In crowded backfield, Polk makes big impression

In crowded backfield, Polk makes big impression

August 3, 2013, 9:00 am
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Chris Polk, seen here running during training camp, missed the final eight games of last season with turf toe. (USA Today Images)

He didn’t get a single carry last season. How many running backs spend an entire season on the 53-man roster, play at least seven games and get zero carries?

Last year, less than 20.

Still, the running back at Eagles camp making the best impression so far, showing the quickest cuts and flashing the most promise, is second-year pro Chris Polk, the rookie free agent who didn’t play a single offensive down last year.

Before all the Riley Cooper madness, Polk was attracting plenty of attention for his impressive camp. On Wednesday, hours before the Cooper video went viral, Polk had ripped off consecutive runs of at least 20 yards before the whistle blew.

On Sunday, at the open practice at the Linc, Polk had distinguished himself during teams drills with some eye-opening carries. Not to mention that he looks much more confident in the receiving game.

“I think in the last couple of days you've really seen Chris show up,” Eagles coach Chip Kelly said. “He had a great practice when we were in the stadium. Hit a couple of nice runs [Wednesday].

“Really, truly understands the blocking scheme, so he's patient in terms of understanding letting the blocks develop. But when he sees them, then sticking his foot in the ground and taking off. I think the last couple of days he's really come across.”

Kelly’s interest in Polk goes beyond their short time together in South Philadelphia. Polk was the guy Kelly’s Oregon program had circled on the scouting report in those Pac 12 Conference games against Washington.

“He was a workhorse for Washington,” Kelly said. “He was really the guy you had to stop. But he has versatility and can catch a ball coming out of the backfield. I think he's not just a one-dimensional guy, either.”

Polk’s enthusiasm for Kelly’s speedy, prolific offense at Oregon -- and his potential in the NFL version -- served as the halfback’s motivation to drop 15 pounds in the offseason and check in at 215 pounds.

Polk said he’s lighter and quicker this season and better prepared to keep pace at practice without losing the trademark brawn that he ran with at Washington, where he rushed for 1,000 yards three different times and set the program record with 21 100-yard games.

“I just wanted to be able to move easier, especially with these schemes,” he said. “We’re running in practice, play after play. Get that lateral quickness and still keep that power.”

Polk seemed like the odd man out in the offseason, when the team signed Felix Jones late in free agency and added the former Cowboys running back to a mix that already included LeSean McCoy and Bryce Brown.

The Eagles entered camp with a Pro Bowl halfback, a first-round pick, a once-coveted high school phenom and Polk, who went undrafted after a productive college career because of medical questions surrounding his shoulder and then missed the final eight games of his rookie year with turf toe.

McCoy and Brown are locks, but Jones hasn’t done anything -- positive or negative -- to stand out. Jones also comes with an injury track record and the first-round bust label after failing to break through in Dallas.

Maybe it’s a competition between Jones and Polk. Maybe Kelly takes both. The preeason games will ultimately decide.

“The more the merrier,” Polk said. “Speaking for me, I’m just going to go out and do everything I can, stay true to my running style.”