Philadelphia Eagles head coach Chip Kelly met with the media Tuesday morning for the last time the league mandates until April 30th. He spoke with Eagles reporters for over an hour and spoke on a variety of topics from assistant coaches to scouting to the Eagles recent moves in free agency.
One thing that Eagles fans were happy to hear was that Kelly plans to use running back Darren Sproles in more abundant and more creative ways.
Sproles is coming off a year that he was a sparkplug that was a great complement to the Eagles offense. He had eight total touchdowns and averaged 7.4 yards per touch in 15 games in 2014, earning his first Pro Bowl in the process. The Kansas State grad played at least 30 percent of the teams snaps in seven of those games. However, with how effective he was in his limited action, it’s a wonder to what he can do if given more opportunities.
The Eagles signed former Dallas Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray and former San Diego Chargers running back Ryan Mathews after trading away LeSean McCoy. They also still have Chris Polk on the roster and Kelly has said on a few occasions that he plans on going into the 2015 season with four running backs on the active roster. With four as opposed to three as the Eagles had in 2014, it allows the Eagles to use their backs more freely without as much worry about injury.
“For us,” Kelly said, “especially in the beginning of the year, [Sproles] was our only other running back. So when you try to move him around and put him in a lot of different spots, you’re kind of holding your breath.”
The ability to use Sproles more could help fill a major void left by wide receiver Jeremy Maclin who opted to take a slightly larger deal than the Eagles were offering to play in his college state with former Eagles coach Andy Reid in Kansas City.
At the very least Sproles takes one player out of the defensive formation. Whether that be a linebacker, defensive end (ha, good luck!) or a cornerback, Sproles can clear up some of the field for Murray or Mathews to carry the ball up the middle or for a short route for tight ends Zach Ertz or Brent Celek in the heart of the defense.
Kelly also said on Tuesday that the coaches expect Ertz to make a “second- to third-year leap.” This leap could be helped greatly by Sproles presence in the offense.
Outside of the passing game, Sproles could obviously make an impact running the ball. He is a running back, after all. The 2005 fourth-round pick averaged 5.8 yards per carry; the highest by an Eagle with at least 50 carries since Michael Vick in 2011. The average was also the second highest in the league among running backs with at least 50 carries (Joseph Randle).
The diminutive back also led the Eagles in rushing touchdowns with six in 2014. Sproles could help share some of what is sure to be a load of carries with DeMarco Murray, who is coming off a 392-carry season and Ryan Mathews, who has only played one full season in his five years in the league.
“We need to get [Sproles] on the field more,” said Kelly. “In year two we have a lot more familiarity in what we’re doing.”
With nearly 100 touches on offense and primary punt return duties, Sproles saw the field a fair amount. Including those punt returns Sproles’ average jumps to nine yards per touch.
At the ripe age of 32 by the time the season starts, Sproles still has fewer total touches (918) than Murray (934) and Mathews (923) have carries. History says that running backs tend to fall off a cliff after their 30th birthday but with how well Sproles has been preserved entering his 11th season in the league, there is no doubt he can be effective if used correctly.