The Philadelphia Eagles' running back situation seemed clear heading into this summer. Star running back LeSean McCoy and veteran role-player Darren Sproles were at the top of the pecking order. But while nothing has changed in that regard, the depth behind McCoy and Sproles isn't as settled as once seemed to be. Due to several solid summer performances from Eagles running backs such as Matthew Tucker and Henry Josey, the team could have some tough decisions to make when it comes down to roster cuts. Ultimately, this is a good problem for the team to have. When final cuts are easy that means the competition/depth isn't as good as it could be.
Here's an update on each Eagles backup running back after three weeks of the 2014 NFL preseason.
Polk has sat out of Eagles training camp with a hamstring injury since Monday, July 28th. Polk revealed he had a slight hamstring tear earlier this week. It appears that Polk's stock is falling because he continues to miss time and his replacements continue to look good. As the cliché goes, 'You can't make the club in the tub.'
Missing time is obviously a big concern, but I wouldn't write off Polk just yet. Polk contributed on special teams and looked very good in the limited playing he received in 2013, which, by the way, increased in the final weeks of the season. Polk said he plans to return to practice tomorrow on Saturday, August 23rd. It'll be crucial for him to be healthy enough to play in the team's final preseason game against the New York Jets on Thursday, August 28th.
Stats: 48 snaps, 18 attempts, 86 yards, 4.8 average, 4 TD, 1 fumble / 2 targets, 1 reception, 15 yards
Tucker suffered a hamstring injury that caused him to miss time against the New England Patriots but he's still played the second most snaps of any Eagles running back this preseason. As the numbers indicate, he's looked good. The Eagles are obviously high on Tucker having kept him on the practice squad before calling him up to the active roster and stashing him away as a game day inactive for most of the season.
Eagles head coach Chip Kelly said that Polk was "entrenched" in the fourth running back spot earlier this summer. With his solid summer showing, could Tucker be overtaking Polk's spot? I think it's possible. Both players seem to share physical running styles. Polk, a former wide receiver, has the better hands and Tucker has dropped a number of passes in training camp practices. Still, it just doesn't seem like there's a way Tucker hasn't earned a spot on this roster.
Stats: 59 snaps, 12 attempts, 104 yards, 8.7 average / 4 targets, 3 receptions, 39 yards, 13.0 average, 1 TD
Undrafted rookie free agent Henry Josey is having quite the summer. A total of 143 yards on 15 combined offensive touches is good for a 9.53 average. He just makes plays! Josey's stats would be even better had not his long touchdown run against the Steelers been called back on a questionable penalty against B.J. Cunnningham.
Whereas a number of Tucker's stats have come against starters, however, Josey has been taking advantage of weaker competition. That's not meant to be a slight to Josey because he's doing exactly what he should be doing. It's just a reminder to keep things in perspective. Josey has definitely played his way into roster consideration and he might be too good to not be poached off the practice squad. Do the Eagles have room to keep him? Can he contribute on special teams, which Kelly especially requires out of his backups?
Stats: 12 snaps, 7 attempts, 32 yards, 4.6 average
The recently acquired Kenjon Barner did not impress on special teams returns but he did have an OK night as a runner in his Eagles debut against the Steelers. Yet again, keep in mind he was facing backups.
How many will the Eagles keep?
I think the Eagles keep at least a total of five under team control. That could mean either five running backs on the active roster, which admittedly seems like a lot, or four running backs on the active roster with one on the practice squad. It's worth noting that, thanks to the new NFL practice squad eligibility rules, all four of these Eagles backup running backs are eligible.
Like I said before, this is a good problem to have, and there's no real answer as to how it will play out yet because there are still a few training camp practices and one preseason game left. The preseason finale against the Jets will be useful for these players to make a final case for themselves.