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

Carson Wentz further asserting himself as Eagles' leader in Year 2

Carson Wentz further asserting himself as Eagles' leader in Year 2

It's not like Carson Wentz wasn't a leader last year. 

He was. 

From the moment the No. overall 2 pick arrived at rookie camp in May, those leadership qualities the Eagles discovered during the pre-draft process were immediately on display. Wentz is a natural leader at a position that necessitates it. 

So in his rookie season, he led. 

"I thought that was all kind of natural, things naturally happened," Wentz said. "Yes, I was a rookie but I don't think that I was by any means quiet. I wasn't just the guy that rolled with the punches and went with it. I thought I was still doing my job as a leader as well. But the longer we're playing this game and the more experience we have, the more we can just step up our leadership as well."

If Wentz was a leader in his rookie season, he's really a leader now.  

Last year, he arrived to the Eagles' offseason after the whirlwind of the NFL draft and admitted on Tuesday that he "didn't really know where the locker room was." Hard to lead when you don't know where to get changed. 

And throughout last spring, he was the team's third-string quarterback preparing for a redshirt season until he was thrust into the starting role after the Sam Bradford trade, just a little more than a week before the start of the season. 

A year sometimes makes a huge difference. 

This year, he's the guy, the face of the franchise, the unquestioned leader of the 2017 Philadelphia Eagles. 

"There’s definitely a poise about him," receiver Jordan Matthews said. "You can tell it’s not like last year when he was thrust into the position. He knows his role, he knows he’s the guy, and I think there’s a sense of confidence that comes with that, a sense of poise that he handles extremely well. I’m excited to see what he does this whole offseason and what we’re going to do moving forward."

Wentz is the Eagles' leader on and off the field. He's planning on getting together with his receivers and skills position players again this summer, something he thinks will become an annual trip. 

Earlier this month, Wentz took his offensive linemen out for a day of shooting guns and eating steaks (see story). He bought his entire line shotguns last Christmas. 

It might not seem like a summer get-together or a trigger-happy trip would help the Eagles on the field, but it might. After all, the team's being closer certainly won't hurt. And Wentz, 24, is the guy facilitating all of it. 

Then there's the way Wentz leads on the field. He's always had control of the huddle, but with more time in the offense, he knows what he wants. Center Jason Kelce said the more knowledge Wentz gains of the offense, the "more comfortable (he is) voicing [his] opinion." 

"And I think that he's definitely asserting his style on the offense," Kelce said. 

For the most part, Wentz had a pretty good season as a rookie, flourishing early, hitting a long rough patch, and then finding his way out of it. He ended up throwing for 3,782 yards and set an NFL record for completions as a rookie. 

The Eagles this year, and in the foreseeable future, will go as far as Wentz leads them. 

"They say the biggest jump is from year one to year two, so him just knowing what’s coming, he looks like a vet already," offensive tackle Lane Johnson said. "Pretty extraordinary."

Sir Charles and Shaq made things personal last night and it was fantastic

Sir Charles and Shaq made things personal last night and it was fantastic

Shaq always has the trump card -- and by that we mean championship rings -- to throw in Charles Barkley's face. But with that said, Sir Charles is probably a much better trash talker and therefore has a superior mouth to defend himself with and throw barbs back in Shaq's direction.

The mouthy duo got into it a bit last night and it teetered between fun and lighthearted and a little personal.

Shaq attacks Chuck for only playing in one NBA Finals and therefore not really knowing what he was talking about. Charles claps back at Shaq for having ridden Kobe and Dwyane Wade's coattails. 

During an NBA playoffs that has been mostly boring, at least these two can still entertain us.