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A Check On Depth At RB Position

Posted May 15, 2014

LeSean McCoy turns 26 years old in July, and he’s just 1,066 yards away from running to the top of the Eagles’ franchise list for most career rushing yards. He’s the headliner for a running back group that has a lot of everything for 2014 …

LeSean McCoy turns 26 years old in July, and he’s just 1,066 yards away from running to the top of the Eagles’ franchise list for most career rushing yards. He’s the headliner for a running back group that has a lot of everything for 2014.

In the wake of the draft weekend trade that sent Bryce Brown to Buffalo for a future draft pick (could be a fourth-rounder in 2015 or 2016 or a third-rounder in 2016), the question is asked, and it’s worth asking: Are the Eagles equipped with enough depth at the position without Brown, who in two seasons here teased with his substantial talent but in the end was dealt to fetch back some considerable value in a future draft?

We’re all keeping our fingers crossed that McCoy continues a long stretch of his prime playing days. He’s coming off the best season in Eagles history, and his 1,607 rushing yards and 2,146 yards from scrimmage led the NFL in 2013. He’s on pace to take down Steve Van Buren, Brian Westbrook and Wilbert Montgomery to become the team’s all-time leading rusher at the age of 26 in 2014.

Remarkable stuff.

In an age of multiple options in NFL backfields, it’s worth asking the depth question about the Eagles’ running back situation. Head coach Chip Kelly has no concerns, and he expressed his confidence in the backfield picture during draft weekend.

“You obviously have the best back in the league in LeSean, and you add Darren Sproles … Really excited about Chris Polk and how he's come along. Chris is an outstanding special teams player for us,” said Kelly on Saturday. “But you go back to the Detroit game and the long run (38-yard touchdown run) he hit for us in that game. I really think Chris is 100 percent healthy, and is vying for time there. We really like (Matthew) Tucker. I think he's another guy as we continue to develop was on the practice squad. He's probably in the best shape of any of the backs right now and is really pushing for it.”

The Eagles then added running backs David Fluellen and Henry Josey after the draft for more competition, and this is what they have heading into the weekend’s Rookie Camp.

McCoy is the major piece for the Eagles offense and the running game clearly revolves around his tremendous talents, but Kelly knows the Eagles have to be prepared for every scenario and come to the table with as much depth as possible. Sproles figures to be a weapon used in both the running game and the passing game, but he’s been used sparingly as a running back – not since a playoff game in January, 2012 has Sproles had more than 10 carries in a single game and only nine times in his career he has carried the ball more than 10 times in a single game.

If the Eagles needed someone other than McCoy to be the featured back for a sustained period of time, the likely candidate at this point might be Polk, the third-year player who gained 98 yards and 3 touchdowns on 11 carries in 2013. He’s healthy and he’s eager for any opportunity that comes his way.

“I was surprised that Bryce was traded but I’m happy for him. I know he’s going to make an impact in Buffalo and put his best foot forward. I understand the business, and I know that we have a great group of running backs and I have to play much better football than I did last year,” said Polk on Thursday. “There is nothing guaranteed. We have a great stable of backs here. I want to be successful and get better and better.

“Last year, at the moment, it was a boost of confidence to make some plays. But you look back on film and I think I was terrible. I need to improve in every phase of my game – my anticipation, my recognition, all of that. I’m my toughest critic. I want to be way better than last year. That’s my goal every day here. Even though I had some yards when I had the chance, I feel I left a lot of yards on the field.”

Then there’s Tucker, signed after the draft in 2013. He had a fine career at TCU, signed with the Eagles and then worked his way from the practice squad to the active roster by the end of the season. At 6-foot-1 and 227 pounds, he’s a big running back with some explosiveness. What is the next step in his development?

The Eagles feel they are stacked deeply enough that they traded away the promising talent that is Bryce Brown. They’ve been able to acquire pieces in the last couple of years to fit around the marquee talent of McCoy, to allow moves like the one on Saturday.

Let’s be honest, though: McCoy is the featured attraction, still in the early years of a prime that is special to witness. The Eagles feel they have a lot on hand to support the running game, which is a great situation to be in with this offense.

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