August 04, 2023
The Eagles came into training camp with a backfield-by-committee approach. Boston Scott and Kenny Gainwell are holdovers while Rashaad Penny and D'Andre Swift are the fresh faces in the aftermath of Miles Sanders leaving in free agency. The four backs have all received first-team reps over the last two weeks, but Swift's usage has been the most noteworthy running back development thus far into camp.
Swift got more run with the first team on Thursday than he had in any of the Eagles' four previous practices. He only had one first-team rushing attempt, with most of those going to Kenny Gainwell and Boston Scott, but he received the vast majority of the running back targets in the passing game.
"He's a playmaker," head coach Nick Sirianni said of Swift before Thursday's practice. "I think that's the best way to explain him, that he is a playmaker, and you see it in practice that he can create mismatches that when you get him the football, he can catch the football and make plays with it and also in the backfield. It's different catching the ball on the outside than it is coming out of the backfield.
"Sometimes you look at backs and when you are looking to evaluate backs coming out of college — and I'm speaking of the pass game right now — we say to ourselves, does he have running back hands or does he have receiver hands because it's different. Catching the ball on the perimeter is a different feel than it is when you're catching it coming out of the backfield."
Both Jalen Hurts and QB2 Marcus Mariota found him with ease in check down situations, but there are already hints of something more than that. In what I always considered a Darren Sproles special, Swift lined up to Hurts' left in the backfield on one practice rep before running a square route that appeared to be Hurts' first read for a quick gain. It's a simple setup, but combined with Swift's burst in the open field, that type of route could swing an entire offensive drive.
He showcased some "receiver hands" on that one for sure.
The play from Thursday's practice that sticks with me is one that wasn't even a successful outcome. I don't know if it's because we're now dealing with multiple generations of people who grew up playing "Madden," but few things get fans' juices flowing like a wheel route. In a crafty play design on one practice rep, Hurts took the snap, rolled right, planted his feet and threw across the field to Swift on a wheel route down the left sideline toward the end zone. Hurts had Swift open for six, but underthrew him. This isn't just dumping the ball to Scott or Gainwell in the flat because the primary reads aren't there. They're dialing up these shots specifically for Swift, who the team, at this early stage, trusts more than the other backs to run a diverse set of routes.
While defensive coordinators are losing sleep because of A.J. Brown, DeVonta Smith and Dallas Goedert, having Swift as a reliable safety valve (and more) is a luxury for a team that hasn't had that in a long time.
He's not Sproles nor is he Brian Westbrook — when talking about a back that can completely transform a passing attack — but this is the type of backfield weapon the Eagles haven't even remotely had since Sproles' 55-catch 2016 season. Miles Sanders flashed as a pass-catcher as a rookie in 2019, but that ability faded as his Eagles tenure went on. Gainwell has looked promising as a third-down back in the first two seasons of his career, but Swift's averaged 52 catches per year in his career and is just 24 years old.
Swift is on the final year of his rookie contract. Everyone knows how this organization values the running back position. A second contract may not be likely, perhaps leaving 2023 as Swift's lone season playing for his hometown squad. Even if that's his case, Swift has a chance to leave his mark in his own city for a team that has "Parade or Bust" expectations from those outside the building.
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