With training camp bearing down on us, it is time to dig in and get serious about some of the issues facing the Eagles. So I'll pose a series of questions about the Eagles that training camp will help answer. First up: Are the Eagles good enough at running back given the injury status of Brian Westbrook and the lack of NFL experience behind him?
This is one the Eagles know they have a real chance to answer in camp, and certainly throughout the preseason games. Westbrook continues his recovery from ankle surgery, and even from an earlier procedure on his knee. Can he overcome two surgeries in the off-season and be right for September 13 and the opener in Carolina? And can he be healthy for an entire season as the workhorse back in this offense?
Nobody questions Westbrook's ability, his desire or his incredible heart. When he is good to go, Westbrook is as effective as any back in the NFL. Even hobbled last season, he managed 14 touchdowns, plus another in the playoff victory in Minnesota. Westbrook is the perfect fit in this offense. He does it all with great precision and he has every tool imaginable.
But he's got some mileage on him, and NFL history says that backs who have been hurt as much as Westbrook has been hurt, and backs who have had the carries that he has had, and those who have taken the hits that he has absorbed, are going to start breaking down right about now in their careers.
The Eagles truly think Westbrook will be a premier player this season. But they also know they have to be ready if he can't play at a high level for an entire season, so they took the not-so-safe route in the off-season, allowing veteran Correll Buckhalter to leave in free agency and using a second-round draft pick on LeSean McCoy to provide depth at the position.
It would have been an easy decision to retain Buckhalter. His contract in Denver was nice, but certainly manageable had the Eagles wanted to keep him. He knew the offense, he was productive here and Buckhalter probably would have stayed here had the Eagles attempted to keep him.
Instead, the Eagles wanted to be younger and more explosive, so they took McCoy in the second round and haven't looked back. McCoy impressed in the spring drills as the Westbrook injuries allowed McCoy to enjoy a heavy dose of the offense. He is a superb talent, but he is ready to help this offense right away?
Another month of big-time active duty in training camp and in the preseason games will help the coaching staff determine McCoy's progress. He is a bright, attentive student of the game. His skills are obvious to all, and he is likely to be the first-team running back by the time the preseason games roll around, if not right away in camp. The Eagles want to find out everything they can about McCoy.
Along with McCoy, Lorenzo Booker will see a lot of work in camp. In his second season with the Eagles, Booker aims to convince the coaching staff that he is worthy of more playing time than the meager opportunity he had last year. Booker was a disappointment after a good spring. He tailed off once the preseason got into high gear, and was virtually invisible during the regular season.
Booker's skill set is similar to that of Westbrook and McCoy, so you wonder if the Eagles want to have three backs with such sameness. Do they want to have three halfbacks on the smaller side, or do they want a chance-of-pace back like Kyle Eckel, who played well in spot duty last year, or Eldra Buckley, who was on San Diego's practice squad the last two years? Or is fullback Leonard Weaver the third halfback in waiting, at least on some short-yardage situations?
It will all play out in camp. We don't know when Westbrook will be cleared to practice. Andy Reid is going to update that story on Sunday in his state-of-the-team address from Lehigh (watch it live on PhiladelphiaEagles.com). Until Westbrook is back, all eyes are on McCoy and Booker. They must prove they can do the job right now.
With a handful of "name" backs on the free-agent market, the Eagles could decide to add a veteran at any time. That possibility heightens the short learning curve for McCoy and the prove-it time for Booker. They need to produce every day in camp. Otherwise, the Eagles just might go out and add a back to provide depth.
Westbrook, of course, is the huge key. Are the Eagles OK at running back? Sure they are, if Westbrook is healthy and if McCoy builds on his fine spring and if Booker/Eckel/Buckley emerges.
It is one of the most major questions of the summer, and it is one that training camp will go a long way toward answering.