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.

Whose stocks are rising and falling after Eagles' third preseason game?

Whose stocks are rising and falling after Eagles' third preseason game?

Sam Bradford was almost perfect in the Eagles' biggest preseason tune-up on Saturday night.

Heard that one before. Bradford's line is the perfect example of why we can only lend so much validity to preseason performance. On paper, 17 of 20 for 167 yards and two touchdowns — with two dropped passes mind you — looks like an incredible line. What the box score fails to mention however is the Colts were without seven regulars on defense, so a veteran quarterback should excel, particularly against vanilla schemes.

Bradford's performance was eerily reminiscent of almost one year ago to the day, when he was 10 of 10 for 121 yards and three touchdowns against the Packers in an exhibition game. We all know how that turned out — an up-and-down season for the signal-caller, and a 7-9 record for the Eagles.

At the same time, it's not as if there weren't positives to take away from Bradford's performance this summer. He's actually pushing the ball downfield a little bit, not necessarily deep, but working the intermediate passing attack. He looks confident and is stepping up in the pocket, making good decisions, throwing the football accurately and with anticipation. Bradford looks great.

Of course, he's looked great in the preseason before, yet once again, it doesn't mean much. What we've seen from the Eagles through three games — on both sides of the football — certainly is encouraging, especially to those of us who don't think this is a bad team to begin with. That being said, not sure this stuff should change any minds until they get it done in the real thing starting on September 11 versus the Browns.

STOCK UP

Dorial Green-Beckham, Josh Huff

OK, if you weren't excited to see Green-Beckham sky over a cornerback to pluck a Bradford fade out of the air for a four-yard touchdown, you may not have a pulse. DGB made that play look effortless, which is exactly what you want to see from a 6-foot-5, 237-pound wideout on an overmatched defensive back. Not saying DGB is going to post prolific numbers in 2016, but he can be a dangerous weapon in the red zone if nowhere else.

Credit where credit is due to Huff, a frustrating player we like to have fun with. No miscues on Saturday, finishing with two receptions for 60 yards including a 38-yard catch-and-run, and scoring from nine yards out on a jet sweep. The Eagles have been making a conscious effort to put him in positions to showcase his talent, and he probably just made the team with this performance.

Trey Burton, Zach Ertz

Wouldn't it be something if Burton played a role in the offense this season? The hybrid tight end hauled in five passes for 35 yards and a touchdown while getting a long look with the first-team offense. Don't be surprised if the Eagles use a lot more three-tight end formations this season, because Burton is a real weapon.

Quick plug for Ertz here, who has impressed me in all three games with his work as a blocker. That was the area most in need of improvement when he entered the league, and it's reached a point where he's looked very effective thus far.

Jason Peters

The fact that we haven't been talking about Peters the past few weeks is probably the biggest reason why his stock is on the rise. The Eagles simply need their left tackle to be healthy, and even if he's not the dominant force he once was, the eight-time Pro Bowler should bring stability to their offensive line. Peters has made it through the past two games, which in itself is a promising sign.

Connor Barwin, Brandon Graham, Bennie Logan, Beau Allen

Fletcher Cox too, obviously. The front four has done exactly what is expected of it from a Jim Schwartz-coached defense, which is wreak havoc in opposing backfields.

Barwin has adjusted well to the move from 3-4 linebacker to 4-3 end, notching a sack on Saturday to give him 1.5 in the preseason. That takedown came on a pressure by Graham, who's been very active in all three games as well. Logan has eased concerns as to whether he is tailored for the attacking scheme, getting consistent penetration from the tackle position. And even Allen, a 2013 seventh-round draft pick, has flashed with 1.5 sacks this summer, perhaps cementing a roster spot in the process. We could list a number of players in this space. They've all been pretty good.

Nigel Bradham, Jordan Hicks

You have to love what you've seen from Bradham in the running game. The free-agent addition racked up five tackles against the Colts, constantly crashing the line of scrimmage and stopping ballcarriers for minimal gains, no gain, or losses. He hasn't been tested as much in coverage, but the 6-foot-2, 241-pound linebacker is proving his worth against the ground attack.

Hicks probably had his best game of the preseason as well, finishing with three tackles and a quarterback hurry to force an errant throw on a 4th-and-1 attempt. Nothing special, but a solid performance overall from a key player who's had kind of a quiet summer.

C.J. Smith III

Smith had a team-high seven tackles, which is not a good statistic for a cornerback. Then again, the undrafted rookie out of North Dakota State was guarding the likes of T.Y. Hilton and Donte Moncrief much of the night. That's some legit NFL talent right there, and Smith didn't back down. There were no busted coverages, the coverage was generally tight even if the catch was made, and he got the receivers to the ground. It was strange seeing him on the first-team defense, which makes you wonder what the Eagles' intentions are. He didn't earn a starting job or anything, but it was a solid effort.

