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Does the Eagles’ Versatile Stable of Running Backs Telegraph Defenses?

While the Philadelphia Eagles appear to have a versatile stable of running backs, quantity and varying strengths between the backs could present challenges in terms of telegraphing the defense what they might do.

At least that’s the logic some would use. Eagles offensive coordinator Frank Reich isn’t one of those people. Here’s what he had to say about the subject while speaking to reporters last week during Training Camp.

I think that’s a fair statement. You don’t want to be predictable by personnel. If all of a sudden LeGarrette comes in, you don’t want them [the defense] just to think run. But we actually like that predicament because we try to use it to our advantage. So [if] LeGarrette comes in the game, he’s a workhorse runner. We know teams fear him running the football, so play-action … Are we going to run many drop-back passes with him in the game? Probably not.

And it doesn’t matter — you can tell every team in the league that we’re going to run the football and we’re going to run play-action, that in itself. All you’ve got to do is run a handful of play-action to keep them honest because the play-action plays tend to produce — you get those linebackers stepping up to stop him, it creates huge holes in the secondary.

A lot of the stuff about us last year with the yards attempt and all that stuff being low, [if] you get a good running game like that and those linebackers start stepping up, all of a sudden, we get a lot of 20- yard completions by those guys. We’ll take that problem.

Opening up the play-action, huh? It’s nice to have Alshon Jeffery in Eagles green instead of the slop they had last season at wide receiver.

And what about Blount specifically? Head coach Doug Pederson chimed in on what he brings to the table.

Well, I think just knowing and kind of watching him last year, what he did with New England on their Super Bowl run, just the impact that he had in the red zone. I constantly find myself going back and watching those touchdown runs that he had.

He’s a big, physical, downhill runner. I saw that yesterday in some of that inside-run period, the explosiveness. He’s got great vision, great vision to make the jump cuts and read defensive linemen. But just that big body in the backfield I think can, for a defender, present a big problem, from a one-on-one tackling standpoint.

Exciting to see him as we get going now in these games.

Anyway, what are the Eagles going to do with all five of these backs, Ryan Mathews in particular? It seems like he’ll be on the out eventually you would think, not only because of the $4 million the Eagles would save on the cap if he’s gone, but the preservation of Wendell Smallwood and Donnel Pumphrey. If either of them get placed on the practice squad, another team will most likely scoop them up.

The four to keep are Blount, Darren Sproles, Smallwood and Pumphrey. With Sproles and Pumphrey looking like they’ll be used more in the passing game, where does that leave Smallwood? Reich answered that.

Yeah, it’s going to be interesting to see how the backs rotation plays out. You know, we’re excited about all those guys. I’m a big believer in Wendell. I think he runs hard. I think he’s a downhill, thrashing runner. I think he’s got good balance.

Wendell is a very, very smart football player. I love talking to him — walking through doing blitz stuff, he knows exactly what’s going on, and I think he has some explosiveness as a runner. These guys, they just have to get their opportunity and get enough carries. I think it’s ‘to be determined’ exactly how that running back rotation works out, but those guys have been looking good so far.

One wrinkle that has caught attention during the OTAs in June was the utilization of Sproles and Pumphrey in the backfield at the same time, which I fully condone. This was something Chip Kelly did successfully when he had LeSean McCoy and DeSean Jackson run swing patterns in the flats. I imagine Pederson will have some more creative plays designed for that diminutive twosome.

Another area Pederson was seen practicing a lot of Friday was the screen game, a huge ally of his mentor Andy Reid during the 2000s during his stay in Philadelphia. The Eagles were practicing the play against the air. He commented on that.

You don’t get enough reps at screens. We want to be a good screen football team. So I felt when you’re going on air like that, you can really work on your landmarks and the timing and get some good work done in that situation.

While the Eagles might telegraph what they’re going to do to an extent to teams, stopping a barreling 250-pound wrecking ball is still going to be a tough challenge on 3rd-and-1. When they have Sproles and Pumphrey out on the field at the same time, that’s going to initially confuse a defense, not telegraph what they’ll be doing. The theory will be similar to what
the Patriots have been doing in New England over recent years.

It’ll be a tough stable to handle, telegraphed or not.


You can follow Adrian Fedkiw on Twitter (@AdrianFedkiw) and e-mail him at [email protected]. Subscribe to The Bitter Birds on YouTube here. Follow Philly Influencer on Twitter (@PHL_Influencer), Facebook and Instagram.

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