All LeSean McCoy did in his first NFL season, at the tender age of 21, was set an Eagles franchise record for rushing yards by a rookie (637) and pile up 945 total yards from scrimmage and 16 games and only four starts. Expected to be worked into the mix slowly, McCoy instead became the primary running back in the offense when Brian Westbrook had his season ruined by injuries.
It was, by most comparative accounts, a terrific debut for McCoy. Playing running back in this system, because of the demands in the passing game and in blocking and the precision of the X's and O's, takes time. Westbrook, for example, played sparingly as a rookie. Duce Staley, too. Most rookies, in fact, have waded slowly into the offense as they mastered the nuances of the skills required.
Not McCoy. After only two seasons the University of Pittsburgh, McCoy took most of the reps in the spring and in training camp and then took his place behind Westbrook as the 2009 regular season began. The role, of course, changed back and forth throughout the season, and by the end of the year it was clear that McCoy was the right choice to ascend to the role as the starter, with no questions asked.
Still, though, as training camp creeps ever closer, there are questions. One national writer, Jason Cole from Yahoo sports, ranked the Eagles' running attack 31st out of 32 NFL teams, and had this to say about McCoy's rookie season ...
"After cutting Westbrook, the Eagles are clearly banking on LeSean McCoy becoming the all-around running and receiving threat to trigger the offense. Based on how McCoy played last season, that may be a bit of a stretch. McCoy looked tentative as a runner and out of place as a receiver. He's a talented guy, so there's still a chance, but the first impression was questionable."
Tentative as a runner? Out of place as a receiver? I guess Jason and I weren't watching the same McCoy. I saw a McCoy who responded to the very difficult challenge. He improved as a blocker, although it was a worry point early in the season. Everyone worries about the way McCoy holds the ball out away from his body at times, and that is something he needs to improve upon.
At no time did McCoy look tentative. He actually ran hard between the tackles and while he doesn't have game-breaking speed, he tore off a 64-yard touchdown against the Giants, busted off a sweet 10-yard run to account for the winning points in Chicago and served notice that his hands are excellent by grabbing Donovan McNabb's shovel pass off the Lincoln Financial Field turf to score a two-point conversion and tie the Redskins late in the season in a must-win game.
Oh, McCoy wasn't perfect. No chance of that. He made plenty of mistakes, but McCoy also caught up to the speed of the game very quickly and matured rapidly under a tremendous amount of duress.
The expectations for McCoy, from an internal perspective, are huge. He was an active part of the off-season conditioning program and he turned some of that baby fat into solid muscle for the first time in his life. McCoy drilled incessantly on his blocking technique, his route running, his precision in the running game. There is, the thinking goes, a huge difference for McCoy knowing going into the off-season that he is the starter. Westbrook is not here. Nothing is holding McCoy back from taking the next step forward in his career.
Will the Eagles have a better running game than they've had in the last couple of seasons? There are a lot of factors that go into that answer. The offensive line has to come together with some new starters. The commitment to the ground game has to be there. McCoy and Mike Bell and Pro Bowl fullback Leonard Weaver have to develop.
Clearly, the Eagles have something to prove to the doubters out there about the running game. This is a pass-first offense, and that isn't necessarily going to change. The Eagles have too many explosive weapons on the outside to reel in the offense too much, but the running game needs to improve in 2010.
At the centerpiece is McCoy, a player whom the Eagles coveted highly in the 2009 draft. They got their guy in a back-rich draft, and he produced as a rookie. Now, with a season under his belt, McCoy must go to the next level and show he is ready to join the terrific line of Eagles running backs in this generation, a list that includes Ricky Watters, Staley and Westbrook.
If you are looking for someone to sneak up on an opposing defense, maybe your guy is Shady McCoy. It certainly seems that the national perspective -- at least one perspective, anyway -- is far different from that of the coaching staff and the team. McCoy is the starter, and the Eagles expect big, big things from him in year two of his NFL career. He is a player who can make you miss with his shiftiness, and who can get up the field with his quickness. McCoy showed he was tough between the tackles, a reliable receiver and an improving blocker.
Hey, the opinion here is that McCoy is next in the line of outstanding Eagles running backs. Time will tell, of course, if he lives up to the hopes, and if the doubters revise their opinions. McCoy proved something in year one, and his encore performance comes with more pressure and a much higher level of expectations.