Five Tough Questions for Eagles Training Camp: Running Back

Five Tough Questions for Eagles Training Camp: Running Back

We continue our training camp preview by examining the Eagles’ running backs, who figure to get far more work under Chip Kelly than they ever did under Andy Reid.

[ Five Tough Questions for Eagles Training Camp:
Quarterback | Wide Receiver | Tight EndOffensive Line
Defensive Line | Linebackers | Cornerback | Safety ]

Can Bryce Brown quit fumbling?

It could take some time. Brown fumbled four times in 128 touches last season, and it easily would have been more if one or two botched handoffs weren’t charged to the quarterback.

Many observers were quick to trace this case of the dropsies to the 22-year-old’s practically non-existent college career. Prior to his rookie season in the NFL, Brown hardly even looked at a football the previous two years at Kansas State (three total carries), so best case scenario the seventh rounder just has to get used to contact again.

This seems like an extremely simplistic way of looking at the situation. It’s plausible with more experience and proper tutelage Brown can clean up his game, perhaps relatively quickly. However, some ball carriers in the past who struggled with holding on to the pigskin – Pro Bowlers even – took years to overcome these issues. The best example Birds fans would probably be most with is former New York Giants back Tiki Barber, who at one point put the rock on the carpet eight or more times for four consecutive seasons. It was a serious problem. You know, for the Giants.

The hope is Bryce will be able to figure it out this season, because with his rare combination of size and speed, he might be the best pure runner on the Eagles’ roster. Yes, better than Shady – Brown’s 4.9 yards per carry were seventh in the NFL, behind the same beat O-line by the way. Regardless, if this curse continues to follow him around, Chip Kelly will have no choice but to strip Brown… of his touches.

Will LeSean McCoy regain his All-Pro form from 2011?

Maybe. Shady certainly has a bunch going for him heading into 2013. He’s healthy. The Eagles’ offensive line returns three starters from injuries. Most of all, Chip Kelly’s system promises to usher in a renewed dedication to running the football in Philadelphia. At the very least McCoy should be able to improve upon last year’s numbers – specifically his pedestrian 4.2 yards per carry and two rushing touchdowns.

This doesn't appear to be all about McCoy though. He’s a fantastic back to be sure, but not quite a freak of nature in the manner of an Adrian Peterson or Barry Sanders in his prime – backs who can do it all by themselves if need be. McCoy’s success could be dependent to an extent on the recovery of Jason Peters, who paved the way for that incredible ’13 season.

How important is Peters? According to Pro Football Focus, the Eagles averaged almost a full yard more than any other team in the league on carries off of the left tackle’s outside shoulder in ’11. That is a rather significant margin.

Even if Peters is fully recovered from a twice-ruptured Achilles tendon, there are issues. Howard Mudd is out as the offensive line coach, replaced by Jeff Stoutland from the University of Alabama, which means all five linemen are thrusted into something a little new. The right side in particular is completely rebuilt with Todd Herremans moving back to guard, and fourth-overall pick Lane Johnson taking over at tackle.

And some of Shady’s 2011 numbers are plain not easy to replicate, either, namely the 5.2 yards per carry and 20 touchdowns overall. The Eagles are fortunate to have found a high-end back like McCoy, who will only be 25 this season and undoubtedly has many stellar years ahead, but All-Pro campaigns aren’t necessarily going to become the norm.

What is Felix Jones doing here?

Maybe nothing. There may only be roughly a coin-flip's chance the Dallas Cowboys’ ’08 first-round pick makes Philly’s 53-man roster. At this stage of his career, Jones’ name is bigger than anything he’s managed to accomplish in the NFL.

That doesn’t mean he's useless. With as much as some experts are speculating the Eagles will run the ball under Chip Kelly, Jones could be an excellent change-of-pace back for a handful of carries every week. If Bryce Brown can’t hold on to the ball, Jones could be the primary spell for Shady McCoy. And in addition to carrying the ball, Jones can return kicks, quite possibly his most valuable asset at all.

While Jones may fit the description of a draft bust to a tee – having never eclipsed so much as 800 yards in a season throughout his career – there should be some fuel left in the tank. He’s only 26 years old after all, and has touched the ball more than 200 times just once in five seasons. Injuries have been an issue, but have only caused him to miss four games since 2010.

If healthy – albeit a huge if – Jones is an effective runner/receiver/returner, one who on his best days has home-run capability. That kind of talent is worth a look at least, and don’t be surprised if Felix is a Bird in ’13.

