The Eagles have already narrowed their roster from 90 to 76 and must get to 53 for the regular season by Aug. 30. The Inquirer’s beat reporters predict who stays and who goes. Here’s the lineup:
LIKELY TO KEEP: 3-5
Jeff McLane: LeSean McCoy, Darren Sproles, Chris Polk, Kenjon Barner.
Zach Berman: LeSean McCoy, Darren Sproles, Chris Polk, Kenjon Barner.
The Eagles have some tough decisions to make at running back. Chief among them is whether or not to keep LeSean McCoy. Now that I have your attention … The Eagles opened last season with three running backs on their 53-man roster – McCoy, Bryce Brown and Chris Polk. But when Polk suffered an early-season injury, they signed Matthew Tucker off the practice squad and kept four the rest of the way.
Darren Sproles was acquired in March and Brown was traded to the Bills in May, so that settled the backup-to-McCoy issue (although Sproles will be more of a complement than Brown). Polk appeared to be a virtual roster lock before camp, but he’s been out for almost the entire month with a nagging hamstring injury. Chip Kelly hasn’t made it a secret that Polk was hindering his chances of making the club by spending so much time in the tub. Whether he’s rushing back or is 100 percent, Polk returned to practice this week and is expected to play in the preseason finale on Thursday. I’m not sure how much he has to prove. By the end of last year, he was getting as many carries per game as Brown and finished the season with 98 yards on 11 carries (8.9 avg.) and three touchdowns.
Matthew Tucker would seem the likely candidate to take Polk’s spot because of his similar build (6-1, 227 to 5-11, 222) and their similar running styles (north-south, physical). But the Eagles may not believe that having one larger back is a necessity. They led the league in yards before contact (3.6 avg.) last season. A quick and shifty tailback may be more productive running behind the Eagles’ oft-used zone blocking. All coaches, though, love having running backs that can finish off carries by picking up extra yards after contact. Tucker has displayed that ability in the preseason. If the Eagles keep five running backs, the feeling here is that Tucker would get the nod.
The trade for Kenjon Barner – the Eagles sent a conditional seventh-round pick to the Panthers last week – complicated matters for Tucker and Henry Josey. Barner, the Eagles said, can also return. There’s a kick returner opening if Josh Huff is either not healthy by the start of the season or if the Eagles think he’s not their best option. Barner also has an Oregon advantage, in that he probably wouldn’t be on the roster unless the head coach had him in college. Tucker and Josey are like those office managers that feel comfortable about their jobs until the boss hires his son.
Tucker and Josey could both land on the practice squad if they don’t last past final cuts, but there could be other teams willing to snatch them for their 53-man rosters. Josey has rushed 12 times for 104 yards in the preseason. He had a 70-yard, one-shoe TD jaunt brought back by a penalty. He’s swift and can also catch the ball out of the backfield (three catches for 39 yards and a TD). Both Tucker and Josey have looked willing and capable as blockers. Whoever they keep, the Eagles have quite the stable.
Matthew Tucker, Henry Josey.