For the first time in a long time, LeSean McCoy will get to see some real action in a real game.
The Eagles open the 2014 NFL season on Sunday against the Jacksonville Jaguars and, like all of the Eagles, McCoy is rarin’ to go. But he’s rarin’ even more than most players, because he’s been playing mostly make-believe for the last couple of months and he’s tired of it.
That’s because NFL teams aren’t allowed to really hit during training camp drills and scrimmages, and the life of a running back is all about getting hit. Plus the Eagles did everything short of wrapping McCoy in bubble wrap to protect him during the preseason. He had just 11 carries for 43 yards in three exhibition games and he didn’t even play in the preseason finale against the New York Jets, while a couple of running backs who aren’t even on the roster anymore – Henry Josey and Matthew Tucker – got the bulk of the carries and the yardage.
McCoy did give the fans a glimpse of his special talent during the preseason opener against the Pittsburgh Steelers, when he took a short screen pass and turned it into an electrifying 22-yard touchdown. But other than that, McCoy mostly sat and watched.
“I don’t really like preseason games too much – you get yourself psyched to go out there and play a football game, but you only get maybe eight plays, or a quarter,’’ McCoy said on Wednesday. “It’s hard to get too hyped up and you always have mixed emotions.’’
Now the games count and the intensity level will be ratcheted up, and McCoy admits it will take him a little time to adjust from a few preseason carries to maybe 20 carries in a real game.
“It might be tough in the beginning, just the running and tackling and then getting up and doing it over and over again,’’ McCoy said. “The first drive is always the worst drive.’’
But McCoy also knows that he’s been doing this at the NFL level for more than five years and he’s surrounded by players who helped him rush for an NFL-best 1,607 yards last season, when he was voted first-team All-Pro.
So, what can he do to top that act? When asked what he could do to challenge McCoy to improve on his career-best 2013 season, coach Chip Kelly shook his head and said, “I don’t challenge him — I think he challenges himself.
“I think he has standards and goals and aspirations that he wants to achieve,’’ Kelly added. “A lot of people can say they want to lead the NFL in rushing, but not everybody has the God‑given ability to do it, and he does. If he’s going to set goals and aspirations for himself, he has to go out and work for it and I think he really understands that.’’
McCoy also understands that he probably won’t carry the ball 314 times this season, like he did in 2014 when he had the most carries in the entire NFL. The Eagles don’t want to expose their bread-and-butter player to too much pounding and with the addition of versatile running back Darren Sproles and the maturation of tight end Zach Ertz, they shouldn’t have to rely on McCoy’s playmaking quite as much.
“With Sproles here, that might change a little bit,’’ McCoy said of his workload. “I still think I’ll have most of the load on offense, but I don’t think 300-plus carries is really needed. And I can do more with less.
“We have some different weapons and it’s not necessary for me to have that many carries,’’ McCoy added. “But I’m sure there are going to be games where we pound the ball. I understand that.’’
There’s something else McCoy understands – this is his time to shine and he’s not wasting any of that time.
“He had an outstanding offseason and came to camp in the best shape of his life and trained every single day out here,’’ Kelly said. “I think he realizes this is the prime part of his career. He’s no longer a young player and he’s in the meat of his career right now and he’d better take full advantage of it, so that he doesn’t be a ‘woulda, coulda, shoulda’ guy.
“There’s a short window sometimes for running backs and he’s right in the middle of it right now and I think he’s taking full advantage of it.’’
Contact Kevin Noonan at firstname.lastname@example.org.