June 12, 2017
The Eagles' newest running back, veteran LeGarrette Blount, isn’t known for his pass-catching ability. That task is usually left to the smaller, quicker guys. You know, the ones you want to have the ball out in space because they have the ability to make defenders miss. Guys like Darren Sproles. And LeSean McCoy before him. And Brian Westbrook before him.
Sproles, now approaching his mid-30s, will still see plenty of passes from Carson Wentz this season. As will rookie Donnel Pumphrey, who has drawn comparisons to Sproles due to his slight stature and has already been working out in the slot quite a bit.
The additions of Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith will force defenses to stay honest due to the deep threat they pose. And while they’ve been getting the majority of headlines in terms of an improved passing attack for the Birds, don’t discount what their presence could do for the ground game, not to mention for the tight ends and slot receivers on underneath routes.
With defenses likely unable to stack the box, Wentz will likely see more open receivers within 10 yards than he did a year ago. That includes his running backs.
But Sproles and Pumphrey (as well as second year RB Wendell Smallwood) won’t be the only backs who could benefit from the much-improved receiving corps. According to running backs coach Duce Staley, the Birds have plans to unleash the 250-pound Blount in the passing game.
"I think he’s going to surprise a few people," Staley said of Blount at the NovaCare Complex on Monday, when the Eagles position coaches were made available to the media. "He can catch the ball. I sent him on a couple wheel routes and he beat the linebacker. He was open. He can catch the ball in the flat.
"I would love to get him some screens so we can get that big body going north [to south]. He’ll scare some people."
Sproles has the ability to break ankles in the open field, we all know that. But Blount is fairly shifty, especially for his size. And once he gets the ball, he has the size and power to break faces.
[Oh, hey, Byron Maxwell.]
As Staley put it, he's a "big human being" who "brings that power" and has the ability to "impose his will" on opponents. That will be a nice change of pace for the Birds.
"That's something we haven't had here in a long time," Staley added.
Don't get it twisted: Blount's primary role will come on the ground. But it's hard not to imagine the possibilities.
This is probably the point where you try to think about the last time you actually saw Blount catch a pass. It hasn't been very often in his seven-year career – 46 receptions and one touchdown in 100 games – but it has been done.
By comparison, Sproles has caught at least 46 passes in six of his last seven seasons, including 107 over the past two years. When it comes to receiving yards, Sproles has recorded at least 337 (Blount's career total) every year since 2007, when he was mainly a special teamer for the Chargers.
But based on what Staley said Monday, it seems like they're really going to open up the playbook for Blount.
"He came right in ready to work," Staley said. "I had to hold him back a little bit to help him understand how we do things. As far as the process – no matter if it's protections, no matter if it's the run game, no matter if it's the passing game – you kind of want to hold him back and kind of teach him.
"He was like, 'Na, I'm ready to go.'"
And if you take a look at Blount's numbers, it appears he has decent enough hands to catch the ball – he only has four incompletions (on 27 targets) over the last three seasons.
It's hard to see Blount catching a ton of passes, however, largely due to the number of receiving options for Wentz. But when he's in the game, teams are going to expect to see him running between the tackles. Now imagine it's a play-action screen with Blount getting the ball down the right sideline and only a cornerback stands between him and the first-down marker.
Who do you think is going to win that battle?
I've got my money on the Mack truck that's already rolling downhill at full speed.
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