There are so many unknowns, so many questions when it comes to the Eagles’ 2021 running back rotation.
How many carries will Miles Sanders get?
Will Boston Scott remain the No. 2 back?
What roles will newcomers Kenny Gainwell and Kerryon Johnson have?
Can Jordan Howard still be a factor after 1 ½ years of virtual inactivity?
The Eagles have a new running backs coach in Jemal Singleton and three intriguing running backs who weren’t in training camp a year ago.
We all expect the running game to be more of a factor under Nick Sirianni than it was the last couple years under Doug Pederson.
But what will it look like?
We won’t know exactly until September, but Singleton recently explained what he’s looking for and how he’ll go about divvying up playing time once the season begins.
“I think there are very specific skill sets that you need,” he said. “You need a 1st- and 2nd-down runner with that really elite ability. You need a guy that can pass-protect on 3rd down and be short yardage. You need a back that can run routes, and you can put him out in empty and do those types of things. So it’s really a combination of that.
“I think the days of a true, ‘Hey, he’s an every-down back,’ I think that word is a little skewed these days because of the … contact. It’s a tough position to play when you look at how many hits you can take.”
Sanders averaged 12.3 carries and 15.0 touches per game in his first two seasons, and while it’s safe to say those numbers should increase, how much they increase will depend on his ability to continue improving as a receiver and blocker and how consistent a runner he is.
Scott is a capable receiver and strong goal-line runner. Johnson was a very good early-down runner in Detroit, averaging 4.5 yards per carry on 1st and 2nd down with the Lions. Gainwell is a promising 3rd-down back, one of only 10 BCS backs in the last 20 years with 1,400 rushing yards and 50 catches in a season (among the others were Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Chad Hall and Jay Ajayi). And Howard for the first four years of his career was a powerful inside runner with a nose for the end zone.
Singleton’s job the next few months is to figure out which backs have those skills he’s looking for and how they all fit together.
“The way I look at an NFL room, (it) has to have all those abilities,” he said. “Now, how many guys it takes to get those abilities, that’s where the difference is. It could be two guys that you can get all those skill sets that you need, it could be three guys that you can get all those skill sets you need, but you’ve got to have some of those basic things in order to really have a good position room and position group.
“Now, how that plays out? Just all depends. You may have two guys who are similar and maybe they split carries. You may have a guy that, hey, he’s more capable of doing the pass game stuff and that kind of what he does. But I think more and more each year you’re going to see multiple people in the backfield because of just the toughness of the position and what it requires.”
The overall talent level at running back appears higher than it’s been the last few years. But these guys aren’t all going to play. They probably won’t all make the team.
It all makes for a fascinating preseason.
“You have to have healthy competition in a room and I think it really just makes players rise to the best they can be, and I do … see some competitiveness in the room,” Singleton said. “From Miles to Boston to Jordan to now Kerryon to now Kenny Gainwell to (Jason) Huntley to Elijah (Holyfield).
“It’s a great room for that. I enjoy the room. I enjoy working with guys who want to be pros and want to be the best they can possibly be, and at the end of the day that’s how you want your roster to be built, with guys who are fighting for position and know that they have to compete and know that they have to perform.”
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