In this edition of "Mosher's Mailbag," I answer a question about Chris Polk's role with the Eagles.
Q. Do you see an expanded role for Chris Polk in the offense this season?
-- Zachary Kahn (@Kahnected)
A. One of the few guys on offense who can expand his role in 2014 is Chris Polk, and given the success he had last year, I’d expect Polk to produce even more as LeSean McCoy’s backup than Bryce Brown did last year.
Brown seemed to struggle last year, bouncing too many of his runs to the outside and not looking nearly as explosive as he did as rookie in 2012, when he set an NFL record by rushing for 347 yards in his first two starts. But it’s not as if his 2013 was a total failure. He still rushed for 314 yards and two touchdowns, averaging more than four yards per carry, which is why the Bills ponied up decent draft compensation to pry him away from the Eagles.
But part of the reason the Eagles were willing to part ways with Brown was the emergence of Polk, who made the most of his very limited opportunities on offense last year. Polk only got the ball 11 times, but he rushed for three touchdowns and 98 yards, averaging just under nine yards per carry. He scored a touchdown against Denver in Week 4 on his first carry as a pro, a 4-yarder. Everyone remembers his 38-yard TD against the Lions in the snow, when he hit the hole decisively and escaped a linebackers’ tackle. Polk is also a core special teamer.
Even though the Eagles traded for Darren Sproles this offseason and keep going overboard to insist that Sproles isn’t a receiver, they almost surely would put the ball in Polk’s hands for most of the carries if LeSean McCoy got hurt.
Last year, Brown averaged about 4.6 carries per game as McCoy’s primary backup. I wouldn’t be surprised if Polk gets the ball a little more often. For starters, he fits the offense better than Brown did. Despite his 222-pound frame, Polk has good hands out of the backfield. He played wide receiver in high school and enjoys talking about his receiver pedigree. Secondly, he’s healthy. He had his shoulder surgically repaired in the offseason and is more equipped to take added punishment.
Also, McCoy carried the ball an NFL-most 314 times last year, because Chip Kelly likes to run and also because quarterback uncertainty for much of the season forced the coach to rely heavily on his most stable and consistent weapon. This year, with Nick Foles entrenched as the starter and with almost the entire offense back, I’d expect Kelly to open the playbook a little more and try to lessen the wear and tear on McCoy.
It wouldn’t shock me if Polk averaged between six to eight touches per game this coming season. For a guy with 11 NFL carries, that’s a hefty increase.