The Eagles are absolutely loaded on offense. There are stars all over the place. Not only are there good starters, but the depth is pretty impressive as well. There is one spot that does need work - running back. LeSean McCoy had a very good year in 2010. I think he shocked a great many of us with how well he played. The Eagles got lucky that he never missed significant playing time. Behind him was a less than stellar collection of players.
The Eagles signed Mike Bell last offseason in the hopes that he would be a good backup to McCoy and also give the team the power runner they've wanted for a few years. To call Bell disappointing is to say that the sun is a tad on the warm side. Luckily, the Cleveland Browns had some issues with a running back of their own and dealt Jerome Harrison for Bell.
Harrison got little playing time, but delivered when he got the chance to actually, you know, run the ball. He looked like the kind of guy that you could be comfortable with starting for a game or two if needed. Harrison, depending on the outcome of the CBA situation, could be a free agent. My guess is that he will be a free agent. If so, that raises two important questions. Do the Eagles want him back? Would Harrison be willing to return?
The Eagles should be interested in bringing him back, but we'll have to wait and see if that is true. There's been no real talk of his future. As to the other point, I'm not so sure Harrison would want to return. He was frustrated in Cleveland with a lack of carries and/or playing time. Getting a couple of touches a game here in Philly must have been pretty frustrating as well. Harrison is in the prime of his career. I would think he would try to go to a team that would give him a chance to actually be an active part of the run game. For the Eagles, it often seems like the starting running back is lacking touches. McCoy, the Eagles "workhorse runner" only had two games all year with more than 16 carries. Ugh.
The only other running back the Eagles have right now is Eldra Buckley. He's proven to be an effective role player, but hasn't shown the ability to be anything more than that. He was very good on special teams in 2009, but seemed to regress in that area last year. Having Buckley as the number three runner isn't the worst thing in the world, but it isn't a situation to be comfortable with.
So while the Eagles do have the star tailback in McCoy, they are wide open behind him. It will be very interesting to see what they do to address the situation. Recently, the Eagles have done a terrible job of finding and developing running backs. Tony Hunt and Charles Scott were draft picks that failed. Lorenzo Booker and Mike Bell were pro personnel moves that failed. All four players had talent. It wasn't as if the Eagles got scrubs with no ability. For one reason or another, the moves just didn't work. The addition I liked the least was Hunt. He was a terrific player at Penn State, but was very much a guy that needed a lot of carries to be effective. He was better on the tenth carry than the first and on the twentieth carry than the tenth. What the heck good was he going to do with 60 carries in 16 games?
The Eagles have had some bad luck as well as making poor decisions. They wanted to take a runner late in the draft last year and had him targeted with their 6th Round pick. Unfortunately, Green Bay took him a few picks earlier. The Eagles missed out on James Starks and instead settled for Scott. To be fair, I thought getting Scott was great. I had targeted both players for the Eagles in mock drafts last year. Starks reminded me of Correll Buckhalter, who was a very good backup for the Eagles. Scott reminded me of Dorsey Levens, also a good backup. Starks turned out to be the much better player. Scott is on the Giants roster and could still find his niche. He struggled with the adjustment to pro football. He has the talent to be a solid NFL player.
I think the Eagles need to be aggressive about running back this offseason. McCoy proved to be very durable last year, but you can't count on that. I think the team needs to target a player in free agency and in the draft as well. I won't go into a long list of free agents to pursue. That whole situation is just too confusing since we don't know for sure who will be eligible.
The Eagles don't need a great backup, but they need someone like Harrison who can handle the job if needed. It would also be nice if the guy had some size so he could be a good complementary runner to McCoy and his style. The Eagles thought they were getting just that in Bell. Oops. They had the right idea, even though it didn't work right.
The draft class isn't loaded at the top with running back prospects, but there are some interesting targets in the mid to lower rounds. I think DeMarco Murray from Oklahoma would be an ideal target. He has a good frame and is an adept receiver, especially on screen passes. He can be a kickoff returner. Delone Carter of Syracuse is only 5-9, but goes almost 230 pounds. He is a north-south runner who can break tackles and will fight for yards. Da'Rel Scott had a great year for Maryland in 2008, but never got back to that level. He is about the same size as McCoy. There is nothing about him that stands out, but he could be an interesting late round target.
Two juniors who interest me are Shane Vereen of Cal and Taiwan Jones from Eastern Washington. Cal has produced some real good running backs recently (Jahvid Best, Marshawn Lynch and Justin Forsett). Those guys can run and catch. They play in a pro style offense. The adjustment to the NFL is much less than guys coming from spread attacks. Vereen is flying under the radar right now, but he'll pick up some buzz at the Combine and/or his Pro Day. Jones caught my eye when watching EWU in the I-AA playoffs. That is the school with the red field (which must be seen to be believed). Jones ran for 230 yards in the game I saw and was really impressive. Look up his numbers and you're blown away. In the past two years he ran for 2,955 yards and 29 touchdowns. He caught 64 passes and averaged more than 14 yards per reception. He also has kickoff return experience. The Eagles rule of thumb is to only go for small school guys if they dominated their level of competition. I would say Jones falls into that category.
The days of Duce Staley, Correll Buckhalter, and Brian Westbrook sharing the load are gone. I think having a great player like Westbrook changed the way Andy Reid viewed the running back position. Still, there is a need for better depth and some more touches from the backups. Ideally, the Eagles will land a good veteran to be the primary backup and complementary runner in 2011 and then will add a mid to late round back to challenge Buckley for his spot. Obviously the real key to the whole situation is Shady McCoy. The sky is the limit for him. McCoy won't be at his peak for another year or two. As long as he's healthy, the Eagles ground game will have a gifted runner to build around.
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Fullback Owen Schmitt is under contract for another year. I've gotten some questions about him and what the Eagles should do at the fullback position. Sadly, it doesn't sound like Leonard Weaver will be coming back. I know Weaver keeps trying to put a positive spin on the situation, but his injury included nerve damage and that goes far beyond rehabbing a torn ACL. I hope Weaver, Leonard Part 6 as I like to call him, is able to be the miracle case and make a full recovery.
Schmitt was solid for the Eagles in 2010. He isn't a strong blocker. This isn't likely to change. Some people wonder if a full training camp or maybe time in the Eagles system would make a difference, but fullbacks blocking linebackers on I-formation plays is standard stuff. If Schmitt isn't good at it by now, that's for a reason. Schmitt is good at blocking in space and can be effective on the edges. He is a good receiver. I have no problems with the Eagles bringing him back to be the fullback in 2011. They'll try to find some competition for him in the draft or free agency, but there aren't a ton of good fullbacks in the league, let alone on the market.