Eagles Better or Worse: Running Backs

Eagles Better or Worse: Running Backs

We're going to play a game. Nobody knows for sure what to expect from the Birds this season. In fact, not many people are even sure whether this team got better or worse.

So let's break it down. We're running down the entire roster position by position, and asking whether the moves the front office made this off-season will result in immediate improvements, or if they've ultimately taken a huge step back. We begin at running back.

BETTER

RB1

Keep in mind, when we ask whether the Eagles are better off without Brian Westbrook as the starting running back, we're talking about last year's model. BWest is a shell of his former self. There was concern all last summer about his health, he wound up participating in only half of the team's games, and he lacked the big play ability that made him special, a 34-yard reception being his longest gain of the season.

Everybody appreciates what Westbrook meant to the offense in his prime, but nobody can make a reasonable argument that the Eagles are going to miss him too much in the present day NFL. His skills are rapidly diminishing, and he's an injury waiting to happen. The coaches only saw fit to give 36 one touch in last season's finale, perhaps sparing him any further physical strain before his release.

That's not to say LeSean McCoy will ever be as dynamic as Westbrook. In fact, it's probably unfair to expect that. Westbrook was a special runner who would patiently duck down behind his blockers, then suddenly squirt through an opening and take it to the house. He created mismatches in the passing game, and he was an incredibly talented pass protector, especially considering his size. He was dangerous in any and every situation.

McCoy may not ever become an elite weapon, and we haven't quite seen enough from him yet to determine what his ceiling is exactly. It's still safe to assume he'll be an upgrade as the fulltime starter though. He was solid enough in his rookie season that it should give him something to build on, and he's simply going to have more spring in his step than a back who turned 30.

Leonard Weaver

When we talk about Weaver having a better 2010, we're not necessarily speaking in conventional terms like developing as a player. The sixth year fullback is coming off his first All Pro season, so the Eagles appear to have already caught him right at his peak. However, he does have an opportunity to put up bigger numbers with increased touches.

Heading into their Week 8 tilt against the Giants, Weave had only carried a total of four times through six games up to that point. He exploded in that contest for 75 yards, including a 41-yard touchdown run, and for the remainder of the season he played a more prominent role in the offense. With an entire off-season for the coaches to design new schemes to get the ball to their fullback, who they happened to lock up for three more seasons, Weaver could shine even brighter.

Depth

The Eagles were in a tight spot at last April's draft. Westbrook's health status was a major concern, and his primary backup, Correll Buckhalter, was allowed to leave as a free agent. The organization absolutely had to draft a back, and they had to select one early, because there was a very realistic chance whoever it was would be pressed into action right from the jump.

That shouldn't be the case any longer. For starters, the club added restricted free agent Mike Bell from the Saints, and he actually led the champs in carries last season. Bell is nothing special, but he's a serviceable reserve who has rushed for over 600 yards twice in his four year career, and he's a bit of a bigger back that will show defenses a different look.

The Eagles also used their sixth round pick on Charles Scott. The 6-1, 234 lbs. back out of LSU is expected to compete with the less pedigreed Eldra Buckley for the final spot on the depth chart, and should he win, Scott could become a serious threat in short yardage or on the goal line.

WORSE

Intangibles

Whenever you lose a Brian Westbrook, even in what appears to be the twilight of his career, you're still losing something. Need a big play at the end of a game? Westbrook. Somebody who knows exactly the right time to release out of the backfield? Westbrook. A player who isn't too selfish to teach and help the younger players who are fighting for his job? Westbrook.

We hope he's passed down all of the lessons from his eight years in the NFL to Shady, but that's sort of impossible. He was a leader who had a natural feel for the game, and those are things you can't necessarily impart to another player. We're confident McCoy is going to do just fine. He's simply not experienced enough to do all of the little things BWest handled without fuss.

OVERVIEW

We probably won't be able to say this about too many other positions, but it's really difficult to project Eagles' running backs being worse anywhere at all. They went with youth at the feature spot, signed a capable change up/reserve back, added competition at the back end of the depth chart, and extended their all star fullback. That's basically everything they needed to do.

Grade: Better

Phillies manager Pete Mackanin: Adam Morgan is a definite bullpen candidate

Phillies manager Pete Mackanin: Adam Morgan is a definite bullpen candidate

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Just pitch.
 
Don’t worry about the role.
 
Just pitch.
 
That’s Adam Morgan’s mindset this spring.
 
“I’m just trying to show whoever needs to see it that I can be an asset to this team,” the left-hander said after his spring debut against the New York Yankees on Saturday (see story). “I’m just keeping it simple that way. I’m not trying to go out for that fifth (starting) spot. If the fifth spot opens up, I’d be more than willing to do that. If they want to put me in the bullpen, I’d be more than willing to do that. If they want me to be the backup catcher, I’ll be the backup catcher.”
 
The Phillies have plenty of candidates for backup catcher.
 
And the top five spots in their starting rotation, barring an unforeseen development, are accounted for.
 
But there is a way for Morgan to make this team.
 
“He’s definitely a bullpen candidate,” manager Pete Mackanin said.
 
Mackanin is on record as saying he’d like to have two lefties in what likely will be a seven-man bullpen. It might not work out that way, but that would be Mackanin’s preference.
 
Morgan is one of what appears to be four candidates along with Joely Rodriguez, Cesar Ramos and Sean Burnett. Ramos and Burnett are experienced major-league veterans in camp on minor-league contracts. Rodriguez is the only pure lefty reliever on the 40-man roster. Morgan, of course, is on the 40-man roster, but he’s mainly been a starter in his career.

