Philadelphia Eagles News

Camp Countdown: Running Back

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In 2007, there were 2,104 reasons to love Brian Westbrook.

His 1,333 rushing yards and 771 receiving yards were good enough to vault him to the top of the NFL in yards from scrimmage, further fueling his growing reputation as the league's No. 1 playmaker.

But there could also be 2,104 alarms blaring.

NFL running backs have notoriously short shelf-lives - burning out is far more common than slowly fading away. Each yard takes its toll playing one of the most grueling positions in athletics, which endures at least 20 knocks a game from players who outweigh the backs by up to 100 pounds.

While Westbrook's load in past seasons – he's entering his seventh - hasn't been nearly that of former MVPs Shaun Alexander and Marshall Faulk, whose stats plummeted as the bruises multiplied in the twilights of their careers, the Eagles don't want to take their chances.

Enter Lorenzo Booker, whom the Eagles acquired from Miami for a fourth-round pick in April's NFL Draft.

Much more a doppelganger than the complementary hit-absorbing big back players like Westbrook traditionally have as a cushion, Booker has a knack for the pass-catching and shiftiness that make Westbrook such a threat, and the second-year back has a fresher set of legs.

Booker saw quite a few reps in the spring workouts, and he's mirroring Westbrook – lining up as a lone setback, tailing a fullback or running routes from the slot. The idea seems to be allowing Westbrook to get a little extra rest while not drastically changing the gameplan for head coach Andy Reid and offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg.

"We're just trying to get more speed on the field. Give the defense a lot of different things they have to cover, a lot of different things they have to worry about," Westbrook said. "Lorenzo brings a big-play capability as well to the field. He's very fast, very shifty, has very good hands. We're just trying to put more playmakers on the field at the same time."

Not only does Booker provide an adequate substitution for Westbrook, he could create a calamity for linebackers. Overthinking on the defensive side of the ball is a possibility, with having to worry about both Westbrook and Booker running patterns into the flats or across the middle. As is often the case with the West Coast offense, deception is the key.

And, speaking of deception, what exactly do the Eagles plan to do with all these backs? Veteran Correll Buckhalter, who continues to defy odds as a productive threat after three season-ending knee injuries, returns. Though devastating, the injuries haven't affected Buckhalter's eyes, as his vision and ability to find holes between the tackles are valuable assets to an effective running game.

Thumper Tony Hunt could see an increased role in his second-year in the system. The third-round pick from 2007 carried the ball only 10 times last season, a disappointing total for a supposedly nice complement to Westbrook. But the West Coast system is traditionally tough to pick up on, as former star Duce Staley garnered just seven carries in his rookie season behind vets Ricky Watters and Charlie Garner. Even Westbrook saw limited playing time his rookie season.

Ryan Moats is back in action after an ankle injury ended his 2007 season during the preseason, and is out to prove that he still belongs in a crowded backfield.

But there's no doubt who the star of the show is, and keeping him on the field is the M.O.

"I'm a fan of carrying the ball, and having the ball in my hands, but I also want the best for this team. I know sometimes it's better to spread the ball, allow them to get the ball into different people's hands so that we can present problems for a defense," Westbrook said. "I love having the ball in my hands. I think I'm a better player when I have the ball in my hands."

JUST A YEAR AGO ...

Westbrook's 2007 numbers need no explanation – they speak for themselves.

But underrated were Buckhalter's 313 yards, including a 103-yard performance in Westbrook's stead against the Giants – his most in a game since 2003.

Hunt might get a pass as a second-year player in the system, but he must show considerable improvement over his 18-yard total.

BATTLE TO WATCH:How many backs are going to make the team, and who are they going to be?

Westbrook and Booker seem like locks, but it might be wide open past that. Pass protection and special teams might be a noteworthy area to watch, as the Eagles like to get the most out of their reserves. The Eagles had three running backs on the opening day roster last season.

Reid has shown he has no qualms about cutting underperformers in the past, and with five backs heading into training camp, there will be no exception in 2008.

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