Philadelphia Eagles Training Camp 2008: The Runningbacks

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.

19 Responses to “Philadelphia Eagles Training Camp 2008: The Runningbacks”

  1. The most under-appreciated aspect of Westbrook’s game is his pass protection. The dude straight jacks people up. Seeing him chip a defensive end and then go out into the flat is a thing of beauty.

    The flip-side of that is that the rest of the Eagles backs can’t block worth a damn. If you go back to the Pats game, Feeley threw that pick-six to Samuels when Buckhalter missed a block. Westbrook was split wide on that play. Had he been in the backfield there’s no doubt he would have picked up the rusher.

    All that being said, I think the running back logjam will all come down to pass protection — especially as much as the Birds throw the ball.

    Booker is intriguing because you can use both him and Westbrook in the backfield at the same time or split him wide — taking some of the pass blocking burden off his shoulders.

    Hunt was miserable last season in picking up the blitz. I’d love to hear from anyone in Bethlehem as to whether or not he looks any better in that department.

    As for Buckhalter — I love the cat. He runs hard. And while not the big, grind it out back we’ve been looking for, he still has a burst and I think is underrated in the screen game (teams key 36 when it comes to the screen, but I’ve seen Buck hold his own in that department which ads another dimension to one of the best screen teams in the game).

    I don’t think Moats has much of a chance on this team. In fact, I imagine he’ll be in early cut, which will at least give him a chance to catch on someplace else. The guy showed flashes inconsistency in blitz pick-up and the addition of Booker has probably sealed his fate.

    With Thomas Tapeh gone, I’ll also be interested to see who comes out on top of the fullback position battle. Been reading a lot of stuff online, but nothing yet to indicate who’s job it is to lose. They brought in Kris Wilson, who’s more of an H-back, and Luke Lawton, but Jason Davis knows the offense and is supposed to have decent hands. It’ll be interesting.

  2. thebrotherreport says:

    BMI-I did leave out Westbrook’s blocking ability, I was thinking about it as I typed but it never made it to the post.

    Good insight on the blocking.

  3. origin says:

    Great post thebrotherreport. I am still mad at Reid for not drafting Steven Jackson when he had the chance some years ago.

    As always the eagles running game goes as far as westbrook and if Reid wants to actually call running plays to keep the defense honest. A perfect example of this is the 5 million sack game that the giants had against the eagles. Andy never stuck to the running game. Isn’t klecko suppose to be the goaling fullback??

  4. origin says:

    Sorry I mean goal line.

  5. MODI says:

    Listen guys, I don’t mean to high-jack this post, but you guys missed the biggest story in 25 years!!!

    Of course, I’m talking about the fact that THE PHILLY DROUGHT IS OVER!!!!

    The Philadelphia Soul won the Arena bowl championship!!!!!

    What? no celebration?

  6. Modi,

    As a Philly sports guy I say, very funny, but I think we’re going to hold off on that parade down Broad Street. It’s good to see our profound professional championship suffering is the butt of so many jokes.

    P.S. If we’re counting an AFL championship then we have to throw in the two Calder cups the AHL Philadelphia Phantoms won. What? A black man can’t dig on ice hockey? Willie O’Ree, Grant Fuhr, Anson Carter, Donald Brashear, Jerome Iginla… sure, they may be Canadians, but where do you think all those runaway slaves were going?

  7. thebrotherreport says:

    Origin – They brought Klecko in to vie for the FB spot but it didn’t go as planned. So now he’s back to DT, the Eagles normally keep no more than 4 DTs so he’ll be fighting for the 4th spot

  8. thebrotherreport says:

    But then again they have some ends that they like to move inside so they may cut him or place him on the practice squad.

  9. origin says:

    HAHA Modi I was gonna talk about that too. Yeap the AFL championship.

  10. Temple3 says:

    However, there is little debate today about Westbrook being the best multi-purpose back the NFL since Marshall Faulk.

    There could be a huge debate.

    If all-purpose includes all the things I think it includes, Westbrook is not the top guy in the league. In fact, he’s really a dual purpose back. He simply is too valuable to be used extensively in the punt or kick return game. That means you have to compare Westbrook to other backs on the basis of running and receiving.

    He measures up well – but you cannot be suggesting that his 2006 and 2007 seasons were the best AP seasons by backs in the league since Faulk.

    Westbrook has had only 1 season among the Top 100 in All-Purpose Yards. It was last year. He finished 3rd in the league and 47th all-time. But, he was behind Jerrious Norwood. Now, I’d rather have Westbrook than Norwood this season – but Westbrook may be getting too much love from the home crowd.

    There are all these dynamic pass-catching running backs with names like Tomlinson, Jackson, Barber (retired, but part of the conversation), Holmes (retired, but part of the conversation), and even little Leon Washington (right on Westbrook’s heels last year in APY).

