Howie Roseman: Eagles counting on Chris Polk

Howie Roseman: Eagles counting on Chris Polk
August 30, 2014, 5:30 pm
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Howie Roseman (left) on Saturday said the Eagles are counting on Chris Polk, who's been injured all training camp, after Polk made the 53-man roster. (USA Today Images)

Darren Sproles is 31 years old and has averaged 3.9 carries per game in his career. Chris Polk has exactly 11 carries in his two-year career.

And there’s your Eagles running back depth.

After releasing NFL preseason rushing leader Henry Josey, NFL preseason rushing touchdown leader Matthew Tucker and second-year pro Kenjon Barner, the Eagles were left with just three running backs on their 53-man roster as of the NFL-mandated 4 p.m. roster deadline Saturday (see the 2014 roster at a glance).

That’s only Sproles and Polk behind 2013 NFL rushing leader LeSean McCoy.

“We began the season with three running backs last year,” general manager Howie Roseman said Saturday afternoon, after the team reduced its roster from 75 to 53 (see story).

“I think you’re talking about three good players with versatile skill sets. And that’s why we made the decision to go in that direction.”

But Sproles is considered more of a receiver and returner than a runner. Over the last four years, he has more receptions (291) than carries (238).

And Polk, despite great production in very limited action last year, is largely an unknown that’s been unable to stay healthy. He has just 11 career carries and four receptions, and he’s dealt with injuries throughout his career — shoulder problems since college that required surgery and a torn hamstring that kept him out of the entire preseason and still hasn’t totally healed.

Roseman was unable to say whether Polk will be 100 percent or even available for the regular-season opener against the Jaguars a week from Sunday.

“We’re counting on Chris Polk here going forward,” he said. “I don’t know the exact timetable as far as practice.”

But Roseman said he and head coach Chip Kelly are confident in Polk’s ability to back up McCoy, despite his limited experience.

“Chris Polk has a body of work, and when you talk about backup spots, Chip has talked about looking for special teams contributions, and he’s done a really good job on special teams,” Roseman said.

“He’s another guy who has a different skill set — 220 pounds, has been successful in the NFL. Not to shortchange some of the guys we let go who had good camps, but looking at the body of work, and Chris worked very hard and had a great offseason.”

Josey and Tucker were both exceptional this preseason. Josey, a rookie undrafted free agent from Missouri, ran 34 times for 225 yards during the preseason, a beefy 6.6 average. Tucker had 24 carries for 125 yards, a 5.2 average, to go with four touchdowns.

Josey and Tucker are both eligible for the Eagles’ practice squad. We will learn at noon Sunday what players released Saturday have cleared waivers, becoming eligible for the practice squad.

Roseman, speaking in general about impressive younger players the team releases, said it’s a difficult balancing act finding the right mix of proven veterans and youngsters with upside.

“You’re always worreid about letting go a young guy that has potential,” Roseman said.

“But by the same token, you’ve got to win games and you have to put yourself in position to have the best 53 guys and the coach and coaching staff certainly deserve that.

“We’re in the process of trying to win games right now and also build our roster. It’s always a balance, but I think as we look at this team I think it strikes the right balance of veterans and youth and experience and inexperience.”

As for Josey, Roseman said this: “He has a great story, did really good job, has come back from a lot of adversity. I have a great deal of admiration for the player.”

The biggest surprise on the 53-man roster is undrafted rookie tight end Trey Burton, who caught nine passes for 100 yards in the preseason.

Roseman said it was Burton’s special teams ability that got him on the roster.

“Those guys are hard to find, big bodies who can run and catch,” he said. “He was an interesting guy for us.”

For now, the Eagles are heavy on the offensive line, with nine linemen on the 53. That’s 17 percent of the roster, and that’s a reflection of the production the Eagles got from the second offense — five touchdowns on seven drives.

In addition to the starters, the Eagles kept Matt Tobin, Andrew Gardner, Dennis Kelly and David Molk, with Lane Johnson getting a roster exemption during his four-week NFL-imposed suspension.

“We went heavy on the offensive line, and I think that’s a great credit to those offensive linemen and what they did for us,” Roseman said.

“Those guys, the way that they worked in the offseason and the opportunities they got in the preseason games, they did a really strong job. That number is probably a little higher than anticipated going into camp, but that’s what competition is all about.”

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