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Training Camp Preview: Running Back

Posted Jul 14, 2016

Training Camp Roster: Running Back
Name Age Exp. Signed Through Note
Kenjon Barner 27 3 2016 Dynamic runner/returner reported back for offseason workouts in great shape.
Byron Marshall 22 R 2018 Played both wide receiver and running back in Oregon's up-tempo offense.
Ryan Mathews 28 7 2017 The Eagles' most efficient runner in 2015 looks to take on larger role.
Cedric O'Neal 22 R 2018 The all-time leading rusher at Valdosta State totaled 4,115 rushing yards with the Blazers.
Wendell Smallwood 22 R 2019 Wilmington, DE native named WVU's Offensive Player of the Year in 2015.
Darren Sproles 33 12 2016 One of the most valuable members of the Eagles over the past two seasons.

Is Ryan Mathews Ready To Be The Workhorse?

With DeMarco Murray now a member of the Tennessee Titans, Ryan Mathews is poised to take over as the “number one back” in the Eagles’ offense. Is he ready for the added workload? By almost all accounts, the answer is yes. Mathews hasn’t just been a starter in the past with San Diego; he’s been a highly productive starter when healthy. He was thrown into the flames right away as a rookie in 2010, starting 9 of the 12 games that he suited up for. His strongest seasons came in 2011, a year in which he made the Pro Bowl with 1090 rushing yards, and 2013, when he set a career best with 1,255 rushing yards in the Bolts’ offense. The question with Mathews has always been his health, not his talent, and when healthy he is undoubtedly one of the most explosive aspects of the Eagles’ offense.

Even though Mathews took a backseat to Murray during the early parts of the season, he quickly established himself as the Eagles’ most reliable runner in 2015. In his first season in Philadelphia, Mathews racked up 539 rushing yards on just 106 carries. His 5.1 yards per carry averaged ranked him fourth in the NFL among all qualifying rushers. Not only was the 6-0, 220-pound back tremendous in short-yardage and red zone situations, but he was also another lightning rod in the Eagles’ offense, reeling off a career-long 63-yard touchdown against the Carolina Panthers in late October. His biggest game of the season came in Week 3 against the Jets, when he totaled 128 yards of offense and found the end zone in the Eagles’ first victory of the season.

Though he started just six games for the Eagles in 2015, the numbers and the history show that he’s ready to take on an even bigger role in 2016.

How will Doug Pederson Utilize Darren Sproles?

Anyone familiar with the NFL will tell you that Darren Sproles is one of, if not the most electrifying  player in the game. What he lacks in stature at 5-6, he makes up in game-changing speed and leaving-defenders-in-his-dust wiggle. Sproles has played in Philadelphia for just two seasons, but in that short period of time, he’s endeared himself to the Eagles’ fan base time and time again by providing the big play at the most opportune moments. With four punt return touchdowns in two seasons (more than he had in his previous nine seasons combined) and over 2,000 yards of offense, Sproles has been exactly what the Eagles had hoped for when they acquired him from New Orleans in 2014.

But what comes next? Sproles was moved around at times in Chip Kelly’s offense over the past two years, but with the offense running at such a quick tempo, it appeared challenging for the Eagles to use him in any ultra-creative ways. Now with Doug Pederson and Frank Reich at the reins, Sproles could be seeing much more playing time in 2016. In Kansas City, Pederson used his backs in a multitude of ways. Jamaal Charles, Charcandrick West and Spencer Ware would line up in the backfield, in the slot and even spread out wide. Running backs were a huge part of what the Chiefs achieved on offense, and it’s a safe bet that Pederson and the staff will look to be as creative as possible with Sproles, who represents a nightmare for linebackers, or even some safeties, to track down.

Wendell Smallwood and Kenjon Barner- Under The Radar

Mathews and Sproles will, in all likelihood, get the lion’s share of the carries this upcoming season, but fans would be ill-advised to leave the other names on the depth chart out of their minds.

Wendell Smallwood is the first name on the list, and probably the name that fans are the most excited about. A fifth-round pick out of West Virginia, Smallwood did a little bit of everything in the Mountaineers’ offense. In a matter of just a few weeks in Philadelphia, he was also able to leave a strong early impression on the coaching staff. Coach Pederson highlighted Smallwood’s ability to catch the ball as one of his most eye-opening impressions of the team’s offseason workouts. Expect Smallwood to be in the mix during his rookie season.

Kenjon Barner may be the biggest enigma in the Eagles’ backfield. One of the greatest rushers in the history of the University of Oregon, Barner was acquired in a trade with Carolina before the 2014 season. After being waived-injured at the end of camp, he re-signed with the Eagles’ practice squad in November of that year. During last year’s preseason, Barner put on an incredible display on both offense and special teams, earning a spot on the 53-man roster. Though he wasn’t part of the gameday 46-man roster for most of the season’s first half, he came on nicely down the stretch, including a fine performance against New England when he played 20 percent of the offensive snaps. Barner returned this offseason in the best shape of his playing career, adding a noticeable amount of muscle in his upper body, and he could just be one of the biggest sleepers on the Eagles’ roster.

Of course, there are two other players to keep in mind as well in Byron Marshall and Cedric O’Neal. The two rookies find themselves on the lower end of the totem pole, but it’s impossible to predict what the future could hold for them if they come out firing in Training Camp and the preseason.

With all of this in mind, the running backs group could be among the most fun to watch heading into 2016 camp.

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