Darren Sproles making impact in Philly
PHILADELPHIA (AP) His quick feet and powerful bursts make Darren Sproles a threat to score whenever he touches the ball.
That’s why the Philadelphia Eagles are finding more ways to use him.
Sproles has already made a big impact in his first two games with his new team, earning the NFC Offensive Player of the Week award after a dynamic performance in last Monday’s 30-27 comeback win at Indianapolis.
Sproles had a career-high 152 yards receiving, including catches of 57 and 51 yards on short passes. He also ran for a 19-yard touchdown to help the Eagles rally from a 17-6 halftime deficit. Sproles had a 49-yard TD run in the season opener for Philadelphia (2-0).
”We’re using him in a way that we can best take advantage of his skillset,” offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur said. ”He’s done an outstanding job.”
When the Eagles learned Sproles was going to be released in the offseason, they traded a fifth-round pick to New Orleans to make sure they got him. Coach Chip Kelly viewed Sproles as a perfect fit in his up-tempo offense.
He takes some of the burden off All-Pro running back LeSean McCoy while also playing a key role in the passing game.
Sproles has 11 catches for 166 yards and 97 yards rushing on 15 carries. He has returned six punts, too.
Considering his age (31) and size (5-foot-6), some wonder if Sproles can hold up over a full season if he’s getting the ball that often.
”He’s 200 pounds; he’s short but he’s not small and I think there’s a difference,” Kelly said. ”When you look at Darren, he’s really, really put together and he’s probably the most fit guy on our team. There’s a special quality to him from that standpoint, and I don’t know that we knew that when we got him.
”When we first looked at him, obviously the dynamic ability as a returner jumps out at you, his ability to catch the ball coming out of the backfield and as I said after a couple days dealing with him, really impressed with him as a running back. He’s a little different than your prototypical small guy.”
His height actually helps Sproles because he can hide behind blockers and get lost in the scramble before hitting the second level into the secondary.
”He has the ability to go from 0-to-60 very quickly,” Kelly said. ”A lot of guys, sometimes it takes them a while to get going. He can kind of find his way out into the screen, whether he’s got to go inside the tackle or outside the tackle, and then be patient enough once he gets the ball to take off.
”But I think he also has great vision to understand where his blocks are coming from and sets them up really, really well. When he has the opportunity to go, he can hit it really, really quickly. So he’s got a unique skill set. I also think he’s difficult to see sometimes when he’s coming up inside the line of scrimmage and working it out into the screen path.”
Sproles was known for being a gamebreaking returner during his first five seasons in San Diego. He had four touchdowns on punts and kickoffs, and backed up three-time All-Pro running back LaDainian Tomlinson.
Sproles became more involved in the offense in his three seasons in New Orleans. He caught 86 passes in 2011 and averaged 77 catches per year with the Saints. He’s on pace to have 88 receptions and 120 carries this season. Both would be career highs.
Kelly was coy in the preseason about how he planned to use Sproles. Putting him with McCoy together in the backfield gives defenses fits.
”When we’re on the field at the same time they don’t know who’s getting the ball or what we’re doing,” Sproles said.
The Eagles host the Washington Redskins (1-1) on Sunday.
NOTES: LB Mychal Kendricks will not play vs. the Redskins because of a calf injury. Casey Matthews and Emmanuel Acho will team up to replace him. WR Josh Huff (shoulder) is doubtful. Backup T Matt Tobin (ankle) and S Earl Wolff (knee) are questionable.
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