On Wednesday, Bo Wulf took a look at the pressing questions that the Eagles face at the quarterback position heading into Training Camp. Today, we'll focus on the ballcarriers coming out of the backfield.
1. What Can We Expect From LeSean McCoy In 2012?
LeSean McCoy enjoyed a season for the ages in 2011, as he earned his first Pro Bowl and All-Pro nominations. He shattered the franchise records for total touchdowns (20) and rushing touchdowns (17). He also led the league in first downs and rushes of 10 yards or more. He was fourth in rushing yards (1,309), fourth in offensive touches (321) and fifth in yards from scrimmage (1,624). He averaged 4.8 yards per carry last season. He was second in the league in fourth quarter rushing. No Eagle has had more rushing yards or yards from scrimmage in his first three seasons than McCoy.
Considering that Michael Vick had just one rushing touchdown last season and no receiver had more than five scores it is hard to imagine McCoy duplicating a 20-touchdown season. By the middle of last season, there was no question that opposing teams began to focus on taking McCoy out of the game. Another factor in McCoy's performance will be the loss of Jason Peters. No teams ran more plays off the left end last season than the Eagles, according to stat service NFL GSIS. On the flip side, the other four members of the offensive line remain intact. Going into Training Camp last year, Todd Herremans was the left guard, the center (Jason Kelce) and right guard (Danny Watkins) were rookies and Winston Justice was the right tackle. In addition, the Eagles finished 2011 second in yards per carry up the middle and third in yards per carry on rushes off the right end, again, according to NFL GSIS.
The areas where McCoy needs to continue to improve are in pass blocking, defense recognition and running north-south. McCoy has made great strides in all of these areas in his first three years. But now that teams will be looking to limit his offensive yardage output, he will need to find ways to maximize his impact on the field.
2. Will The Eagles Have A Serviceable Backup In 2012?
Ronnie Brown was a free agent signing in 2011 that made fans excited, but the results just weren't there on the field. Previously one of the league's most productive backs, it's unknown whether the tread on Brown’s tires was severely diminished or the adjustment to getting a few touches a game was too tough. Needless to say, it would behoove the Eagles to have a backup plan in place for 2012. The Eagles want their long-term investment in McCoy to pan out.
What are the options? Dion Lewis is the only player with NFL experience on the roster outside of McCoy. Lewis was the primary kickoff returner in 2011, but got to be the feature back in the final game of the regular season and netted 58 yards on 12 carries and a touchdown. Duce Staley sung Lewis' praises earlier this offseason expressing confidence that Lewis could indeed handle a backup role.
However, Lewis has to prove himself at Training Camp and while they are rookies the Eagles brought in some interesting competition for the backup spot. Bryce Brown was a seventh-round selection and one of the most intriguing picks in the entire NFL Draft. Everyone knows his story by now. One of the most sought-after recruits coming out of high school, Brown went to Tennessee to play for Lane Kiffin and had a successful freshman year. Kiffin left to go to USC. Brown transferred to Kansas State to play with his brother, sat out a year, only played one game in 2011 and left the team. Brown looked smooth and athletic during the OTAs. He has good size at 6-0, 220 pounds and comes with a fresh set of wheels. Is Brown committed to the game? That's a legit question which will be answered on the field.
Chris Polk is in some ways the opposite of Brown. Polk was a workhorse back at Washington, where he played in a similar style offense to that of the Eagles. Polk rushed for 4,049 yards, good for second in school history. Polk, however, was not drafted as questions about his durability from a past shoulder injury factored into his long-term potential. The Eagles pounced on Polk as a rookie free agent and his bruising style of play should open some eyes at Lehigh.
Bottom line, the backup job is very much anyone's game at this point. Will the Eagles have someone who can spell McCoy? Can a rookie adapt to all of the nuances of the running back position quickly?
3. Who Will Be The Fullback?
Stanley Havili is in the driver's seat. The seventh-round pick from 2011 spent all of last year on the practice squad, but was the first-team fullback during the OTAs. Obviously, the fullback position isn't a featured spot. Last year, Owen Schmitt played in 173 out of 1,094 snaps according to Pro Football Focus. McCoy, meanwhile, was on the field for 894 snaps. Havili was a productive offensive weapon in college scoring 15 total touchdowns, so that could factor into the size of the role.
Havili is not being handed the job. Jeremy Stewart and Emil Igwenagu were signed as rookie free agents after this year's draft. Stewart played not too far from Havili at Stanford. Stewart rushed for 920 career yards and scored 14 touchdowns during his collegiate career. He also has experience as a kickoff returner. Igwenagu was a true jack-of-all-trades at Massachusetts. He played tight end, fullback, running back and even linebacker. He caught 75 passes for 821 yards and four touchdowns. Outside of pass catching and classroom work, it is too hard to judge the fullbacks until the pads go on at Lehigh.
Let's think outside of the box for a minute. Could the Eagles go with no fullback in 2012 and instead keep a third tight end? It's possible, but the traditional West Coast Offense has a defined role for the fullback. The Eagles have gone with a fullback ranging from the league's best (Leonard Weaver, Jon Ritchie) to unknowns in the past.
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