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An Impressive Logjam At RB

Posted Aug 25, 2014

The numbers don't equate. There are six really fine running backs on the current roster. How many can the Eagles keep? Three? Four? More? ...

The numbers don't equate. There are six really fine running backs on the current roster. How many can the Eagles keep? Three? Four? More? Is there a way the team can keep all of them, all of the very talented running backs here, and get them ready if needed?

As the Eagles head into the final preseason game, there is no position more jam-packed with talent and tough decisions than running back. And there is no position more unsettled as the Eagles prepare for the Jets on Thursday night (7 PM, 6abc/NFL Network) and then whittle the roster to 53 players by 4 p.m. on Saturday.

"I don't think about the numbers or any situation," said rookie Henry Josey, who has made the most of his opportunities with 104 yards rushing on 12 carries. "I'm focused on what I'm supposed to do, what my assignments are. I just want to do the best I can when I get the chance to play."

In a remarkable show of depth, the Eagles are loaded at running back. At least, that's the takeaway from three preseason games during which Matthew Tucker has gained 86 yards and scored four touchdowns on 18 carries, and Josey has done his thing and Kenjon Barner ran for 32 yards on 7 carries 48 hours after joining the team and LeSean McCoy and Darren Sproles have been kind of, well, everything we know they are in this league.

The sixth running back in a mix that will eventually be slimmed to three or four or -- could it really get wild enough that the Eagles could squeeze five running backs onto the 53-man roster? -- is Chris Polk, who contributed last year and was primed to have a more substantial role this season until suffering a hamstring injury at the onset of Training Camp. He hopes to play against the Jets after missing the first three preseason games.

Six running backs. A lot of talent. Some tough decisions ahead, with no template to follow.

"Well, we are going to keep the best guys, no matter how many we keep," said offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur. "We can keep three, four, five running backs. We can keep as many as we want really. There are no real rules. The guys have done a nice job. That's a good group and we have seen production out of all those guys.

"You don't necessarily keep a big one, a little one and a medium-sized guy. You try to keep a running back that's going to fit and do the things that we do, whether he's the first the second or the third."

Sounds good, but five running backs? It would be unprecedented in these circles, but we know that head coach Chip Kelly isn't the most conventional fellow and that at the end of the day it's all about keeping the best 53 players.

Thursday is important for all of them. McCoy and Sproles won't play, and the Eagles may try to get a look at the other four.

"I'm just trying to learn and catch up and then go out on the field and do it," said Barner, who has an understanding of the concepts within the offense, having played for Kelly at Oregon, but admits that the language is totally different and the scheme is not nearly as familiar as some think. "It's kind of like learning Spanish. I came in thinking that it would be similiar, but this system is completely different. It's back to square one for me, but the coaches are doing a great job teaching me.

"That first game, it went pretty well, but then we watched the game again and the coaches told me to slow down. In Carolina, the idea was to 'hit it right now.' Here, they want me to slow down on my steps, slow down getting to the hole, things like that to make better reads. The coaches said I did a good job and made some good cuts and to build on what I started last week.

"I just want to keep getting better and give these coaches the understanding that I can play this game."

They can all play the game, which makes for a fascinating down-to-the-wire scenario at running back. The Eagles traded Bryce Brown to Buffalo during draft weekend and then stocked up by adding Josey after the draft and Barner in a trade. They've increased the level of competition in a big way at running back.

What happens? Well, Thursday night is huge. Polk admits he is not 100 percent healthy with the hamstring injury, but he hopes to play against New York. "Nothing is guaranteed for me," he said.

Tucker came back and scored a couple of touchdowns after tweaking a hamstring in Chicago and missing the New England game. Josey has caught up to the speed of the game and has been productive. Barner is making his way around the scheme and also has the ability to play on special teams in all four phases.

This is what the coaches want. They want competition. They want tough decisions. At running back for the Eagles, that's exactly what's happening.

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