It was the morning after the Eagles selected University of Pittsburgh running back LeSean McCoy in the second round of the 2009 NFL draft, and I casually cornered then-running backs coach Ted Williams in the breakfast line at the NovaCare Complex. I wanted to know how the Eagles felt about McCoy, and why they picked him, and what would make him any better or more special then the three running backs who went earlier.
Williams stepped back. He pointed to the ground.
"I'm showing you a box, a three (feet) by three (feet) box," said Williams. "You put all of these running backs in this box with a defender, and LeSean is the only one who gets out of the box without being tackled."
We've seen a lot of defenders miss McCoy (5,473 rushing yards in his career) since then as he has zigged and zagged and stopped and started and shifted gears into the upper echelon of the league's running backs. McCoy led the NFL in rushing and in total yards from scrimmage last season and he is poised in 2014 to run past Steve Van Buren (5,860), Brian Westbrook (5,995) and Wilbert Montgomery (6,538) to the top of the Eagles' career rushing chart, no small feat for a player who turns the way-in-his-prime age of 26 in July.
In an era where the NFL has seemingly diminished the value of running backs - the first one off the board in the recent draft (Washington's Bishop Sankey) went to Tennessee at No. 54 overall, in the second round -- McCoy has never been a larger part of an offense. He carried 310 times in 2013 and had a total of 366 touches - both numbers were career highs - as he led the NFL in rushing and total yards from scrimmage.
Chip Kelly rode McCoy's marvelous talents to the NFC East title last season, and has since added some interesting pieces to the offensive puzzle. Darren Sproles is here to present another option in the passing game and to carry the football as a change-of-pace back. Draft picks Jordan Matthews and Josh Huff have potentially significant roles as the Eagles revamped their wide receiver corps. Having Jeremy Maclin back and healthy is critical for the passing game, obviously.
McCoy, though, is the alpha in the offense, and with so many fine pieces in supporting roles - the Eagles have an outstanding offensive line, very strong and varied weapons in the passing game and a quarterback in Nick Foles who is on the rise - McCoy is set for another big year.
He is the best Eagles running back since the days of Van Buren, who played in only 83 games as an Eagle yet helped the team win two World Championships and earned his place in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. That is not a knock on Westbrook, or Duce Staley, or Montgomery or even the likes of Ricky Watters, who had three straight 1,000-yard seasons here.
It's simply a nod toward McCoy, a player who every day deserves our appreciation. If he keeps on the pace of his first five NFL seasons, well, the numbers at the end of McCoy's career will be worthy of Hall of Fame consideration.
McCoy is the kind of player who doesn't come around often. There was Reggie White, the best in the game. There was Brian Dawkins, who helped define the safety position. And there is McCoy, who is mentioned in the same breath as Adrian Peterson as the very best running back in the league.
Enjoy every snap we see from McCoy, because you know how this game works. Nothing lasts forever. As long as McCoy keeps making ‘em miss in that three-by-three box, he's going to be something extra special.