainly can't count on that coming to fruition.

Dion Lewis, McCoy's one-time replacement at the University of Pittsburgh, was drafted by the Eagles in the fifth round of last April's draft and profiles as a dynamic, albeit undersized, option out of the backfield who is surprisingly adept between the tackles. But the Eagles aren't likely to pin their entire hopes on the unproven rookie.

The only other in-house option is Eldra Buckley, who was carved out a solid career for himself the past two seasons as a special teams ace. But as valuable as Buckley is in his niche, he isn't likely to rise to the role of No. 2 tailback. Of course, the Eagles could very well turn to the free agent market themselves in search of the perfect foil to McCoy. After what is likely to be a frenzied period of free agency, McCoy's backup could very well end up being a player who played the 2010 season elsewhere.

3. Who will be the team's fullback?

Last season's fullback picture was the perfect example of the fragile nature of the National Football League. After a breakout Pro Bowl campaign in 2009, Leonard Weaver entered the 2010 as an important part of the Eagles' backfield and a burgeoning fan favorite. But he was lost for the season in Week 1 after suffering a gruesome leg injury against the Green Bay Packers from which he is still on the mend.

Luckily, the Eagles front office identified Owen Schmitt in free agency and brought in the bruiser who is more suited as a punishing blocker than a ball carrier. Schmitt more than did his job in his first season as an Eagle and will return in 2011 with an eye on keeping his job. But there will surely be competition, if not from Weaver, then from 2011 seventh-round pick Stanley Havili. A team captain at Southern Cal, Havili is likely to be more comfortable making plays with the ball in hands than Schmitt, as he totaled 1,799 yards from scrimmage during his collegiate career, notching 15 touchdowns along the way. It may come down to a training camp position battle, and a clash of styles, although we can't rule out the possibility that Reid and Howie Roseman choose to keep two fullbacks.

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