Doug Pederson, Jim Schwartz

One last note, and it's a credit to the coaching staff. After watching Chip Kelly and Bill Davis pretend they could just plug personnel into their systems without any thought given to the players' strengths and weaknesses, Pederson and Schwartz are a breath of fresh air. Kelly's team was successful in the preseason in large part because opponents didn't game-plan for the uptempo offense. Pederson's Eagles have looked good because they've put players in the right position to succeed. This is one area I am convinced is a clear upgrade from last season.

STOCK DOWN

Mychal Kendricks

Kendricks was playing for the first time this preseason. Still, much like for large stretches of 2015, he was invisible out there, failing to so much as get in on a tackle. It's also worth noting he subbed off in the Eagles' nickel package and therefore appears to be facing a reduced role. The fifth-year linebacker can be excused to some extent for a slow start, but more will be expected of Kendricks going forward coming off of such a disappointing campaign.

Rueben Randle

Randle's absence from the first-team offense was notable, particularly while DGB and Huff were having big nights. Even Nelson Agholor, despite dropping a pass that went for an interception, has at least shown the ability to get open and a willingness to block. Randle had two catches for 12 yards on Saturday, with Jordan Matthews soon returning from injury and Chris Givens' downfield speed enticing to this Eagles coaching staff, Randle might be playing his final game in midnight green this Thursday.

Wendell Smallwood

To be fair, it's not Smallwood's fault he's been banged up this summer. Unfortunately, life often isn't fair, and the fact that the fifth-round rookie exited this game with a concussion will not help his chances of contributing this season. Smallwood simply hasn't had the reps in practice or games for the Eagles to feel comfortable that he knows the offense or could protect the quarterback. With Ryan Mathews looking good and Kenjon Barner having a strong summer, it seems likely Smallwood will be worked into the offense slowly in the season ahead.

Ed Reynolds

It looked bad for Reynolds when the Eagles drafted Blake Countess in the sixth round. Then Jaylen Watkins emerged as a credible option as the third safety this summer, rendering Reynolds an afterthought. Now the 2014 fifth-round pick may have been responsible for the missed assignment on a blocked punt, special teams ultimately being the area where backups must make their mark. He's played the position aggressively this summer, and it would not be surprising to see him land on his feet somewhere, but Reynolds has an uphill battle to make this roster.

Cody Parkey

Parkey's preseason was going much more smoothly than his training camp, right up until he missed an extra point on Saturday. If it were just one kick, it might be easier to overlook, but the 2014 Pro Bowler's accuracy has been shaky all summer. It was simply the first time we saw it in a game. Meanwhile, Caleb Sturgis has been money, which we'll see how that works out for the Eagles when the regular season rolls around, but the job is probably his.

Joel Embiid shows absolutely no mercy while dominating fans in 1-on-1

Joel Embiid shows absolutely no mercy while dominating fans in 1-on-1

You come at JoJo, you best not miss. 

Joel Embiid was the start of the Sixers Beach Bash on Friday. Not only did he declare himself 100 percent healthy (see story), he faced one of his toughest challenges yet: the fans.

Embiid dominated a series of fans 1-on-1, showing absolutely no mercy. None. The fans with the courage and/or stupidity to take on the 22-year-old center found themselves on the wrong end of poster dunks and highlight blocks.

Check out the video above. Embiid goes from dunking on an older fan to going in for layups against little kids wearing Allen Iverson and Ben Simmons gear. The top highlight may be Embiid literally stepping over a kid before cruising to the easy layup.

Embiid injected some of his trademark humor while tweeting out his block of a young fan, saying that the kid had played the same number of NBA games as Embiid. 

Awwwwe: Chooch leaves his Phillies teammates a love note on clubhouse whiteboard

Awwwwe: Chooch leaves his Phillies teammates a love note on clubhouse whiteboard

As if you didn't think you could love Carlos Ruiz any more...

Chooch was traded on Thursday afternoon and he's since departed for potentially playoff-bound pastures with his new-again teammate Chase Utley and the Los Angeles Dodgers.

But not before he left his Phillies teammates a loving note written on the whiteboard in the clubhouse at Citi Field where the Phils play the Mets this evening.

Courtesy of CSNPhilly.com's Phillies beat reporter Jim Salisbury:

It reads:

"I will miss all of you guys. Good luck the rest of the season. Love you all, Chooch! (Gracias)"

Awwwwwwwwe.

Gestures like the above help explain why guys like Roy Halladay call Chooch their favorite baseball player ever.