    Frankly, Westbrook doesn’t return kicks and has only returned 19 punts in the last four years. Westbrook really only has two years worth of full-time play at the position — and he doesn’t carry the true heavy load (300+ carries) at the position. The Eagles are smart to deploy him in the passing game. But consider that even in LT’s season when he caught 90 balls, he still had 300 carries. (BW was second in touches last year – tied with Clinton Portis. The difference in damage to the body from running vs. catching passes out the backfield is tremendous and makes a huge difference. BW would be wise to NEVER carry the ball 300 times. By comparison, LT has done that 7 times in 7 seasons.)

    Westbrook, though, is as valuable a player as there is in the league precisely because of his versatility and suprising durability. He was 10th in carries and 3rd in rushing yards. That’s awesome – but I can’t put him on top of the all-purpose list. I can’t even put him on top of “The Little Guy with Great Hands who Runs for High Average” List. You can’t even put him atop the list of “Amazing 3rd Down Pass Catchers who also Run Really Well on First and Second Down.” He’s not just a role player. He’s the lead dog pulling the sled in Philly and he must be measured against the other Big Boys on the totality of his game. He’s not the best since Faulk.

  11. Temple3 says:

    Just a quick note about hands: You do realize that LT caught 100 balls in his 3rd season in the league. He’s been in the Top 3 in touches every single season. He’s been Top 10 in All-Purpose Yards for 6 of 7 seasons.

    There is a reason he gets more ink than Brian Westbrook. He is a better football player. Everything Westbrook can do he can do – at least as well. Westbrook could not carry the load that LT does for the Chargers.

    When you check the record books, you’ll be hard pressed to find a single RB who carried the rock for 300+ times for 7 consecutive seasons. It’s an amazing testament to his conditioning (and luck). Give that man his due.

  12. Temple3 says:

    I really like Lorenzo Booker. While I think Philly has too much of the same thing, Booker is talented. Ditto on Tony Hunt.

  13. Temple3,

    Westbrook is special, but Marshall Faulk is the gold standard.

    The comparisons to Barber and Holmes are valid, and barring injury I’d expect B-West to have a similar career (two to three more 1000+ yard seasons). But, Leon Washington? Really? That’s just the stats lying.

  14. MKRob says:

    Brian Westbrook is the best all around back in the NFL.
    The Eagles need to find a way to trade some of these guys and get another wide receiver for Donovan to throw to.

  15. thebrotherreport says:

    He (L.T.) may be a better ballplayer than Westbrook, I’m cool with that but for me Westbrook can hurt you in the special teams game even though that load has been reduced greatly. I’m not knockin’ L.T. in the slightest but I will say his best days are behind him and that doesn’t mean a decline this season or even next. He will plateau from here on out.

    In regards to that 100 catch season, his next best after that was 60 last season.

    As far as Westbrook not being this or that, I just don’t buy into it.

  16. Temple3 says:

    BMI:

    No question on Leon Washington. That’s why I put his name in there. He’s a nice runner (not in Westbrook’s league right now – who know’s down the road). Washington, though, is a lethal game changer on special teams.

    Westbrook is the real deal – no question.

    TBR:

    I agree about Westbrook on special teams – but he’s too valuable to the team to use regularly back there. He has no kickoff returns over the past 4 years and only 19 punts (in 4 years). The risk of losing him back there is simply too great.

    Also, I wouldn’t hold the decline in catches against LT. First off, 60 is an awful lot of catches. And, it is worth mentioning that the year before the ’100,’ LT had 79. Besides, guess who’s first two FULL seasons in the league happened right after that 100 season? Antonio Gates. Throw in the emergence of their large, over-sized receivers (Floyd, etc.) and a QB change — and the decline makes perfect sense.

    I largely agree with you about Tomlinson’s longevity – but I can’t say definitely. It’s really amazing that he’s done what he’s done for so long. I can’t imagine another year or two like the last 7…it would be unprecedented in the history of the league.

  17. thebrotherreport says:

    Agreed, I looked at his carries and that is one hell of a workload for 7 years and not suffer any significant injuries (see Jamal Anderson).

    I cringe when he goes back to return a punt, but they were so awful last season someone needed to give them a boost.

    I always said that they should have someone scout HBCUs ONLY for all postions but mainly for a return guy. I know there’s a kid out there that can return a damn kickoff or field a punt. That Green Bay game last season was a joke.

  18. Temple3… I feel you if you’re saying Leon Washington is the crown prince in waiting for B-West’s multi-purpose back throne. And he is a force in the return game.

    “That Green Bay game last season was a joke”…

    Too true.

    Although that game was Andy Reid’s fault. You can’t put a guy (J.R. Reed) who’d never returned a punt in a live game back there in that critical a juncture. They cut Mahe and Bloom, two poor punt returner options, before the season started and then refused to put Westbrook back there to at least fair catch the ball.

    After that game I got genuine joy every time B-West went back to cover a punt. Remember the Seattle game — his return put them in position to win… until Feeley found Tatupu (again).

  19. Temple3 says:

    The thing about BW (arguably the most important thing) is tha he makes defenders shit on every play because they KNOW if they have to tackle him alone, they are likely to get embarassed and he’ll score. He’s one of a handful of guys that can do that every single time he touches the ball — and everyone knows it.

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