Philadelphia Eagles training camp 2015 is fast approaching. Coaches and players report as soon as Saturday, August 1. The Eagles training camp schedule, including information on practices open to the public, can be found by clicking here.
As we count down the days together, Bleeding Green Nation will be previewing every position on the Eagles roster. We start off by taking a look at the running back position.
DeMarco Murray, Ryan Mathews, Darren Sproles, Kenjon Barner, Matthew Tucker, Raheem Mostert
The run game may be important as it ever was in the NFL. The Eagles were able to break several offensive records in 2013 thanks to LeSean McCoy's league-leading rushing effort. McCoy's performance paved the way for Nick Foles to have an historical passing season. In 2014, the run game dried up and Foles was subsequently exposed as a limited talent.
Meanwhile, the Dallas Cowboys experienced great rushing success in 2014. Heading into last season, many thought the Cowboys might be one of the worst teams in the NFL. The concerns were valid: the Dallas defense lacked talent and there were serious concerns about Tony Romo's health. The Cowboys were able to successfully mask their weaknesses by relying on a strong run game. Dallas was able to hide their defense by pounding the rock and bleeding the clock. The success of the run game prevented Romo from having to carry the team on offense like he had been tasked with in the past. As a result, he posted MVP-like numbers.
Dallas may still have their talented offensive line, but they obviously won't have Murray anymore. He's with the Eagles now after Philadelphia signed him to a big contract this offseason. While some (cough Shady cough) have suggested Murray was a desperation signing after Frank Gore backed out on the Eagles, the truth is that he's a great fit for Philadelphia. Murray is exactly the type of physical, one-cut running back that Kelly has long preferred for his zone-read. Back to his college days at Oklahoma, Murray has plenty of experience running out of the shotgun. And not only has he done it often, but he's done it well. Murray finished second in yards per attempt running out of the gun the past two seasons.
There are concerns with Murray. He's coming off a HUGE workload. The Eagles won't drive Murray into the ground like the Cowboys did last season, but he was clearly brought in to be Philadelphia's lead back in Chip Kelly's run-heavy offense.
The Eagles hedged their bet on Murray by also signing Ryan Mathews in free agency. The former first round pick is an intriguing player. Mathews, like Murray, is a physical runner with a great combination of size and speed.Mathews flashed talent in San Diego but he ultimately fell out of favor due to injuries. The good news for Mathews is that he won't be asked to take on a big workload, assuming Murray can stay healthy. It'll be interesting to see how often the Eagles use him now that he's not a starter anymore.
Joining the mix of Murray and Mathews is veteran offensive weapon Darren Sproles. Sproles was spectacular as a punt returner for the Eagles in 2014. As for his offensive contributions, Sproles made a bigger impact early on in the season. While he's not a full-time player, he's still a dangerous roleplayer who can be used to create mismatches. It's hard to to imagine Sproles seeing too many carries since Murray and Matthews are around, but perhaps the team will look to get him more involved in the passing game. It's worth noting Sproles spent some time taking reps with the receivers during spring practices.
Murray, Mathews, and Sproles are obviously locks to make the roster. It's unclear if the Eagles will keep a fourth running back behind them. It might be a good idea to keep an extra back since Murray and Mathews are injury prone while Sproles is aging and isn't suited to play in a full-time role. The Eagles have kept four running backs on the roster in the Chip Kelly era before, so there's precedent for it to happen. Then again, Josh Huff and Trey Burton can now serve as rushers in an emergency.
If the Eagles keep a fourth rusher, it will likely be one of Kenjon Barner, Matthew Tucker, or Raheem Mostert. The Eagles traded for Barner (Oregon Bias!) last offseason but he failed to make the team. Barner ended up joining Philadelphia's practice squad later in the season. Tucker seems to mirror the playing style of Murray and Mathews; he's a tough runner. He's spent time on the team's practice squad the past two seasons along with a main roster stint in 2013. Mostert is an undrafted free agent rookie who is intriguing due to his abilities as a kick returner.
How will it play out?
The big question here is: how will the carries be divided? In 2013, the Eagles averaged nearly 31 rushing attempts per game. That figure when down to about 30 in 2014. That number could go back up in 2015 with the Eagles looking to get back to running the ball. Let's say they rush about 32 times per game. Murray could take the bulk of the load with 19 per game, which is about what LeSean McCoy averaged the past two reasons. Then Mathews could have about 11 and Sproles could earn two or so. That looks like a good mix.
If the Eagles' offensive line can hold up, Philadelphia's backfield should do a lot of damage this season. A strong running game would have a huge domino effect. There would be less pressure on Sam Bradford to throw, which could mean he stays healthy and doesn't turn the ball over. A more efficient offense means more first downs and less turnovers which means the defense won't be as burdened as it was last season.
No surprise cuts will be happening here. If anything, the surprise at this position could involve a fourth running back stepping up and earning a spot on the final 53-man roster.