With Brian Westbrook heading in for surgery, the picture in the Philadelphia Eagles' backfield becomes a whole lot murkier. Depth backs that were fighting for a roster spot may find themselves to be more viable long-term and short-term solutions for the offense.
Westbrook is expected back by the start of the season, and his agent commented that if the season were already here, Brian would not have the surgery at all.
Fortunately for all of the Eagles' stakeholders, Westbrook's procedure is happening early enough to get him back for the 2009 season.
Nonetheless, this is Westbrook's second offseason surgery, and the red flags are starting to fly as he turns the running back milestone age of 30. He will need to be very cautious not to aggravate either rehabilitated injury.
This development is not exactly a dream killer for the Birds, but it is definitely not a dream catcher.
Here is how the Eagles' picture may change:
1. LeSean McCoy gets thrown to the wolves.
2. Keep five running backs on the roster.
3. More rotation at the running back position.
4. Look for a future back to be a two-headed monster with McCoy.
5. Take a close look at the free agency market for a veteran running back.
6. More pressure on Donovan McNabb and the passing game.
LeSean McCoy to the Wolves
This could be a bad thing or a good thing for McCoy. He has enough confidence in himself to lay it out on the field, but as of today he is only 20 years old and not finished developing physically.
Westbrook should be able to continue mentoring McCoy from the sideline, so he will benefit from that.
The coaching staff has been impressed by LeSean. McCoy was slated to carry some of the load in 2009. He was expected to be a component of the offense right away.
Is McCoy NFL-ready? Is he ready to be a feature back in the NFC East? Can he fill the role to deliver a championship to Philadelphia?
Yes. Now he will have to prove it much more quickly, and he figures to be a bigger, more productive part of this offense when Westbrook returns.
Take a Closer Look at LeSean McCoy: Click Link
More Running Backs on the Roster and a Future Complement for McCoy
It would be a wise roster adjustment to keep four running backs and fullback hybrid Leonard Weaver on the roster when the season starts.
Lorenzo Booker becomes a much better option to keep as a fourth or fifth running back heading into the season.
He was not impressive in his limited role during the 2008 regular season, but he showed some promise in camp and preseason. He fits the Andy Reid running back model as a speed back who can catch out of the backfield very well.
If he makes the team, as I expect he will, Booker will have another year with the Eagles to prove that he is NFL-worthy, despite never having been an ultra-productive player in college or the professional ranks.
Booker's size is still an issue.
He has a year of education on the Andy Reid system under his belt. He runs quickly and has posted 4.45 to 4.5 second 40-yard dash times.
I expect Booker to make this team as the fourth or fifth running back. Whether he can make any kind of impact, I just don't know.
I have been hyping the prospect of rookie free agent Walter Mendenhall since they brought him in after the draft.
Mendenhall flew under the radar at Illinois State. He lost a starting job to younger brother Rashard Mendenhall at Illinois and later transferred.
He has great size at 6'0" and 225 pounds. He looks very fast and quick with an elusive and powerful running style. He should be running the 40-yard-dash in a high 4.4 to low 4.5 second range.
Mendenhall can catch out of the backfield and work the open space as well as run between the tackles.
If Mendenhall can bring the same game to the NFL, he might be a long-term sidekick to McCoy. This is the kind of opportunity that Mendenhall needed to prove himself worthy and ultimately be a running back of the future for the Eagles.
I also see this as working against Kyle Eckel. The Eagles now need more depth to fill the Brian Westbrook role. Eckel is not that kind of player.
Leonard Weaver will assuredly get a long, deep look at running back. He is a 250-pound version of Westbrook.
Elusive and quick with great acceleration out of the backfield on runs and receptions, Weaver could step into a LeSean McCoy time-share program through the early parts of 2009.
Weaver is the only back currently capable of providing pass protection. If for no other reason, he will see more run on third down and long situations and in more passing plays.
With Westbrook branded as a question mark, McCoy still unproven, and Booker historically unproductive, the Eagles need some extra pitches to swing at since no one is a sure thing.
Other running back prospects include free agent signors Eldra Buckley, Marcus Mailei, and Marcus Thigpen, who is listed as a receiver.
I have to believe the Eagles keep five running backs active, and now it will look like this:
1. Brian Westbrook*
2. LeSean McCoy
3. Lorenzo Booker
4. Walter Mendenhall
5. Leonard Weaver (RB/FB)
And yes, that's two rookie running backs on the roster.
The Eagles will probably try to stash Buckley, Eckel, and/or Thigpen on the practice squad as well.
More Rotation at Running Back
When Westbrook does return, he figures to be spelled more often and even put in a rotational system.
This is not really a new development, as the Eagles have expressed their intention to help prolong the career of Westbrook by adding complementary players in a two-back system.
What is different is the outlook on the ratio of touches.
Certainly early in the season Westbrook looks to get 50 percent of the running back touches and targets at best, as opposed to 70 to 80 percent. If the other backs, especially McCoy, find success early on, then I would expect that ratio to continue throughout the season.
Free Agent Opportunities at Running Back
The Eagles will not likely take the route of free agency at this point. They have a group of young running backs that offer a lot of skill and potential.
If camp and Westbrook progress poorly, the Eagles may take a swing at Edgerrin James, J.J. Arrington, Aaron Stecker, or another free agent running back.
Warrick Dunn, Ahman Green, Rudi Johnson, Deuce McAllister, Michael Pittman, and Chris Perry are all veterans with the potential to be productive for another season.
The Weight is Shifted to Donovan McNabb's Arm in 2009
While Westbrook is due back and McCoy looks to be a solid option, there is no doubt that the passing game now becomes even more critical to the success of the Eagles' offense.
Donovan McNabb has led this team to the boundaries of the promised land by himself before. He may not need to do it alone in 2009, but he will have to be on his game to capture the potential of this team for this season.
Fortunately the line has been shored up, the receivers and tight ends have gained talent and experience, and the running back situation has promise.
Westbrook Injury Update: Click Here