Darren Sproles is a RB, is still likely to finish ’14 with more receptions than rushing attempts

Darren Sproles is a RB, is still likely to finish ’14 with more receptions than rushing attempts

A few weeks back, Philadelphia Eagles head coach Chip Kelly stressed that Darren Sproles is, in fact, a running back, and not a wide receiver. Offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur reiterated Kelly’s stance when reporters were allowed to meet with assistant coaches on Monday. The funny thing is we probably don’t need these offensive masterminds to explain the difference between a back and a receiver. Sproles is listed as a running back on the roster. That’s good enough for me. However, that doesn’t mean I’m going to fall into the trap of believing the Eagles will have Sproles “run the ball first, catch it second,” as the headline at ProFootballTalk summarized Shurmur’s comments. That’s really not what he or Kelly said at all. All either coach did was reaffirm Sproles plays running back, and therefore will line up in the backfield with some regularity. Nowhere in Les Bowen’s reporting of Shurmur’s words for the Daily News does it say anything about run/pass distribution. Read for yourself.

"I think he's an outstanding running back, that's what he is," Shurmur said yesterday, when asked about Sproles. This was the first time since the 2013 season ended that Eagles coaches other than Kelly have been allowed to talk to reporters. "There's a lot of conversation about the fact we brought him in to play receiver. He's played at a very high level for 10 years. He brings outstanding leadership. He's one of our hardest workers. The first training session he went out there and he finishes as well as you see from any player, not to mention he can help us running the ball and catching it. That's a very strong addition for us." "He's a running back, so we're going to line him up in the backfield," Shurmur said, before conceding, "There is a portion of our offense where we can be in empty, or we can motion him out."

The Eagles can spin the acquisition of Sproles however they like. The simple fact of the matter he hasn’t been used as a conventional running back in years, and any attempt to start doing so now would probably be a bad idea. At best, the distribution should wind up roughly 50/50. In three seasons with the New Orleans Saints, Sproles carried the ball 188 times compared to 232 receptions. He only ever finished with more rushing attempts in a campaign his first year there—one more rushing attempt, to be exact. In his final year with the San Diego Chargers, the team that drafted Sproles in 2005, Sproles also had more catches than carries. That dual-threat is a huge part of what makes Sproles such a dangerous weapon. To think that now all of a sudden, as this 5’6”, 190-pound back gets set to turn 31 in a matter of days, he’s going to start making his living between the tackles is absurd. Even the very premise that somebody other than LeSean McCoy is going to rack up a lot of rushing attempts in Philadelphia sounds illogical. All of which begs the question what is behind this concerted effort by the Eagles to remind the world that Sproles is a runner? Another huge factor that goes into making Sproles so successful is the matchup problems he creates when he’s on the field. Kelly and Shurmur certainly have a vested interest in making defenses believe Sproles is every bit as likely to carry the ball as he is to run a route, because it could go a long way in determining what personnel the opponent puts on the field. Sproles’ ability to take a handoff is what compels a defense to keep an extra linebacker on the field. That’s Sproles mark. So now when he does go into a route, or he does line up in the slot, and the bigger, stronger linebacker is trying to cover the far more agile and shifty receiver running back, the quarterback can exploit that matchup. Quite a bit, as Drew Brees demonstrated in New Orleans the past three seasons. Sproles racked up 232 receptions for 1,981 yards and 16 touchdowns as a member of the Saints. As Bowen alludes to in his story, Kelly and now Shurmur are essentially attempting to walk back the head coach’s comments made back in March about how Sproles will help the Birds offense against man defense. If the defense assumes Sproles is only out there to catch passes, the opponent may opt to put an additional defensive back on the field instead. Teams may do that anyway, which is where the flexibility of Kelly’s offense can really come into play. If the defense goes nickel or dime personnel because Sproles is on the field, the Eagles will likely pound the ball down their throats. So, yes, Sproles is a running back. He’ll certainly carry the ball from time to time, probably effectively. There's even a slight possibility he'll finish '14 with marginally more carries than receptions. However, if the last several years’ worth of historical data serves as any indication—and really, just plain common sense—it all suggests Sproles will have a much greater impact in the passing attack than on the ground.

