Dec 23, 2012; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Eagles running back LeSean McCoy (25) carries the ball during the first quarter against the Washington Redskins at Lincoln Financial Field. The Redskins defeated the Eagles 27-20. Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports
We’re less than a week away from Philadelphia Eagles training camp, folks. I can feel it in the air. No longer will you have mindlessly refresh your browser or Twitter feed for something relevant or interesting to read. Aren’t you getting sick of reading filler articles on your favorite Eagles sites? With that being said, next up on our training camp previews it the running back position.
53 Man Roster Prediction: LeSean McCoy, Bryce Brown, Felix Jones, Matthew Tucker
Opening Day Starter Prediction: LeSean McCoy
Let’s start with our boy Shady. McCoy is the clear cut number one back on this team, and easily considered a top-five back in the NFL. Last years’ campaign for Shady was flat out disappointing. He averaged 75-yards-per-game in 10 games with only two touchdowns on the ground. He fumbled four times, which was only one less than his career total in the previous three seasons. He missed five games with a concussion. I wouldn’t attribute much of these struggles to McCoyand lack of ability, but more so a combination of terrible offensive line play and bad play calling. The Eagles routinely played from behind when McCoy was healthy and when you coupled that with the pass-happy combo of Andy Reid and Marty Mornhinweg, Shady was criminal underutilized.
This year, a healthy McCoy should be counting his blessings. Chip Kelly, who is a former offensive line coach, is a massive fan of running the football. For once in a very long time Eagles fan should finally see a closer 50/50 run-pass split, maybe even heavier on the run. The Eagles will run a zone blocking scheme that saw Shady rush for over 1,300 yards behind a healthy offensive line in 2012. If Jason Peters, Jason Kelce, Evan Mathis and Todd Herremans all come back and stay healthy, with the addition of 1st round pick Lane Johnson, the Eagles line could very well be a strength. All these guys are athletic and have the ability to get to the second level.
As far as training camp goes, the main thing for Shady is to stay healthy. He has nothing to prove and a franchise player. If the line stays healthy Shady has a great chance to bounce back. It will be interesting to see how he will react to having Brown take some of his carries. Shady hasn’t had to share any considerable carries since Brian Westbrook was the guy. With an offense that runs as much as Chip Kelly’s there’s no way one back can handle it without some help.
Dec 13, 2012; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Eagles running back Bryce Brown (34) carries the ball during the second quarter against the Cincinnati Bengals at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports
This brings us to the guy that will be spelling McCoy — Bryce Brown. Brown is an interesting story. Highly touted high school prospect who bounces around colleges, he finished his two (and a half if you count committing and bailing on The U) team college career with around a 12 games under his belt before quitting the team at Kansas State. He declared for the 2012 NFL draft where the Eagles took a seventh-round flier on him. Brown stuck on the team roster as the third back, but eventually made it to No. 2 after passing Dion Lewis and earning four starts while McCoy was injured.
He came out of the gate blazing with back-to-back 150+ yard games against Carolina (178) and Dallas (169) and then cooled down mightily with a six-yard game against Tampa Bay and 34 against the Bengals. At 6’0″ and around 230 pounds, Brown is a big kid — but the kicker is his speed. He’s fast. Deceptively fast for a kid his size, and he caught many defenders sleeping because of this. But Brown’s lack of experience was magnified when you watched him carry the ball. Brown fumbled four times last year, losing three of them — some coming at crucial times in the game. This will be one of the biggest things to watch for in camp but especially the preseason action. Brown is largely unmolded, with very little college coaching so you hope that Chip can tap in and team some ball security. He also needs to work on not running for the sidelines even when there is a lane in the middle.
The third running back, who will still most likely see some carries in Chip’s offense, is basically wide open right now. In the running we have the washed up Cowboy Felix Jones, who had high expectations placed on him in Dallas that he never really lived up to during his five-year tenure there. We also have second-year guy Chris Polk, who dressed for a handful of games but never saw a single touch. Round this out with Matthew
May 20, 2013; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Eagles running back Felix Jones (37) during organized team activities at the NovaCare Complex. Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports
Tucker, an undrafted rookie out of TCU who played well as a backup but struggled his senior year as the starter. Tucker has a good combination of size and speed. With Chip not using the fullback position, Igwenagu will have to stick as a TE/H-Back if he hopes to make the team.
The battle for the No. 3 running back will be the most interesting to watch at camp. Will Jones be able to find success as a change of pace back? Maybe, if he can stay healthy. I think, like the quarterback situation, if the older guy needs to be quite a bit younger guy, or else you go with a younger guy. You’re paying him less and he hasn’t reached his potential. If Jones finds a spark under a new coach and new system he could very will grab this job if he looks like 2010 Jones and not 2012 Jones.It will come down to Tucker and Polk for the fourth spot. With the exception of McCoy, the other backs will have to contribute on special teams so this may help in Jones’ favor, but I think the others could be capable return men.
If I were to pick right now, my pick for the fourth back would be Tucker as he is a Chip Kelly guy, and Polk didn’t even do enough to earn a look last year. Tucker has a bit of a size advantage in both height and weight, and we know Chip likes bigger guys. But this could really go any way, and I don’t think you can count anyone out with Chip staying true his mantra of winning the day.