In one respect, McCoy is ahead of the game. Thanks to Brian Westbrook's injuries last season, McCoy gained 637 rushing yards on 155 carries as a second-round rookie out of Pitt, the most yards by any Eagles rookie rusher ever. He also caught 40 passes for 308 yards.
But just because McCoy showed promise in an opportunity that wasn't afforded to Staley or Westbrook (46 carries for 193 yards, nine catches for 86 yards in 2002) doesn't necessarily mean McCoy will become as good as Staley or Westbrook. McCoy wore down over the second half of the season; he never managed more than 48 yards rushing or 39 yards receiving in his last half-dozen games, including the playoff loss at Dallas. McCoy also had some typical rookie stuff to work through, such as dancing around in the backfield, thinking he was going to find a route around the entire defense, the way he often had at Pittsburgh, instead of hitting the hole quickly and taking what was there.
Learning a new offense at a new level was a bit overwhelming. McCoy did well to figure out where he was supposed to be on every snap; the larger picture was beyond his grasp. But in this training camp, with a year under his belt and Staley aboard as a coaching intern, McCoy has had a chance to move forward.
Overall, McCoy said, "playing a little faster," is a goal for this season, not thinking or hesitating, the way you do when something is new. "And also getting a lot stronger in my lower [body], breaking more tackles," he said.
Staley has helped with that first part, McCoy said yesterday after returning from a day of practice missed with a quad contusion.
Staley "was so successful" in the Eagles' offense, McCoy said. Staley pretty much completes McCoy's West Coast mentorship trifecta; Shady got to pick Westbrook's brain last year, and McCoy also is close to Watters, a fellow alumnus of Harrisburg's Bishop McDevitt High. McCoy said Staley provides "little keys on running plays, making it easier to block some defenders. His thing is, look at everything as a quarterback, learn the defense. Why are the safeties moving? He's smart."
Staley said reading defenses was something he learned after his rookie year that helped him grow into the feature role.
"What it's called is presnap reads. As a running back, that's what you want, especially when you're playing teams like the Patriots, Baltimore, Pittsburgh, who give you multiple fronts," Staley said yesterday. "Anytime they give you multiple fronts and bring their safeties and corners and 'backers from everywhere, it's important to fire out of the huddle and make sure you find your man and look over the whole defense . . . In this league, the safeties tell you a lot about the defense, where the blitz is coming from. I'm trying to help him learn to watch that on film, and translate it from film onto the field."
Eagles quarterback Kevin Kolb said McCoy has shown the improvement and maturity everyone was looking for in camp.
"The thing I like about Shady is his confidence," Kolb said. "He understands the offense now; he's playing fast, he's playing fearless. When he does that, he's so talented, you can see that extra step. He's got that extra kick right now, and hopefully, he'll keep that the rest of the season."
Fullback Leonard Weaver is another mentor with deep West Coast offense roots. Weaver also believes McCoy is ready to handle his new responsibilities, and has a richer perspective.
"It's one thing to know what you do, but it helps you in the offense to know what everybody does. Blitz pickup has been the area [McCoy's] been really good at this camp . . . Then you can look at his running style. He's actually running downhill more, he's not doing as much shaking. That's a big deal. Get the ball upfield," Weaver said.
Other than reading defenses, Staley said he has worked with McCoy on "little things - technique, blocking. Make sure he's firm with his hands, don't have your hands outside, keep 'em inside, little things like that."
Staley always preferred running to pass-catching - that was one of the differences that led to his departure for Pittsburgh after the 2003 season - but he was a really reliable target, anyway. Staley caught 63 passes for 626 yards in 2001, when he was coming off a Lisfranc sprain. McCoy showed he had hands and instincts last year, but he was not a polished receiver, particularly in comparison to Westbrook, one of the very best in NFL history.
"[McCoy] is smooth with it, smooth running routes," Staley said. "One of the things I've been stressing, that he understands now, is how to create separation. In this league, everybody can run . . . You've got to be able to go out there and give them something they haven't seen before. Safeties and linebackers, you've got to be able to step on their toes, you've got to make sure they don't put their hands on you."
Last year McCoy was respectful of and deferential to Westbrook, almost to a fault. Staley also has found him to be a willing student, and a worthy carrier of the featured-back torch.
"One thing you never have to question is his heart and determination," Staley said. "He'll stick his nose in there. He's tough. When you've got a guy like that, you've just got to teach him the little things."
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