Duce Staley is one of only two holdover coaches from the Andy Reid era. (USA Today Images)
It’s Duce Staley, and he’s talking about running the football, and if this doesn’t get you pumped up for the 2013 season, nothing will.
Duce. Duuuuuuuuuuuce. He spent seven years with the Eagles and ranks fourth in franchise history behind Wilbert Montgomery, Brian Westbrook and Steve Van Buren in rushing yards.
From 1998 through 2004, Staley was one of only seven NFL players with at least 5,000 rushing yards and 2,500 receiving yards.
But we loved Duce because of the way he played more than the numbers. He ran like a human battering ram. No frills football. He was like a linebacker with the ball. And when he suffered a career-threatening foot injury in 2000, he worked even harder to get back where he had been and then had his third 1,000-yard season.
Andy Reid loved Duce, which is weird since nobody likes to throw the ball more than Andy, and nobody likes to run the ball more than Duce.
The Eagles didn’t re-sign Staley after 2003, and he finished up in Pittsburgh, winning a Super Bowl with the Steelers in 2005.
The Steelers that year threw the ball 379 times and ran the ball 549 times, and in the Super Bowl win over the Seahawks, the ratio was 33-to-22.
And now Duce is coaching Eagles running backs, and he’s fired up talking about all of this stuff.
“If you want to be around at the end of December and in January, you’ve got to run the ball,” Staley said. “And when I left here and went to Pittsburgh, boy, was that so true.
“You run the ball, you run the ball, you protect your defense. Run the ball, run the ball, you protect your defense. This may sound crazy, but I believe this: Some people understand this is a game of yards. Other people understand this is a game of inches. And the people that have the mentality that this is a game of inches, they run the ball. And people who understand that this is a game of yards, they throw the ball.”
“Meaning, they’ve got to get a bunch of yards in chunks,” Staley continued. “A game of inches … I can get those two or three yards on first down and then I’m going to come back on second down and I’m going to run it again and take three more yards and now it’s 3rd-and-4, and it’s manageable.
“Other people believe, ‘Hey, I gotta go down the field. If I don’t get it here, it’s 2nd-and-long. I don’t get it here, I’m going back down the field. I don’t get it here, it’s 3rd-and-long.’ Some people believe in that.”
Staley is just getting warmed up now. He spent seven years here as a player and he’s now in his fourth year as a coach, and he knows what brand of football fans want to see.
Throwing the ball is fine. But you have to mix it up. If you’re going to play in an outdoor stadium in the northeast late in the season in all kinds of weather, you have to mix it up.
“Think about the makup of the city,” Staley said. “About what the city is known for. From Rocky … tough, hard city. From Jerome Brown … tough, hard-nosed player. Ricky Watters. We can keep going here. Reggie White. So when you start thinking about that, the first thing that comes to your mind is toughness.
“You might remember somebody running with a shoe coming off and running for a first down. You might remember a helmet being knocked off and making a tackle. But you remember the toughness.
“And along with that you remember the 80-yard bomb and you remember this guy’s stats, but the toughness of this city is something that’s easily remembered.”
Staley is shaking his head now. He saw what we saw. Reid too often had those games where for whatever reason, he just stopped running the ball. Just stopped.
Heck, it was Staley himself who was criminally underutilized in the playoffs here.
There was the 2001 NFC Championship Game against Tampa, when he ripped off a 20-yard touchdown run in the game’s opening minutes and then got 12 carries the rest of the game. Bucs went to the Super Bowl.
A year later, there was the NFC Championship Game loss to the Panthers, when he averaged over 6.0 yards per carry but got only 13 runs. Panthers went to the Super Bowl.
It drives Staley crazy. Still.
The Eagles had success under Reid, but it’s impossible not to wonder just how much more success they would have had if Reid and long-time offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg had been more balanced.
Now Staley is coaching under Chip Kelly. He’s one of only two holdover coaches that Kelly kept, along with tight ends coach Ted Williams – who was Staley’s first position coach 16 years ago this summer.
Kelly will run. A lot. And Staley can’t hide his excitement talking about a running game that should be revived after being mothballed the last decade.
“I’m licking my chops,” Staley said. “I’m not even playing anymore. I’m coaching and I’m still licking my chops, because they’re going to have the opportunity to go out there and show off their skills.”
LeSean McCoy, Bryce Brown and Felix Jones – and don’t forget Chris Polk, Staley insists – form the Eagles’ deepest running back corps since the famed Three-Headed Monster of 2003 – Staley, Westbrook and Correll Buckhalter.
McCoy is a Pro Bowler and led the NFL in TDs two years ago. Brown last year became the first back in at least 50 years to rush for 165 or more yards in each of his first two starts. Jones led the NFL with 5.9 yards per carry in 2009.
Quite an array of talent.
But how will the carries be split up? Running backs all want the ball. Can this work?
“Me, Buck and B-West, we all felt we could play at a high level,” Staley said. “You want the ball? There’s nothing wrong with wanting the ball. There’s nothing wrong with demanding the ball more.
“But your actions have to speak, not your words. So you want the ball, you do everything right. I’m a big fan of that. Come out here and work. That shows that you want the ball more. Not crying, not bickering, not being a little baby. I don’t want to hear that. If anything, that turns me off.
“Chip has a great saying … habits reflect the mission. What’s your mission? You want the ball more. What are your habits? Are you working hard? Are you showing me you deserve to play more?”
Staley said he doesn’t want his guys thinking McCoy is No. 1 and they’re competing for any remaining carries.
He wants them all thinking they’re No. 1.
“I have a question I put on my board, ‘Who wants to be second?’” Staley said. “The answer is that I want all No. 1’s. I’m a strong believer in competition at the position.
“You want somebody to play at a high level, a star, whoever it might be, if you want to get the best out of them, you have to add competition at the position, because there comes a time where certain players think they know everything. There comes a time, where certain players, because they had a little success, think that they can ease through things. And then the hard work is forgotten when contracts come.
“What got them there is forgotten. So you easily, easily fix that problem with adding competition at the position, and that’s what we did, and I’m loving every bit of it. Because to be honest with you, I think I’ve got the best group on the field at this camp, overall. And guess what, they’re going to show it.
“It’s a lot of pressure on a defense with all those backs, because all those backs do a different things. You go back with Felix to Arkansas and his early years in Dallas, that’s the Felix I want. That’s the Felix I’m trying to get back. Chris Polk was a beast at Washington. Running over people, running through people. That’s the Chris Polk I want. You look at Bryce Brown in high school and his first year at Tennessee. He and Trent Richardson were the top two running backs coming out of high school.
“Me, Wes and Buck, we challenged each other. Every day. Now ya’all four, who wants to be No. 1? Go get it.”