This is how a coach explained the natural skills of LeSean McCoy back when the Eagles used a second-round pick on him last April: Draw up an area, three yards by three yards, stake it out and rope it off, and then put a defender in the box with McCoy.
"He wouldn't be touched," the coach said. "That's how good he is."
We saw glimpses of McCoy's ability as a rookie when he ranked third among first-year backs with a franchise-record 637 rushing yards and ranked second among rookies with 945 yards from scrimmage. It was a pretty impressive season for a kid playing in a scheme that is not particularly friendly to rookie running backs.
There is such an emphasis on precision in this offense as far as timing and the exactness of every route run and handoff taken. You don't freelance in this offense as a running back. You have to be on point to get on the field.
McCoy had the opportunity to play early as Westbrook recovered from an assortment of off-season ailments. The rookie from Pittsburgh took reps through the spring drills and in training camp, and he was the starter in the preseason. When the regular season began, McCoy was much more advanced than, certainly, Westbrook was as a rookie back in 2002.
So it makes sense to think that, after a full season, McCoy is prepared for the next step. He has already reported for the team's off-season conditioning program, a full month ahead of its official beginning. McCoy said last week as he stood by his locker at the NovaCare Complex that he was so much looking forward to the program, as he has never been part of an intensive, all-focus, off-season program. This time a year ago, McCoy was preparing for the Scouting Combine.
Now, he's preparing to be the go-to running back for the Philadelphia Eagles.
The Eagles announced on Tuesday their intention to release Brian Westbrook, probably on the first day of the new year, March 5 to be exact. Westbrook is free to talk to teams and, as the news broke on Tuesday, Westbrook told at least one reporter that teams had already called to inquire about his intentions for 2010.
Meanwhile, the Eagles are prepping for LAW (Life After Westbrook). And that means it is time for McCoy to mature in so many ways. On the field, he has to prepare his body to carry 20 times a game. He has to prepare for the punishment. He did it in college, yeah, carrying 584 times and catching 65 passes in two seasons at Pittsburgh.
But this is the big leagues, and McCoy has a totally different challenge ahead.
Off the field, he has to grow up, too. McCoy turned 21 last year. He was a catch-me-when-you-can interview. He never wanted to turn down a request, which is a problem when reporters want a piece of you all the time. There is also the mental challenge of the every-week responsibility of being the man for 16 games against the best players in the world.
It is a huge, huge chore for McCoy, who welcomes it with a smile, a twinkle in his eye and all of the confidence in the world.
"I know I have a lot to improve on," McCoy said last week, "and that's why I'm here. Last year went by so fast. It was a blur. This year, it starts right now. I am going to get right into it and prepare myself to be the best."
Even his best won't be enough in an NFL that demands teams to rely on two backs. And while the Eagles made their decision on Westbrook, one that seemed pretty likely after Westbrook's decline in usage and production, the other move to be made is to add a piece to the running back puzzle.
The Eagles love McCoy. Oh, do they love him. He is the No. 1 back right now. Eldra Buckley had a good season as the third back last year, excelling on special teams and playing well from the line of scrimmage, and the Eagles added Martell Mallett from the Canadian Football League to push Buckley.
Who is the No. 2 back? Who would the Eagles turn to should McCoy need an extended rest, or should he suffer an injury that keeps him out of the lineup for a few weeks? That's the other part of the equation the Eagles have to solve, and certainly they have thought this thing through and have a plan.
The intriguing thing is to consider what they might do. Do they go out in free agency and pluck one of the veterans who will be out there in the weeks to come? Do they use an early-to-mid-round draft pick on a player who can team with McCoy and provide a vision of the future at running back, much like the team has with DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin at wide receiver and, to an extent, Brent Celek and Cornelius Ingram at tight end?
It's a fascinating prospect to consider, and as I've said for some time, we are witnessing a two-year turnover of this Eagles roster. Part one came last year, when the Eagles allowed veterans like Brian Dawkins, Tra Thomas, Jon Runyan, Correll Buckhalter and even L.J. Smith to depart in free agency. Westbrook is the first old-school veteran to go in 2010, but he won't be the last. You know that. This is shaping up to be a slam-bang off-season, complete with an assortment of moves.
So, the next generation of running back for the Eagles is here, and his name is LeSean McCoy. We have been treated to a terrific group of backs in the Jeffrey Lurie regime -- Ricky Watters, Duce Staley, Correll Buckhalter, Westbrook and now, hopefully, McCoy.
McCoy is now in the bull's eye, a position he has been comfortable dominating since his high school days in Harrisburg. The stage is larger now, the glare is brighter, and as they say, football is still football. The three-yard-by-three-yard ring remains and it is McCoy's job to make people miss, gain big yards, and carry this Eagles running game as the kind of versatile, all-purpose, production-chomping back we are accustomed to seeing.
Welcome, LeSean McCoy, to the role of starting Eagles halfback. No questions asked. The job is yours. Oh, the challenge is coming and nothing is secure in this NFL we have come to know and love so much, but the mantle is out there, ready to be climbed by a second-year man who understands the responsibility he faces.