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Keep An Eye On Sproles

As the Eagles' defense prepares for the San Diego offense, a lot of emphasis has been placed on the Chargers' big wide receivers - and rightfully so. Vincent Jackson and Malcom Floyd, the two starting wideouts, both measure in a 6-foot-5, and they're helped by the 6-foot-4 tight end Antonio Gates.

But the Eagles will have to make sure they don't keep their eyes up high, because the most dangerous player on the Chargers' offense will be the smallest player on the field.

At 5-foot-6, running back Darren Sproles is the league leader in all purpose yards with 1397. In addition to his role as LaDainian Tomlinson's backup, Sproles is third on the team in receptions and receiving yards, and he is the primary returner of both punts and kickoffs.

"You need to (gameplan for him)," said Eagles special teams coach Ted Daisher of Sprole. "I have a lot of respect for him. I think he is an excellent returner, very elusive, very quick. He's a big play waiting to happen.

"He has done a great job for them. We're going to have to be really disciplined and be in our lanes to control him."

Kicker David Akers says it will important to keep Sproles guessing on kickoffs.

"Sometimes, you kick (Sproles) deep," Akers said. "Sometimes you change it up on them to keep them on their toes, so obviously the kickoff coverage is going to be an important part of this game. Sproles is an all-pro type player, and he's a game changer. So we definitely have to do our best to corral him."

The diminutive running back came into the league in 2005 as a fourth-round draft pick, and was thought to be nothing more than a return man. But he proved he was capable of carrying the load last season in place of the injured Tomlinson. The Chargers thought so much of Sproles in the off-season that they designated him their franchise player.

He is especially dangerous on third-down as a receiving threat coming out of the backfield. Linebackers Will Witherspoon, Tracy White and Moise Fokou will likely draw the tough assignment of covering Sproles out of the backfield, but all hands will have to be on deck to make sure Sproles doesn't bust the big play.

"He can catch the ball on a flare route and take it 80 (yards) for a touchdown," said safety Quintin Mikell. "We've seen him do it against the Ravens, which is a pretty good defense. We have to be ready for that and our linebackers I think they've been practicing on it hard this week and we'll see how we do in the game."

Sproles' big-play ability actually helped out the Eagles last week. Trailing the New York Giants by six points with less than two minutes to play, Chargers' quarterback Philip Rivers connected with Sproles over the middle for a 21-yard gain. The Chargers would score the game-winning touchdown on the next play.

For the Eagles, stopping the little running back from making such big plays will be a major concern.

-- Posted by Bo Wulf, 2:17 p.m., November 14

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