The Philadelphia Eagle's have locked in Brian Westbrook, LeSean McCoy, and Leonard Weaver as backfield players. The fourth and wildly unlikely fifth backfield position(s) are an open competition with an interesting cast of characters that fit the Andy Reid system in their own distinct ways.
No. 36, Brian Westbrook needs no introduction or explanation. One of the greatest backs in Eagle history, a healthy "B-West" is an unstoppable weapon lining up all over the field, creating the "Where's Waldo Effect" among NFL defenses.
Currently No. 29, LeSean McCoy, looks like a stud. He's been called small by the negative half of the football world. The realist knows he is 5'10", 211 pounds and ultra quick. Battling the flu, he weighed in at the combine at a low 198 pounds, not his game weight.
It's no secret that McCoy is a speed back. He didn't run at the combine, but ran a 4.5 on his pro day and was disappointed. Interestingly, that was Westbrook's 40 time. In the 2004 State College NIKE training camp, McCoy ran a 4.25 40-yard dash. So if you haven't heard, the boy is quick.
Traditional speed back concerns are durability related. This kid was a two year durable starter at PITT. McCoy is definitely not injury-proof, but he has good size and has proven durability.
To really fit in the Andy Reid system, McCoy will need to work on his third down pass blocking. He will need good technique. That can be taught. More importantly, the player needs a heart that pumps blood, not fruit punch. McCoy has the heart and he will learn the technique.
A side note, if Lorenzo gets cut, LeSean McCoy will be wearing No. 25 as he did in college. It's an interesting point that was made to me on an Eagles blog, that LeSean McCoy jerseys have not been released as No. 29. The reason is not lack of demand, so it makes you wonder why the Eagles are holding back, if that's a clue.
No. 43 Leonard Weaver is a versatile back capable of playing both fullback and halfback. I dare to say that while Weaver is a true full back, he is also very much like a 250-pound version of Brian Westbrook if you can imagine that.
Quick, elusive and powerful, Weaver can catch the ball out of the backfield turning wheel routes into 65 yard touchdowns. He can also finish plowing a hole between the Andrews brothers for Westbrook or any other Joe with a press pass that wants to run behind him.
Weaver is a tremendous pass blocker who knows when to roll out into the flat. He makes for a tremendous third down single back or I-form option. Weaver fits this system like a glove. Not one of O.J.'s gloves, but like a good glove.
No. 25 Lorenzo Booker is a prototypical Andy Reid running back, only undersized at 5' 10", 198 pounds. He was worth a fourth-round pick in a draft day trade in 2008. He may have already served his purpose as an emergency back for last season.
The competition for fourth back will be fierce and Booker will have to show something very special in training camp to stay on this team.
That being said, Booker had an outstanding 2008 training camp. He looked like the real deal. For a moment, Booker looked like a possible future replacement for Brian Westbrook.
When the regular season started, a 2.0 yard average per carry quickly limited the optimism. Keep in mind, this guy's story is not written yet. He is talented. Even still Booker may be the odd man out if Andy Reid doesn't mind cutting last years perceived fourth-round value.
No 32. Kyle Eckel is 5'11", 237 pounds and wears Ricky "Running" Waters old number, but there is no confusing these guys. Eckel fills great roles for this team. Eckel can run block as a full back. He can get his shoulders down low and plow in short yardage as a running back. Eckel can contribute on special teams.
As preseason perspectives go, Kyle Eckel is the logical choice to facilitate the overall game day operations. If Booker is ranked fourth on the depth chart in the coach's office, it is probably more ceremonial than factual.
Eckel can run behind or block for Leonard Weaver. I would not be surprised to see Weaver and Eckel as a fullback tandem in front of Westbrook in short yardage. That is the kind of creative play construction Reid could do with Eckel on the roster.
No. 49 Walter Mendenhall is 6'0", 225 pounds, runs with speed, power and catches the ball well out of the backfield. The 2009 rookie free agent, seems like an excellent fit considering his size and skill set.
The older brother of 2008 first round draft choice Rashard Mendenhall, Walter transferred from the same Illinois to smaller Illinois State where he was stunning on the football field while studying for his masters.
There has been some buzz about Mendenhall as a slightly bigger back option for the Eagles. Understanding Eagle's fans, there is great demand for this prototypical sized back with an NFL related pedigree.
Mendenhall will have to dazzle in camp and show he can contribute on special teams. If he looks anything like he did in his highlights, Mendenhall will dazzle.
No. 41 Marcus Mailei is a true and strict full back who sizes up at 6'0", 255 pounds. Mailei is a 2009 rookie free agent signed out of Weber State. He is also a favorite of mine because he's wearing Keith Byars and Wilbur Montgomerey's jersey number.
Forgetting nostalgia, Mailei brings some interesting opportunities to the Philadelphia Eagles offense. Weaver is a real fullback, capable of doing a lot of things for this offense. Mailei is a true steam rolling full back.
If he can't contribute on special teams, he probably doesn't have a chance of making the active roster, unless he starts breaking people with his lead blocks when the pads go on.
No. 34 Eldra Buckley is 5'9", 207 pounds and wears the Herschel Walker jersey. Buckley was signed after being released from the Chargers practice squad. Finding something out about this guy has been a challenge. His signing looks mostly like a practice body for the summer, but players have come from more obscure places in the past.
Eldra Buckley has good size for a 5'9" back. If he shows real speed and elusiveness in camp, he could be a real prospect. It is understandable that he wouldn't get much opportunity as a rookie free agent backing up Ladanian Tomlinson and Darren Sproles. At the end of the day, this guy has totally unknown potential.
Only four backs will really have a chance at the active roster. If Booker is not one of them, he will most likely not clear waivers and get picked up by another team's active roster or practice squad. A second thought: running back prospective talent is thick in the NFL. Booker may surprisingly clear waivers and be a practice squad candidate.
Reid's safer choice is Eckel. The overall potential uses for Kyle Eckel demand his services if only a marginally higher expectation in value is observed in an alternate back. No misunderstanding, this is not a sexy selection. Reid knows what he's not getting with Eckel and that's a plow or jack hammer as a lead blocker and he is not a big pass catching threat out of the backfield.
After Booker and Eckel come the free agent signings. This class has real potential. Buckley, Mendenhall and Mailei will have to be inspirational in training camp and preseason to make the team. They will also need to be as effective as Eckel on special teams.
The role of Mendenhall and Mailei can be somewhat filled in one player, Kyle Eckel. Although Eckel is not the explosive player Mendenhall might be and he is not the physically imposing player Mailei could be, he still makes sense.
These guys will have to be exceptionally eye catching to earn a spot over not just the role player option of Kyle Eckel, but Lorenzo Booker as well.
Eldra Buckley doesn't make much sense as an option. He prospectively is very similar player to Booker, although he does carry some additional bulk. Maybe he is a practice squad guy.
For my own two cents, I offer the wildly unimaginable. I predict Mendenhall and Mailei standing out in camp and further supplanting Kyle Eckel's utilitarian position with a more specialized value from two backs: a bigger fullback and a quicker, more rounded big halfback option.
This is a really unreasonable call, but I'm going with my gut here. If it were to work out as I see it, that would make three rookies and one new veteran in a five man backfield. My thought process might be way off the Andy Reid mark here.
Reid will likely continue to surprise Eagle fans. The fourth back spot will ultimately not have much of an impact in 2009 other than a special teams contribution. However, Andy is constantly looking to build for the future and involve young depth in a couple creative plays.
If he sees some true talent that he likes, he will go for the guy whether fourth or fifth in the backfield. Don't be surprised to be surprised with the last backfield selection(s).