Chris Polk is back.
Beyond that? He just doesn’t know.
Polk returned to practice Saturday after missing nearly a month of practice time with a torn hamstring muscle.
He returned, but he conceded he’s not 100 percent. It’s possible he’s not even close.
After a month on the sideline, Polk said he felt the injury at practice Saturday, a light, no-pads session. He’ll try to go again Sunday, when practice will be longer, faster-paced, more intense and presumably in full pads.
Asked when he feels the injury, Polk said, “Definitely cutting. It’s a lateral hamstring, so definitely when I try to cut, put all my weight on one leg and try to really burst. We’ll just see how it goes in practice.”
Polk entered the preseason as the Eagles’ consensus No. 3 running back, behind LeSean McCoy and Darren Sproles. He didn’t play a lot last year, but he did enough with limited chances — 11 carries for 98 yards and three touchdowns, four catches for 61 yards, solid blocking — to pretty much secure a roster spot and key role in 2014.
But the combination of Polk’s injury and outstanding preseason performances from Matthew Tucker and Henry Josey has made things very interesting.
Tucker, a hard-running second-year undrafted tailback from TCU, has averaged 4.8 yards on 18 preseason carries, and he’s the only player in the NFL with four rushing TDs this preseason. Josey, an undrafted rookie from Missouri, is averaging a whopping 8.7 yards on 12 carries along with a 27-yard TD catch.
Head coach Chip Kelly said after the Pittsburgh preseason game Thursday night that the third running back spot remains unsettled two weeks before the season opener.
“We need to get healthy and get everybody competing there and find out who really the third running back is going to be,” he said.
And Polk knows it won’t be him if he’s not healthy. So he really has no choice but to practice. Even if he’s not 100 percent.
“I missed so much, so I’ve got to catch up,” Polk said. “I’m real behind right now. Especially I’ve got to get into shape, get some real reps and get tackled, get hit a few times.
“We’ll definitely see how practice goes [Sunday]. Today was a light day. It felt good to go out there and move around. It’s been a month.”
Polk said he’s concerned about his fitness level after missing virtually all of the preseason and the first three preseason games.
He said he lost a lot of weight during the offseason but gained too much back during his protracted layoff.
“I’m not out of shape, but I’m not in football shape,” he said. “Because to get in football shape you have to play football. There’s nothing you can do off the field that gets you prepared for that. I definitely got to step it up there.”
This wasn’t even believed to be a serious injury when it first occurred, back in late July.
Kelly said he expected Polk back “shortly.” But an MRI showed a grade-two tear, and nearly a month later Polk is still feeling the injury.
“I didn’t even think I tore it,” he said. “I thought it was a light strain, because I could still walk and it wasn’t too swollen. And then the MRI said I had a grade-two tear, and I was really surprised because I never hurt my hamstring before and it really didn’t feel like a tear.”
Polk struggled with shoulder injuries in college and early in his NFL career. Surgery finally cleared that up. Once he was healthy, the hammy went.
But Polk said he doesn’t feel snakebit by the injuries. He’s trying to look at this latest setback as a positive.
“I’m a firm believer in everything happens for a reason,” he said. “Injuries I can’t control that, so I’m very optimistic. It could be a blessing in disguise. Maybe that gave me time to work on my shoulder and improve in other areas, whether it’s studying, getting stronger, faster, whatever.
“So I’m definitely just thinking positive about everything. It really put things in perspective for me. Even though I’m not playing, I still watched every carry of every single running back we had and tried to envision what I would have done so I wouldn’t fall behind.”
But he is behind. He knows it. McCoy and Sproles won’t play Thursday night, so Polk will get every opportunity to show what he can do. So will Tucker and Josey.
“I’ve got to show them,” Polk said. “Obviously I missed a lot so I’ve got to put my best foot forward and show them I’m here, I’m the real deal.”