The running back competition at Eagles training camp has been a blast to watch. It’s a young group with nobody over 26, and it’s a new group, with a talented rookie, an intriguing veteran newcomer and an unknown X factor all in the mix.
It sure looks like Nick Sirianni plans to involve the running backs more than Doug Pederson did the last few years, especially in the passing game.
Will the Eagles keep four backs or five? The depth of the position may force them to keep five. It's a decent group.
Here’s the latest on all the backs in camp going into the Eagles' preseason opener Thursday night at the Linc against the Steelers.
Kenny Gainwell: The rookie 4th-round pick has gotten better and better since camp began and has really started to display some of the quickness and elusiveness he showed in 2019, when he was 4th in the BCS with over 2,000 scrimmage yards for Memphis. Gainwell started out a little slow, which shouldn’t be surprising considering he opted out last year and hadn’t played football in nearly two years. But the last few days have been good ones for Gainwell, who is well on his way to carving out a role for himself on offense.
Jordan Howard: The veteran has come back to Earth a bit after a hot start at camp, but overall he’s had a good couple weeks. He looks fit and healthy and is even getting some work in the passing game, which has never been his strength. Howard has a different skill set than the Eagles’ other backs. He’s mainly an inside runner and gets his yards by running over people instead of around them. I still think Howard is on the outside looking in, but the former Pro Bowler has looked decent after essentially not playing since the middle of the 2019 season.
Miles Sanders: He’s running the ball with speed and power and making cutbacks with authority and decisiveness. He really does look like an elite runner when he gets into the open field. But the drops are really a concern. Sanders has said all summer he wants to get back to his rookie form when he caught 50 passes for over 500 yards, but he seems to drop a couple balls every day, and to be a three-down back in this offense, you have to be able to catch the football. Sanders will be the Eagles’ lead back, but his playing time will be curtailed if he doesn’t catch the ball better. Sanders always gets extra work on the JUGS machine or off on a side field, but it hasn't paid off yet.
Jason Huntley: One of the bigger surprises of camp, Huntley had a red-shirt year with the Eagles last year and that experience is showing. Huntley has 4.34 speed, and you’re seeing it this summer with big play after big play. Now, Huntley doesn’t practice against the Eagles’ 1st defense so that’s important to remember. But he’s running well, catching the ball consistently and racing away from people if he gets a hole. The preseason games will be important for Huntley. If he keeps doing what he’s been doing in practice, it’s going to be very difficult to cut him.
Elijah Holyfield: He’s been around since late in the 2019 season but hasn’t gotten to play yet. Holyfield is a tough short-yardage back, the kind of player who isn’t going to really shine in training camp practices except in goal-line or short-yardage situations – which the Eagles haven't practiced much. Holyfield isn’t much of a receiver – he only caught seven passes in three years at Georgia – and it’s hard to imagine a role for him here.
Kerryon Johnson: Johnson has looked good but not great so far. He’s worked almost exclusively with the second team, and the main thing is that he looks healthy and fluid. I don’t know that we’ve seen many explosive plays from Johnson, but he has caught the ball well and we’ve seen occasional flashes of the back that averaged 5.4 yards per carry as a rookie in 2018. I’m not exactly sure yet what the Eagles have in Johnson, but he’s another one who will get plenty of opportunities in the preseason games to show where he is.
Boston Scott: The new coaching staff loves Boston Scott, and Scott has had a solid camp. He’s second to Sanders in 1st-team reps among the running backs and Hurts loves throwing to him because he’s such a reliable receiver, knows how to get open, is always in the right place and doesn’t drop passes. Scott will never be a full-time starter, but he can do a little bit of everything – run, catch, block – and he doesn’t make mistakes. Maybe later in the year one of the young backs will move up the depth chart, but right now it seems clear that Scott is the No. 2 back.
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