Could Chris Polk Make the Team?

He’s got a shot. The University of Washington product made the team as an undrafted free agent last summer, grinding out seven games before finally succumbing to a toe injury. Now Polk is healthy, has a season under his belt as a professional special teamer, and remains an untapped resource as a potential workhorse back.

Polk – 5-11, 222 – rushed for over 4,000 yards over his final three collegiate seasons. The 23 year old could be a real bruiser if given the opportunity, and having coached in the Pac-12, Chip Kelly undoubtedly is aware of this.

The fact of the matter is Polk probably won’t be seeing huge numbers of carries, but he is the likely third back if Felix Jones doesn’t make the cut. Even if Jones sticks, there is a chance Chip keeps four backs should Polk’s special teams contributions warrant a roster spot. He might have some ability as a runner, but his versatility is what will ultimately win him a job.

Who is the fullback?

There is none! The great tradition of Cecil Martin, Jon Ritchie, Leonard Weaver, and the other (mostly unremarkable) fullbacks of the Andy Reid era goes on an indefinite hiatus under Chip Kelly. The last remaining remnant of that time period is Emil Igwenagu, who mostly works out at tight end and has essentially no chance of making the roster.

So who is the lead blocker if the Eagles were to use a heavy package, say on 3rd down and goal to go from the one-yard line? Well in that particular instance, perhaps nose tackle Isaac Sopoaga. But in virtually any other circumstance that might call for a fullback, it would be tight end/H-back James Casey.

Casey blocked for 17 of the Houston Texans’ 19 rushing touchdowns in 2012 according to Pro Football Focus, so maybe Sopoaga won’t be getting the call at the goal line after all. PFF notes Casey had a negative grade as a run blocker overall, but it shouldn’t matter as this figures to represent an extremely limited portion of the offense moving forward. The changes to the offense in the backfield alone are already sweeping to say the least.

Andrew Kulp is a freelance writer covering Philadelphia sports for The700Level.com. E-mail him at andrewkulp@comcast.net or follow him on Twitter.

Watch: Jon Dorenbos wows America's Got Talent judges with map trick

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Watch: Jon Dorenbos wows America's Got Talent judges with map trick

Eagles long snapper Jon Dorenbos did it again. 

The 36-year-old performed another jaw-dropping magic trick on NBC's America's Got Talent on Tuesday night. 

His tricks have progressively gotten more and more intricate on the show. The first two times, he went with card tricks before doing an impressive shattering-glass trick the last time. 

On Tuesday night, Dorenbos went even further. This time, he made all the judges snap or throw velcro footballs onto a giant map. Then there was a locked wooden chest and quarters and a lot of moving parts, but it was all very impressive when he wrapped up the trick and left the judges speechless. 

And, of course, after it was over, he dropped a "Go Birds!" in true Philadelphia fashion. He'll play in the final preseason game on Thursday night. 

Dorenbos will need fan votes to stay alive in the competition. Watch the entire trick below: 

Instant Replay: Nationals 3, Phillies 2

Instant Replay: Nationals 3, Phillies 2

BOX SCORE

The Phillies fell victim to a dominating pitching performance by Washington’s Max Scherzer in a 3-2 loss on Tuesday night.
 
Scherzer held the Phillies to two runs over eight innings. He walked one and struck out 11.
 
Scherzer has started against the Phillies eight times since signing with the Nats before the 2015 season. He is 6-0 with a 1.98 ERA in those games.
 
The Phillies had just three hits. They had just four in losing to the Nats on Monday night.
 
Starting pitching report
Jerad Eickhoff gave up three runs on five hits and three walks over six innings. He gave up back-to-back two-out doubles in the first inning and extended the inning with a walk before giving up another RBI hit.
 
He took the loss to fall to 9-13 in 27 starts. His ERA is 3.90.
 
Scherzer (15-7) opened the game with five no-hit innings. The right-hander has carried a no-hitter into the sixth inning in nine of his 61 starts with the Washington. He has reached double digits in strikeouts 12 times this season.
 
Bullpen report
Hector Neris and Edubray Ramos kept the game close.
 
Mark Melancon earned the save for Washington.

At the plate
Freddy Galvis broke up Scherzer’s no-hit bid with a leadoff double in the sixth. He was promptly picked off second on a bad boneheaded base running play.
 
