Throughout Training Camp and preseason, running back LeSean McCoy could not stop beaming. He wore a permanent smile, had an extra hop in his step and oozed excitement over what he would be able to accomplish in Chip Kelly's up-tempo, spaced out, run-heavy offense. On a number of occasions, he yelled out to the assembled media surrounding the practice fields, "Y'all better pick me for your fantasy team!"
Like the rest of the team, McCoy struggled through a disappointing 2012 in which he felt the ill effects of no Jason Peters, nary had room to run and suffered a concussion in Week 10 that forced him to miss four games. All that is in the past now. It is a new, fresh era of Eagles football, one that started off with a bang against the Washington Redskins and emphatically highlighted who would be the focal point of the offense in McCoy, who led the NFL in rushing after the first half en route to accumulating 184 yards (1 yard shy of his career best) and one touchdown on 31 carries. He showed off his trademark shiftiness and absurd lateral agility, cutting, juking, shimmying and spinning Redskins into submission. He broke ankles without mercy, left defenders grabbing at air and jumped over a bunch more, mixing in power running to gain the tough yards when necessary. It was posited for months that McCoy would be in for a big season, but he knew that to be the case and on Monday night gave the rest of the league its first glimpse of his limitless potential under Kelly.
"Starting with the big guys up front, they open up so many big holes, there are about two or three holes you could choose out of," McCoy said. "And the guys down field, I think the biggest thing with them is, Coach (Kelly), each week he stresses how important it is for the guys to get the blocks on the outside. And a lot of those blocks set up the small bubble passes you guys see, so it all goes with the scheme. Like I said before, Coach (Kelly) is a genius with the way he designs this type of offense because sometimes you might think it's a run and it's a pass, watch the receivers do the same type of motion from blocking, releasing. … It sucks to be the defense."
Amid all the fascination and buzz about the blistering pace of the offense have emerged questions about natural fatigue and whether players will be able to maintain such a level of performance over the course of a full season.
"That's something that I think as time goes on we'll really find out," McCoy said. "It's an experiment for all of us. It's the first time we're doing it at a fast tempo in an actual real game for four quarters, so it depends how everything goes. If you have so much success like we did Monday night, we could keeping doing it and doing it, maybe get the backups in and keep the pace going. We'll see how it goes."
Even with all the intense conditioning, players are still human and have to feel the effects of exhaustion from constantly moving so fast without any time to rest. McCoy acknowledged that, yes, he does get tired, but he knows it is even worse for the defense and that inspires him to keep pushing.
"I was gassed," McCoy said of certain moments in the game against the Redskins, "but that kind of motivates the offense, plus myself, just knowing that I'm tired, I know that, but I know the defense is way (more) tired than I am. That kind of gets me going. When I'm breathing hard and I look across (the line) and I see them even breathing harder, that gives me the extra motivation to keep going."
McCoy loathes coming out of the game, even if just for a brief breather, but he understands that in order to remain healthy and at his peak throughout the season, his workload will need to managed responsibly. As he mentioned months ago, there are going to be so many snaps in this offense that it is imperative for fellow running backs Bryce Brown and Chris Polk to help shoulder some of the burden.
"I think we can do a better job of just rotating (running backs)," McCoy said. "I don't think I need to have the ball 31, 32 times a game for us to be a successful offense. We've got too many different weapons, and I think that the running backs that we have here can definitely play. … We'll have to do a better job of monitoring the reps. I'll get my few carries, other guys will get their carries. It's a long season."
In perhaps the most revealing moment of McCoy's Thursday afternoon press conference, the fifth-veteran exuded the unmistakable characteristics of a team leader, which is a mantle he has assumed with pride. He dismissed a question about what kind of numbers he was targeting, in light of Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson's declaration before the season that he intended to hit 2,500 yards. Instead, McCoy wants to return the Eagles to greatness first and foremost.
"I don't really get into the whole yardage and different type of records," McCoy said. "That stuff will come. I worry about winning. The biggest thing, for my focus, is winning. The last couple years, we haven't been winning. When I got to the Eagles, we were a winning team, and teams kind of feared to play us. I want to get back to that level before I can start talking about yards and all that other stuff."
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