Eagles running backs benefit from Staley's expertise

Backup quarterback Michael Vick (left) shares a laugh with Duce Staley, who spent his coaching fellowship with the Eagles.
Backup quarterback Michael Vick (left) shares a laugh with Duce Staley, who spent his coaching fellowship with the Eagles.
Posted: September 03, 2010

On a scorching-hot weekday morning at Eagles training camp, retired running back Duce Staley was flanked by a half-dozen active running backs at Lehigh University.

The temperature was boiling over into the low 90s - humid enough to warrant a lighter workout in the second of two-a-day practices that afternoon. But the Eagles pushed to close out the morning session strong.

Near the end zone, Staley draped his thick arm around players' shoulders, pointed to the field, and offered directions on making cuts during this noncontact drill. The first attempt was unsuccessful, so Staley called it back for another try. Even during the days of camp when the weather betrays players and practices seem endless, his words remained largely unchallenged.

Staley, 35, played seven of his 10 NFL seasons with the Eagles, finishing his career with the Pittsburgh Steelers. He ended his Eagles career with 4,807 rushing yards, fourth best in team history, behind only Wilbert Montgomery, Brian Westbrook, and Steve Van Buren.

And this summer, through a minority coaching fellowship from the league, Staley returned to help the Eagles' running backs during the grind of training camp and the preseason.

"I think the thing he's really bringing is his youth and the excitement that we need, the energy that sometimes we need when we're having down days," Eagles running back Leonard Weaver said. "Sometimes you need a little bit of a push. Some days you don't want to go, some days you just want to quit. But having him around has been a blessing, and I think he's made an impact on us."

Two years ago, a "family situation" prevented Staley from joining the program. But with his schedule able to balance coaching responsibilities, Staley spoke with Eagles coach Andy Reid and running backs coach Ted Williams. Soon after, Staley found himself in Bethlehem, Pa., visor on top and clipboard in hand.

"I always wanted to be a coach. What level of coaching kind of kept me in the air," said Staley, who went into sports-talk radio in his hometown, Columbia, S.C., after retirement. "Now, coming here, my decision is a lot easier. I want to coach on this level."

Bringing in Staley was a seamless process, the running backs said. Mention Staley, and players generally praise the way he communicates a decade of NFL experience to the younger running backs, particularly LeSean McCoy, who is entering his second season in the league.

"Whenever you can play the game for so long and get so much knowledge, like he has, it's obvious he picked up a lot and he's passing it on to us," McCoy said. "His biggest thing is this: knowing why to do everything. Why should I do this? Why should I do that? Why should I run the ball in this hole? He's so smart, so he's helping us out a lot."

As a coach, Staley said he has seen a lot more film than he ever did as a player. He also wakes up earlier to meet with the coaching staff. He grabs play sheets, makes certain that he's on top of the offense, and heads to the field.

The origins of Reid's offense are still familiar to him, and Staley said that has helped his transition into coaching. The players have taken notice.

"He's talking from player experience, not . . . getting it from some Internet, so that helps a great deal," Weaver said.

Williams has mentored Staley through the process. Originally brought in to coach the Eagles' tight ends in 1995, Williams shifted his attention to running backs two years later - a move that paved the way for the organization to draft Staley in the third round. Staley remembers the tutelage he received then from Williams, whom Staley still considers to be a father figure.

Years removed from that, Staley now is trying to pass on that knowledge. It's uncertain where that will be; his fellowship ended after Thursday's game against the Jets, and there are no imminent plans. But one thing's for certain: Staley knows what he can offer.

"There's a lot of talent here," he said. "I could interact with the guys. I could help them get better. Playing 10 years, I learned something."

Contact staff writer Mario Aguirre at 215-854-4550 or maguirre@phillynews.com.

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