- Posted by Derek -
It's been fun the past couple days to watch the local Eagles beat writers start popping up again, like hibernating bears blinking their way into the sunlight, wondering what they missed.
You know, guys, covering the Eagles is easy if you only do it when there's, like, news. It's totally extreme doing it when nothing's going on.
But as with the first robin of the spring, the re-population of the Eagles page on philly.com is a sign of things to come. We're only a few days away from training camp, folks, and then it's just the PUPing of guy we might want to stash, the anointing of the TCD, the usual assortment of injuries and the one surprise cut before we get some real football.
I can't wait.
Here's the question of the day. Everyone is talking about how key LeSean McCoy's development is going to be for the Eagles, especially if Westbrook isn't 100 percent. We've heard a lot about how hard it was for guys like Lorenzo Booker, Tony Hunt, Ryan Moats and even Brian Westbrook to contribute in their first seasons (or ever, depending on the guy). That's cool, but what I'm more interested in is a different question.
Why was Correll Buckhalter so successful in his first season as an Eagles running back?
Take a look at his career numbers. Buck defied recent Eagles history by making his first season his best. Amazingly, his first year rushing line of 129 / 586 / 4.5 / 2 compares quite favorably with the combined rookie (Westbrook, Hunt, Moats) or first-year (Booker) contributions of 131 / 540 / 4.1 / 4.
The question is why.
Clearly it's not just a talent issue. Buck's a talented running back, but he's not Brian Westbrook.
I think we can also dismiss familiarity with the offense -- a favorite explanation of why DeSean was so successful -- since Buckhalter played in the Nebraska option attack that rarely saw the quarterback standing still in a traditional pocket.
It could be the "football intelligence" thing Hofmann was talking about yesterday. That was certainly the knock on Moats, although some of the things I've read since he left about his off-field activities make it harder to believe he's not that bright.
And quite frankly I think waaaaay too much is made of how hard blitz pick-up is for a running back. If a dude comes free up the middle, you block him. If someone's looping around the outside, you block him. If two guys are coming, you take the guy with the shorter path and yell at your QB to get the $#@! down. It's not brain surgery. And it's certainly a lot easier than the stuff wide receivers have to do in terms of adjusting routes on the fly as a defense disguises and shifts its coverages.
My theory? It comes down to two things:
1) Ability to play the game. If you can play, you can play. If you can't, you can't. Nothing we've seen from Moats or Hunt since they left the Eagles has suggested they were in the former category at the NFL level. Sadly.
2) Opportunity. In 2001, Duce was coming back off the Lisfranc injury and then almost immediately hurt his shoulder. He missed three of the first eight games and only carried the ball 30 times in the other five. He also sat out game 16 since the Eagles had already clinched. Fully 101 of Buck's 129 carries came in those nine games when he was really the only option. Once Duce was back, Buck returned to the bench.
The same thing happened last year with DeSean. Yeah, we can tell stories about how hard he worked and how much veteran help he received, but if Kevin Curtis doesn't get hurt, the Eagles work him in slowly, he focuses mostly on punt returns, and it might be December before he's really seeing much time. But because they had no choice but to throw him out there and because of his prodigious talents, he had success right away.
This is the Eagles' pattern, and not just at the offensive skill positions. We saw the same thing with Brodrick Bunkley. Yes, he showed up late and out-of-shape and never really caught up, but on the other hand the defensive line was getting destroyed up the middle that year and still JJ wouldn't put him on the field.
This extreme reluctance to play young guys -- and then the quick hook if they screw anything up while they're out there -- is one of the most legitimate complaints you can make about this coaching staff. Their approach works overall, but you have to wonder about the advisability of keeping a guy off the field in some situations until you're sure he can perform well in all situations.
So back to LeSean McCoy, what does that tell us about this year? It seems pretty simple, really. If Westbrook can go, he's the guy. McCoy will get some time in laughers or if BW needs a breather, but heaven forbid he makes a rookie mistake like blowing a blocking assignment or putting the ball on the ground. That'll get him nailed to the bench for two weeks, even though it's precisely that kind of experience he needs in September and October so he can help us in December and January.
On the other hand, if Westbrook can't go, then McCoy will have the entire load dropped on him. And if he screws up, well, too bad, it's not like Lorenzo Booker is a viable back-up plan. They'll keep running him out there.
Which means whether he succeeds or fails will come down to just one thing: talent. And fortunately for McCoy -- and us -- he's got that in spades.