Ryan Howard lined a two-run homer to left to get the Phils on the board and make it a one-run game in the seventh. Howard hit an 0-1 Scherzer fastball that registered 94 mph on the stadium gun. Howard had been 1 for 20 with 13 strikeouts in his career against Scherzer before the homer.
 
Howard’s homer was his 20th of the season. He has reached 20 homers 10 times. Only Mike Schmidt (14) did it more as a Phillie. Howard has 377 homers, tying him with Norm Cash and Jeff Kent for 73rd all time.
 
Bryce Harper, Wilson Ramos and Scherzer (with a safety squeeze) drove in the Washington runs.
 
An honor
One day after pitching seven innings of two-run ball against the Nationals in his fifth big-league start, Jake Thompson was named the International League’s Most Valuable Pitcher. Thompson went 11-5 with a 2.55 ERA in 21 starts for Lehigh Valley.
 
ICYMI
Manager Pete Mackanin is about to cut into Howard’s playing time so he can look more at Tommy Joseph (see story).
 
Up next
The two teams play the series finale on Wednesday night with a pair of lefties on the mound. Adam Morgan (1-8, 6.50) opposes Gio Gonzalez (9-9, 4.25).

Jeremiah Trotter, Merrill Reese to enter Eagles Hall of Fame

Jeremiah Trotter, Merrill Reese to enter Eagles Hall of Fame

Legendary announcer Merrill Reese and All-Pro middle linebacker Jeremiah Trotter will enter the Eagles’ Hall of Fame, the team announced Tuesday evening.

Reese and Trotter will be enshrined on Nov. 28, during halftime of the Eagles’ Monday night game against the Packers at the Linc.

Trotter, a third-round pick in 1998, spent eight years with the Eagles during three separate stints — 1998 through 2001, 2004 through 2006 and again in 2009. He was a four-time Pro Bowler and two-time All-Pro.

The Axe Man is one of four linebackers in Eagle history to make four Pro Bowl teams. The others are Chuck Bednarik, Maxie Baughan and Bill Bergey. 
 
“Jeremiah Trotter embodies everything we strive for as an organization,” owner Jeff Lurie said in a statement. “He was an emotional and inspirational player who captured the hearts of our fans. As an anchor of our defense, he led with an immeasurable amount of toughness and a fiery attitude.”
 
Trotter left the Eagles after the 2001 season but returned after two years with the Redskins. After beginning the 2004 season as a backup behind Mark Simoneau, Trotter entered the lineup halfway through the season and wound up as one of the keys to the defense that helped the Eagles reach their only Super Bowl in the last 35 years.  

He wasn’t just a force in the Eagles’ defensive interior, Trotter was an inspirational leader with his passion, his work ethic and his fiery locker room personality. 

Reese this fall begins his 40th year behind the microphone with the Eagles and is the longest-tenured play-by-play announcer in the NFL.

With his signature deep booming voice and unrivaled passion for the Eagles, Reese has become one of the most popular broadcasters in Philadelphia history alongside legends like Harry Kalas, Gene Hart and Richie Ashburn.

He has never missed a game since taking over as the Eagles’ voice on opening day of 1977 and has as much energy and enthusiasm now as ever. He’s also remarkably thorough in his preparation, whether he is announcing a meaningless preseason game or a Super Bowl.

“When you think about some of the greatest moments in Eagles history, you can hear Merrill’s voice, living and dying with every play, just like we all do,” Lurie said. 

“What makes him so special, and so engrained in the fabric of our franchise, is how dedicated he is to the team, the fans and his job. Merrill is a legend, and he is the absolute best at what he does.”

Reese, a member of the Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame, is a lifelong Philadelphia-area resident. He graduated from Overbrook High School and Temple and currently lives in Blue Bell.

Reese was an age-group tournament tennis player before knee problems led him to golf, which is his current obsession.

The Eagles Hall of Fame was founded in 1987 as the Eagles Honor Roll. It was largely inactive from 1997 through 2003, with only one induction class during that span — trainer Otho Davis and the 1948 and 1949 NFL championship teams.

From 1997 through 2008, only two individual players were enshrined — Bob Brown in 2004 and Reggie White in 2005. 

The Honor Roll was revived on a full-time basis in 2009 with the induction of Al Wistert and Randall Cunningham and renamed the Eagles Hall of Fame in 2011.

Reese and Trotter are the 42nd and 43rd members of the Eagles Hall of Fame. The full list can be found here.