*This is the second in a series analyzing the Eagles, position by position, leading into training camp ...
*All LeSean McCoy did in his first year with the Eagles was set a franchise record for most rushing yards as a rookie, catch 40 passes and score four touchdowns, impressing the coaching staff every step of the way. So what does he do for an encore? McCoy steps out of the shadows of Brian Westbrook and becomes the go-to running back for the Eagles. He is, in his second NFL season, the unquestioned No. 1 option in the offensive backfield as the Eagles ask him to grow up very, very quickly.
McCoy has the tools to thrive in this offense. He is a shifty back with the ball in his hands, and he sees things with tremendous anticipation. The Eagles used a second-round draft pick on McCoy with the idea that he would bide his time and learn from Westbrook, but when the former Eagles great was slow to recover from a series of injuries in 2009, McCoy was more often than not the first option in the running game. The numbers were fine -- McCoy averaged 4.1 yards per carry and had a long run of 66 yards, which went for a touchdown against the Giants -- but now McCoy needs to take it up a notch.
He isn't a surprise to any defense after a full off-season of study. Teams have looked at every carry McCoy took last year, every block he made, every catch he had. They will have a plan for him in 2010. But McCoy has something more to offer, something he had never before had: He attacked the off-season conditioning program and re-defined his body and his conditioning. McCoy worked off any baby fat he had and is now faster, stronger and more prepared for the grind ahead.
How much will the Eagles use McCoy? That's a good question. He'll likely get more than the 155 he had as a rookie, but with young veteran Mike Bell in the fold, the Eagles feel they have at least two backs who can give defenses different looks and create scoring chances for the offense. Bell is more of a power back, more of a slasher, and he showed in the spring that he is an aggressive runner and a capable receiver.
It is, potentially, a very good 1-2 punch. Bell earned the starting job in New Orleans to open 2009, and he busted loose against Detroit (143 yards on 28 carries) and had a score and 86 yards against the Eagles before suffering a high ankle sprain. Bell's season was never the same, although he gained 654 yards before signing with the Eagles as a restricted free agent.
Certainly, though, there is a changing of the guard at running back. McCoy has to suddenly be the focal point at halfback, with Bell as a very sturdy second option. Behind them, the Eagles have Eldra Buckley, who manned the position last year and who was a force on special teams. Sixth-round draft pick Charles Scott appeared to bump ahead of Buckley in the spring, and he likely goes into training camp as the No. 3 halfback. Martell Mallett signed after a terrific rookie season in Canada and is going to push for a roster spot.
At fullback, the Eagles have one of the best situations in the league with Pro Bowl standout Leonard Weaver armed with a new contract. Weaver did it all in his first Eagles season and he is expected to be even more involved in the offense ahead. Weaver is a force who has the total package, something the Eagles had not enjoyed for several seasons prior to Weaver's arrival.
Behind Weaver, Dwayne Wright is a talented player who is going to challenge for a roster spot. It's a long shot, with Weaver around, but Wright is a bruising player who has a lot of skills.
Bottom line: So much rides on McCoy. There are some doubters out there, but not from inside the Eagles organization. They think McCoy has a super-high ceiling who is talented enough to make any defender miss in a short area because of his quickness and vision. McCoy is not a burner, but he made plenty of big plays last year. Now he has to show he can be a 20-carry-a-game player, and the extra strength and conditioning should benefit him this year.
Having Bell around is a good thing, and Scott upgrades the talent level considerably. It will be very telling to see both players in pads, and the suspicion here is that both will perform better in the full-contact drills than in the spring, when both looked good.
At fullback, there are no worries. Weaver is one of the game's best, and Wright is an experienced player who is going to give a good account of himself in training camp.
It is a new day in the backfield, with McCoy in charge. If he is as good as the coaching staff thinks he is, McCoy will have a huge season in an offense with an impressive array of weapons.
Next: Offensive line