There’s a long way to go in spring training and it would not be surprising to see general manager Matt Klentak add to the list of lefty relief candidates with some type of pickup before the end of camp.
 
But for now, it’s just these four.
 
Morgan, who turns 27 on Monday, started and pitched two scoreless innings against the Yankees on Saturday and will likely continue to have his innings stretched out throughout the Grapefruit League season, just in case he’s needed as a starter.

Ramos and Rodriguez both pitched an inning Saturday. Ramos allowed a hit and a run. Rodriguez had a clean inning. Burnett was tagged for two hits and two runs on Friday.
 
Morgan made 21 starts for the Phillies last season. He also made two relief appearances and finished the season with a 6.04 ERA. He was sent to Triple A in July and returned in mid-August. He made nine starts after returning and pitched at least six innings and gave up two or fewer earned runs in four of them.
 
During his time in Triple A, Morgan started throwing a two-seam fastball or sinker. He’s continued to throw it this spring and believes it will help him.
 
“I learned to trust the two-seamer last year and that’s what I hope to keep moving forward with,” he said.
 
Will it take him to the Phillies’ bullpen?
 
He hopes so. He got a taste of relieving last season and liked it.
 
“Oh, yeah, I loved it,” he said. “Every time the phone rang down there, I was on high alert. It was awesome. It’s a rush.
 
“But wherever I land, I land. I’d be willing to play anywhere on this team.”

Instant Replay: Villanova topples Creighton, clinches Big East title outright

Instant Replay: Villanova topples Creighton, clinches Big East title outright

BOX SCORE

VILLANOVA, Pa. -- Sophomore transfer Eric Paschall scored a team-high 19 points -- including five dunks -- and Kris Jenkins added 15, as No. 2 Villanova pulled away late to beat No. 23 Creighton, 79-63, and clinch the 2017 Big East Conference regular-season title outright.

Paschall, starting during Darryll Reynolds’ injury absence, shot 8 for 12 from the field and added six rebounds.

Creighton’s last lead was 45-43 six minutes into the second half, but a Paschall slam and Jenkins’ first three after five misses sparked a 16-4 run that gave the Wildcats a 59-49 lead with 8½ minutes left. Creighton got no closer than seven the rest of the way.

Paschall’s career high is a 31-point game for Fordham against NYIT on Nov. 14, 2014.

Villanova again struggled from three-point range but had tremendous success attacking the basket, especially in the second half of the final game at the Pavilion for two years.

The Wildcats shot just 17 percent from three (3 for 18) but 69 percent from two (24 for 35) and repeatedly got to the foul line in the second half, when they were 14 for 18.

Jenkins again struggled from three (1 for 7) yet still finished with 15 points to go with four rebounds and three assists.

Josh Hart shot 7 for 11 for 16 points and added seven rebounds and three assists.

Villanova opened a streaky first half by taking a 7-0 lead, but Creighton hit four straight threes in less than two minutes and led by three. Villanova then went on a 17-2 run and led by as many as 10 points before Creighton finished the half on a 13-3 run to tie the game at 33.

There were seven lead changes in the first seven minutes of the second half, but Villanova finally pulled away and outscored Creighton 36-18 over the last 14 minutes.

Mikal Bridges added 11 points and eight rebounds for Villanova, while Jalen Brunson had nine points and three assists.

Freshman Dante DiVincenzo came off the bench to contribute nine points and four rebounds for Villanova.

What it means
Villanova improved to 27-3 overall and 14-3 in the Big East, clinching the conference title outright. Entering play Saturday, only Villanova or Butler was in position to win the conference title, with Villanova holding a magic number of one.

Villanova, which lost to Butler on Wednesday, has now won 12 straight games immediately following losses (15 if you carry over to the next year).

The Wildcats last lost consecutive games at the end of the 2012-2013 season, when they fell to Louisville in the Big East quarterfinals and to North Carolina in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

Creighton fell to 22-7 overall and 9-7 in the Big East. The Bluejays are 4-6 since an 18-1 start.

Stat of the day
Marcus Foster had 25 points and eight assists, becoming the first player with 25 points and five assists against Villanova since Ben Hansbrough of Notre Dame, who had 30 points and 10 rebounds (and five steals) in a 93-72 win over Villanova on Feb. 28, 2011, at the Joyce Center in South Bend, Indiana.

Turning point 
Villanova led by one at 48-47 when Jenkins finally buried a three for a four-point lead.

Moving out
This was Villanova’s last game at the Pavilion for about 20 months. Villanova will play most of its home games at the Wells Fargo Center next year while renovations are made to the Pavilion.

Villanova is 293-62 all-time at the Pavilion, which opened in 1985. That includes a 131-12 mark since the start of the 2004-2005 season.

By the numbers
Khyri Thomas scored 17 points for the Bluejays … Creighton was 7 for 14 from three in the first half but 4 for 13 in the second half … Villanova has won six straight against Creighton since a 101-80 loss in February 2014 when Doug McDermott scored 39 … Reynolds, Villanova’s second-leading rebounder at 5.5 per game, sat out a fifth straight game with a rib injury.  

What's next
Villanova has a week off before facing Georgetown at the Verizon Center in Washington at noon Saturday. Georgetown is 14-15 overall and 5-11 in the Big East.