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Eagles Backfield Is In Motion

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The Philadelphia Eagles backfield has had players coming and going this season. Here is a look at how things stand now and how what might happen going forward.

On Wednesday the Eagles pulled off the most stunning move of the young NFL season - they found another NFL team that actually wanted Mike Bell. I'm not sure if world class detectives like Tango and Cash could figure out why, but it's true. The Cleveland Browns traded Jerome Harrison to us for Bell.

 

Mike Bell had 16 carries for 28 yards in his short NFL career. He trails such luminaries as Reno Mahe, Darnell Autry, Lamar Gordon, and Chris Warren on the all time rushing list in Eagles history. To put it bluntly, Bell was a major failure.

 

That said, we do have to put things in perspective. Prior to 2004 we used backup running backs quite a bit. Since that year we've really stuck with the primary runner. The backup gets mixed in here and there, but not with any regularity. Bell got three carries per game and not all came in the best circumstances. Bell had his best years with the Broncos and Saints, teams that actually know how to use a group of backs.

 

Let's talk about the Bell acquisition for a minute. The Eagles went after him to give us a veteran power runner to mix in with Shady McCoy. Bell was never going to get 15 carries a game, but I think the original goal was to give him more than 3 carries each week. That may surprise some people. What would Andy Reid want with a power runner?

 

Believe it or not, Andy has been fascinated with adding a big back for years. We drafted Thomas Tapeh in 2004. That season he played running back for us. Tapeh got hurt late in the year and when he got back on the field in 2006 it was at fullback. Reid came very close to drafting Brandon Jacobs back in 2005. I don't know of any backs that were targeted in 2006. In 2007 we did draft Tony Hunt, a big, powerful runner. Obviously that didn't go as planned. Finally, Reid signed Bell and drafted Charles Scott this year. All of these guys were 225 pounds or more.

 

It is hard to imagine what a quality power runner would do on the Eagles. The easy answer is that he'd pick splinters from his butt from all the time he spent sitting on the bench. That's logical based on how Reid has used his backs over the years. At the same time, we've never had a high quality big back to use.

 

Don't worry. I haven't been drinking. I'm not suggesting that with a good power runner Reid might change his stripes. He's made it clear over the years that he's going to throw the ball, come hell or high water. I do wonder if he might mix in a couple of more runs in the 4th quarter if he did have someone who could really push the pile. With the roster as it is now, we won't find out this year.

 

Jerome Harrison could be a real good addition. He had some terrific games for Cleveland last season. He ran for 862 yards and had a couple of big games. Harrison was off to a slow start this year. His numbers were still better than Bell's. Harrison's long run was 39 yards. Bell's season total was 28 yards.

 

I don't expect Harrison to get mixed into the offense super-quickly. He's never played in the west coast offense. Also, with McCoy playing at a high level there is no rush to get Harrison on the field. The coaches will work on a few basic plays so that he can step in if needed. That's really his best value, being an insurance policy for McCoy. Bell's sluggish start and McCoy's injury were not a good combination. We all feared what the offense would look like with Shady out for a game or two and Bell as the primary option. Yikes.

 

Luckily that situation never happened. Harrison isn't a guy you want to build an offense around, but he does fit our style of play. Harrison is a shifty runner with good burst and quickness. He is a good receiver. We could feed him the ball on draw plays from the spread formation and he'd have the ability to get some nice gains. Harrison won't push the pile or break many tackles, but you don't expect that from a guy who is 5'9, 205.

 

Let's talk for a minute about the other running backs we have on the roster. Eldra Buckley might be the primary backup for the Atlanta game. Buckley is a good special teams player. He's limited offensively, but is tough and versatile. He has limited vision and very little athletic ability. Buckley is a guy that gets the ball and runs straight ahead as fast as he can. He'll break tackles if he's able to get going. He does run hard. I know plenty of fans think Buckley is a waste of a roster spot. He's here as a role player and has to be judged as such. His job is to play on special teams. His job is to be the backup fullback. His job is to be a backup tailback. I don't have a problem with him being on the roster. The Eagles hoped Charles Scott would beat him out this summer, but Buckley played better. Next summer Buckley will get challenged again. We'll have to wait and see how that goes.

 

Joique Bell was added to the roster after the season began. He has some size at 5'11, 220. Bell is the kind of north-south runner that we could use as a complement to McCoy. Bell actually might be thought of as a more talented version of Buckley. Bell has been active for one game, but only played on special teams. He is a rookie and a raw one at that. Bell went to Wayne State, a D-2 school. He looked really good this summer for the Buffalo Bills, but the Eagles are being patient with him as he learns the offense and adjusts to life in the NFL.

 

The Eagles don't stash guys on the roster for the heck of it. Bell is here because the Eagles have some interest in him being part of the offense down the road, whether that's later this season or 2011. Bell has to prove himself in practice. He needs to show that he has a good feel for the playbook. He needs to show he can stay on the field when we throw the football. That entails blocking well and being able to catch short passes.

 

Fullback Owen Schmitt has opened some eyes with his play so far this year. He has proven to be a good receiver and adequate blocker. Schmitt's performance actually gave me an interesting idea for next year.

 

We could take Leonard Weaver and move him to running back. That would give us McCoy, Weaver, and possibly Bell and/or Harrison. I think Harrison will be a free agent so it's hard to know his future. We could then have Schmitt stay at fullback. It would be nice to have a feature back (McCoy), a big back (Weaver), a young back (Bell), and a fullback (Schmitt). Obviously the key to all of this is Weaver having a successful recovery from his injury. Keep your fingers crossed on that. He suffered a nasty injury and may not be ready by next summer.

 

The good news out of all this talk is the play of LeSean McCoy. He is quickly becoming a star running back. McCoy did some great things against the Niners. He made Patrick Willis, an elite linebacker, look pedestrian a couple of times. That was some impressive running. With McCoy as the foundation of the backfield, we can get creative with how we fill the other spots. I hope we feed Shady the ball enough that he's able to post big numbers and get the recognition he deserves. He's really having a terrific season so far.

 

We'll see if guys like Jerome Harrison and Joique Bell can play in our system. They are unknown commodities for us right now. The good news for them is that Mike Bell set the bar pretty low. They won't have to do all that much to get Eagles fans on their side. The first time either guy has a 10-yard run we'll be going crazy. Score a touchdown and we'll be calling Canton to reserve a spot for them.