Eagles under the radar: Running back Chris Polk

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Eagles under the radar: Running back Chris Polk

In a five-part series from Monday to Friday, Eagles insider Geoff Mosher and columnist Reuben Frank preview five Eagles flying “under the radar” as the team heads into training camp and the 2014 season. These unsung Eagles have a chance to make a bigger impact this season than people may expect. Camp opens July 25.

Chris Polk
Position: Running back
Height/weight: 5-11/222
Acquired: Rookie free agent (2012)

Background
Polk, signed in 2012 as a rookie free agent out of Washington, turned heads in very limited offensive snaps last year. On just 11 carries, he rushed for three touchdowns, including a 6-yard TD on his first career carry and an impressive 38-yard burst up the gut against the Lions in the infamous snowstorm game. He also caught a 34-yard pass from Nick Foles against the Cowboys. A power runner with some elusive moves, Polk ranks second on the Huskies' career rushing list (4,049 yards) and broke a school record by having 21 100-yard rushing games.

Geoff's take
The coaches keep touting Darren Sproles’ running ability and shooting down theories that Sproles is more of a slot receiver, but there’s no question that Polk will be the primary ball carrier behind LeSean McCoy. The team made that statement by dealing backup running back Bryce Brown, who regressed slightly last year but still has tremendous upside, to Buffalo for draft compensation. With Brown out of the picture, Polk can inherit the four to six carries per game that Brown shouldered last season as McCoy’s backup. Polk isn’t as explosive as Brown, but he’s a more decisive runner and has better hands, which makes him a nice fit for Chip Kelly’s offense. Polk has really good vision and makes people miss despite the 222-pound frame he’s carrying. And then he can just bowl over people, too. Polk could easily see more touches than Brown did and catch more passes, and if McCoy were to suffer an injury, Polk would step into the top halfback role and move the chains. You need depth in the NFL, especially at running back.

Roob's take
I really like Polk, and I thought he should have played more last year, especially with Brown unable to approach his record-setting form of 2012. Polk was saddled with shoulder injuries last year, but he had offseason surgery and says he feels significantly better than he has since the Eagles signed him as an undrafted free agent after the 2012 draft. Think about this for a moment: Polk last season became the first running back in NFL history to rush for three touchdowns in a season with 11 or fewer carries. That’s production. And this one: Last year he became the first running back to net 159 yards of offense in a season on 15 or fewer touches in 24 years. Nobody wants to take McCoy off the field, and Sproles is certainly going to have a prominent role, at least at the outset, but there is no reason Polk can’t get four to six touches a game in this offense. Throw it to him, hand it to him, let him block, and good things will happen. I have a hunch by the time the season is over Polk will be considered one of the big surprises of the 2014 Eagles' season.

Doug Pederson doesn't think 2016 struggles will ruin Carson Wentz in long term

Doug Pederson doesn't think 2016 struggles will ruin Carson Wentz in long term

In his first month in the NFL, Carson Wentz's trophy case was filling up quickly. 

He won two NFL Rookie of the Week awards to go along with being named the NFC Offensive Player of the Week in Week 3 and the NFL's Offensive Rookie of the Month for September. 

It's hard to believe all of that happened this year. 

Since September, the Eagles have gone 2-7 and Wentz has looked like a rookie. Sure, the Eagles have some major deficiencies on offense that haven't made his life any easier, but it's no longer possible to simply overlook the regression of the No. 2 overall pick. 

Could this tough stretch negatively affect Wentz long term?  

"I don't think it's going to affect Carson going forward," head coach Doug Pederson said on Monday. "I just don't think it's going to affect him at all, because he's really a pro's pro and he's learning how to handle adversity for the first time, probably, in his career. It's something that we get to the OTAs and we get a full offseason in and we just continue to work on it."

It's fair to say the 2016 season was probably never really about this year and making the playoffs. It's clear the more important thing is to develop Wentz into the franchise quarterback they drafted him to be. But the one thing the team probably didn't want to see was regression. It seems like that's what has happened. 

In the first four games of the season, Wentz had a passer rating over 100 three times and hasn't done it since then. Take a look at the difference in the first quarter of his season compared to the next two. 

First four games: Completion percentage of 67 percent, 7 touchdowns, 1 interception, passer rating of 103.5. 

Next eight: Completion percentage of 61 percent, 5 touchdowns, 10 interceptions, passer rating of 70.1. 

The Eagles will enter their final quarter of the season when they host Washington on Sunday. The best way to avoid any long-term issues stemming from a tough rookie season is to end on a stronger note. 

"Well, you avoid it by trying to win a football game, and you try to win as many as you can now with these last four that we've got," Pederson said. "If you're looking towards next season, you always want to go out with a bang and try to win as many as you can down the stretch."

Way back in training camp, the plan was for 2016 to be a redshirt year for Wentz. He was supposed to sit behind Sam Bradford and Chase Daniel, but Bradford was traded and the Eagles elected to start their prized quarterback from the onset. 

Wentz went from a redshirt season to being on pace to throw 603 passes, which would shatter the Eagles' record for a single season. 

"These are some of the decisions that I made back when the trade was made that if there was going to be some growing pains, these were going to be some of the pains we were going to have to go through," Pederson said. "And just him understanding and him learning and us growing together as an offense, he and I growing as coach and quarterback together, it's all part of the process."

Wentz and Pederson seemingly had a disagreement after Sunday's game, when Pederson attributed Wentz's struggles to mechanical problems, while Wentz denied that was the case. Pederson held firm to his belief that those mechanical issues can be corrected and it's probable Wentz spoke out of frustration on Sunday night. 

If Wentz is frustrated, it would be understandable. It hasn't been an easy couple of months. 

"I see him handling it well," Pederson said. "These are discussions that we will have, myself, [Eagles offensive coordinator] Frank [Reich], Carson [Wentz], as we talk to him, because we've played obviously at this level, and my experience, even in this city playing and knowing what that's all about, we can really help him. It’s our job to help him and make sure that he stays on track and stays focused and he doesn't get derailed by anything that's coming from the outside."

Eagles Injury Update: Mathews and Matthews to return to practice

Eagles Injury Update: Mathews and Matthews to return to practice

If you're searching for some good news following the Eagles' dismal 32-14 loss to the Bengals on Sunday afternoon, here it is. 

Jordan Matthews (ankle) and Ryan Mathews (knee) are going to return to practice this week, head coach Doug Pederson said on Monday. 

Ryan Mathews, who suffered an MCL sprain against Seattle, has missed the last two weeks. The Eagles averaged just 77 yards rushing in those two losses, going with Wendell Smallwood, Darren Sproles and Kenjon Barner. 

Jordan Matthews, who has been the Eagles' best and most consistent receiver this season, suffered an ankle sprain against the Packers and was inactive on Sunday against the Bengals. It was the first game he ever missed in college or in the NFL. 

Wideout Dorial Green-Beckham, who injured his midsection and got X-rays during the game, has an oblique contusion, according to Pederson. Green-Beckham is sore and will be held from practice on Wednesday, but Pederson expects him to be "OK" for the Washington game on Sunday. 

Pederson said right tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai is "coming along," but isn't yet ready to return. 

"He's going to do a little more this week, not from a practice standpoint but from a rehab standpoint, and he's doing good," Pederson said. "But we'll see where he is again later in the week."

In Vaitai's absence, left guard Allen Barbre has shifted from left guard to right tackle and Stefen Wisniewski has replaced him at left guard.