Welcome back to the position-by-position breakdown of the 2008 Philadelphia Eagles. Today we look at the Birds running game heading into the 2008 season.
The Starter: Brian Westbrook
I read a column last week where Brian Westbrook was deemed, “The greatest back to play in the West Coast Offense” or what I have renamed the “Walsh Pro-Set”. I believe some fans out in San Francisco believe Roger Craig would have something to say about that. However, there is little debate today about Westbrook being the best multi-purpose back the NFL since Marshall Faulk.
Westbrook entering his seventh season has ducked, dodged and weaved his way to the upper echelon of running backs. The Vikings’ AdrIan Peterson and the Chargers’ LaDainlian Tomlinson may get more ink, but neither posses the hands or escapability of 36 West. In 2007, Westbrook set an Eagles all-purpose record of 2,104 yards. He would finish third in the NFL with 1,333 rushing yards and lead all backs with 771 receiving yards.
The biggest suprise last season was Westbrook’s durability which was rewarded by an increased workload. Seven times last season Westbrook carried the ball 20 or more times including a 32-tote performance against the Dolphins in November. Not counting the season finale against Buffalo, B West has had no less than 14 carries in a game. It looks like Andy Reid is over being gun shy about giving Brian the ball in heavy doses. The coaching staff has also done a better job of getting Westbrook the ball in space, causing instant mismatches with linebackers, even an occasional corner or two will get juked.
One potential cloud that hangs over the season is the fact that Westbrook is looking for a new contract as he has “outperformed” his current one. The two sides seem to differ on how much “guaranteed” money Westbrook should be earning at age 29. There hasn’t been a breakdown in communications and Westbrook looks like he going to hold up physically, so hopefully, a new deal will be ironed out soon.
Second String: Correll Buckhalter/Lorenzo Booker
It’s hard to root against a player like Correll Buckhalter, the fourth round pick out of Nebraska in 2001 has battled back from three major knee injuries over the course of his career to cement himself as Westbrook’s backup for the past two seasons as well as assisting in the return game.
The threat to Buckhalter making the Eagles roster comes in the form of second year player Lorenzo Booker. Booker was acquired in a draft day trade with the Miami Dolphins. He is slated to help in the return game and spell Westbrook. Booker who is being looked upon as “another draft pick” by Reid is considered faster and more elusive than Buckhalter.
The deciding factor here could be Booker’s ability to grasp the system.
Third String: Ryan Moats/Tony Hunt
Ryan Moats is a frustrating football player. After giving us a glimpse into what he could become as a rookie in the second half of the 2005 season, he has struggled with injuries and at times the intricacies of the system. His inability to find a niche on the team has placed him in the doghouse on a few occasions. Moats was on the fence before breaking his ankle last year as the preseason drew to a close. The Eagles are going to keep three backs, which means Moats is going to have to beat out three backs. He has a better chance of breaking through on the kick return team (DeSean Jackson will return punts, he has never returned kickoffs), other than that it may be the practice squad or an all out release for Moats.
The clock has officially started ticking on the career of second year running back Tony Hunt. Hunt was somewhat of a disappointment as he failed to beat out Buckhalter for the backup spot last season. At 6’2″ 230 Hunt could remedy the Birds woeful running game inside the 10-yard line. This keeps Westbrook in one piece and gives the running game another threat in short yardage situations. Hunt may also line up at fullback in some situations. I’m looking for Hunt to make the roster as the team’s third back.