Sometimes I look at the Eagles of 2009 and it is déjà vu all over again.
Philadelphia let an aging defensive star walk, signed one of the biggest free agents available and improved their skill positions on draft day instead of dipping into the free agent market.
Jevon Kearse became Brian Dawkins.
Asante Samuel became Stacy Andrews.
DeSean Jackson became Jeremy Maclin.
And Lorenzo Booker became LeSean McCoy. Sort of.
If the first three work out like they did in 2008, the Eagles and their fans will rejoice. If McCoy turns out to be Booker, the Eagles might regret not spending some of that $23 million they are currently under the salary cap to replace veteran Correll Buckhalter.
While there's a hint of déjà vu, the differences are immediate. Both Booker and McCoy were acquired on the day of the draft. However, Booker was a one-year veteran the Eagles traded their fourth round selection to the Miami Dolphins for. The Eagles acquired McCoy with their second round choice in the 2009 draft.
Consider the fact the Eagles could have selected Tashard Choice with that fourth round selection and what Choice did for the Cowboys (92 carries for 472 yards, 21 receptions for 185 yards and two rushing touchdowns) and the decision to select an unproven talent has credibility.
The difference here is the expectation for McCoy to step in and be Philly's number two back behind soon-to-be-30 year-old offensive star Brian Westbrook. The same Westbrook who required arthroscopic knee surgery in the winter and has never played 16 games in a season.
While Booker was someone the team thought could contribute on offense (he didn’t), there were other options behind Westbrook. Most notable: Buckhalter who delivered 102 touches and 693 yards from scrimmage.
Now, Buckhalter is gone. On the depth chart, second round choice McCoy is behind Westbrook where Buckhalter’s name usually was. Behind McCoy, the names are either unreliable (the previously mentioned Booker) or unproven (Eldra Buckley or Walter Mendenhall).
Why should there be particular concern about McCoy? Well, there’s plenty of upside. His three-minute scouting video will make you salivate.
He’s fast, elusive and can hit the hole in a hurry. He’s patient, catches the ball out of the backfield, wants the ball and wants to win. Sounds good, doesn’t it?
There are holes in LeSean’s game though. Aren’t there with all rookies? He’s not big (5’10” and 198 lbs.), holds the ball loosely and his east-to-west running style might not be as successful against the faster defenses of the NFL.
And that’s not the biggest problem.
Apparently, McCoy does not pick up the blitz. Plus, his blocking when he does pick it up did not receive high marks. At Pitt, when McCoy was asked to block, it mostly consisted of cut blocks. In the Eagles’ offense, they expect him to be a stand-up blocker.
If the sophomore-to-professional does not progress once the squad puts on pads and goes through the training camp motions, how big of a part can McCoy play in the offense? If the regular season begins and LeSean has not developed at least adequate blocking skills, can he be the number two option?
Sure, the Eagles added size to the offensive line. However, they need McCoy to step in and be effective for eight to ten touches per game to keep the pressure off of Westbrook to carry the load and risk a major injury.
How effective can McCoy be if he is an ineffective blocker? It’s doubtful the Eagles would risk using a pass blocking liability on pass plays so putting LeSean on the field would also put a target on his back. What else does a running back do if he can’t block other than get the ball?
There is little doubt of McCoy’s potential. The rookie has already been tabbed the running back of the future. He couldn’t have a better mentor than Westbrook, an equally undersized elusive back who progressed from a third round pick to one of the league’s elite backs.
Is he the backup running back of the now, though? It is not something we can figure out from the few minutes of scouting video floating around or even discern from May’s helmet and shorts non-contact camp.
Remember last May when hopes were high for Booker who at least had a year of NFL experience under his belt. If I told you then that the Eagles would make the NFC Championship but Booker would be deactivated, would you have believed me?
Let’s not rush to the conclusion that LeSean is the real McCoy and the answer to their depth problems at running back behind Westbrook… especially when his weakness could limit his time on the field.
Don't forget, Booker was already not the answer once; do the Eagles want to explore that chapter again? Blocking Booker on the depth chart might be the biggest one McCoy has to throw before the ’09 season even begins. Is he up for it?
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