The Game of Zones-Joel Embiid mashup you didn't know you needed

The Game of Zones-Joel Embiid mashup you didn't know you needed

There are times in all of our Internet lives when we come across a piece of content that we don't quite understand, that we didn't really know we needed, yet fills our black Philadelphia sports fan hearts with joy anyway.

Today is one of those days.

And that piece of content is this Game of Zones x Embiid mashup.

If you're unfamiliar, this is the latest in Bleacher Report's fun take on a Game of Thrones/NBA mashup.

There's the mountain of a man that is Joel Embiid laid up with a presumably bum knee. There's the Temple of Shirley potion to give him life. There's the maester Sam Hinkie shouting off his analytics spells. There's Hinkie talking about growing the seeds and reaping the harvest. There's a terrifying looking Dario. There is a raising of the cat. 

Perhaps the best part is Jahlil Okafor attempting to hold the door.

What does it all mean? I don't know. But I trust it.

Jim Harbaugh takes blame for Jim Schwartz handshake feud

Jim Harbaugh takes blame for Jim Schwartz handshake feud

With one season in Philadelphia under Jim Schwartz’s belt, Eagles fans are well aware of the intensity the defensive coordinator brings to the sidelines. But before joining Doug Pederson's staff, Schwartz attracted plenty of attention during a five-year stint as head coach of the Detroit Lions from 2009-2013. A highlight of his tenure in the Motor City developed a new wrinkle this week.

Maybe the most memorable moment during his time in Detroit was the unnecessarily ugly midfield feud in 2011’s Week 6 with then-49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh. Schwartz marched to midfield for the postgame handshake after his Lions took their first loss of the season. Harbaugh, a usually-excited guy with cause for a little extra enthusiasm after a fourth straight win, came in too strong for Schwartz’s liking. Schwartz chased down Harbaugh as he ran for the tunnel and the two exchanged some choice words. Coaches and players flocked to the tussle. What started as standard postgame procedure became the national talking-point nobody needed for the ensuing week.

The six-year-old incident returned to the conversation this week with Harbaugh, now the head coach at the University of Michigan, admitting on Barstool Sports’ Pardon My Take podcast (and as transcribed by ESPN) that he was to blame for things getting out of hand. 

"I went in too hard on that, too aggressive on the handshake," Harbaugh said on the podcast. "We've talked, and we're good. We're back to friends. ... There is a protocol in a postgame handshake. I've been there as the winner. I've been there as a loser. You just, 'Nice game,' then go celebrate. Premature celebration there, in the wrong."

On top of discussing his gifting Pope Francis a pair of Jordan sneakers and his theory that bringing a glove to catch a foul ball is acceptable for fans, Harbaugh went on to explain the last time he got in a real fight, as opposed to the silly scrum that went down at Ford Field that fateful day. He was 39, at the end of his days as a player, and got into it with two men at a restaurant.

"I did not win," he said. "I cannot say I won. I didn't get crushed, either. I got some blows in."

Harbaugh has a reputation for his passion, and the handshake debacle with Schwartz was no exception. It’s just that his passion often translates to doing things in a non-traditional way. He’s the khakis guy, always sporting his trademark dad-pants on the sidelines — he even tucked an Allen Iverson jersey into them once. He’ll do anything to get a leg up in recruiting, for example, sleeping over at a recruit's house for some “Netflix and Chill.”

Schwartz, similarly, is frequently fired up, and that aggression bleeds into his defensive scheme. 

Harbaugh is in the college game now, so the development in this nearly forgotten exchange isn’t life-changing. But if he ever returns to the pros, it’s good to know a postgame handshake with Schwartz wouldn't revive any bad blood.