For Eagles, Bell a likely replacement at RB

Eagles backup running back Mike Bell (right) talks with the injured LeSean McCoy during practice.
Eagles backup running back Mike Bell (right) talks with the injured LeSean McCoy during practice.
Posted: October 08, 2010

If LeSean McCoy can gut out nearly an entire half of football playing with a cracked rib - as he did last week - the presumption goes that the Eagles running back would be able to return to the field Sunday night against the San Francisco 49ers.

But what if he can't?

What if the rib remains painful even with additional padding?

Mike Bell, come on down.

The 6-foot, 225-pound Bell enjoyed a productive season in 2009 for the Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints. He rushed for 654 yards and scored five touchdowns on 172 carries.

But he hasn't lived up to expectations four games into this, his fifth NFL season. He has gained only 20 yards in 12 rushes and caught just one ball for 5 yards.

Judging by how the Eagles have used McCoy, who leads the team with 23 receptions, they may have some concerns with Bell's ability to catch the ball. Since posting a 20-catch season in his rookie year of 2006, Bell has snared only seven passes.

But offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg indicated there are no concerns at all and no plans to limit the offense because of Bell's paucity of catches.

"I think he does have some experience catching the ball, and he's done a good job for us," Mornhinweg said Thursday. "He's a different style of back, however. . . . We always go to a player's strengths, and he's got different strengths than LeSean does."

Mornhinweg said Bell's low numbers are a result of "just too few tries." As for the effect of Bell's injuries - a strained hamstring, a pulled calf muscle - in training camp and the preseason, he said that is now "irrelevant."

"I think he's ready to go now," Mornhinweg said. "I think he's pretty comfortable how we do things and exactly what his responsibilities are, so I think we're all right there."

Bell's thoughts on that and other subjects are not known since he has declined comment each of the last two days. On Thursday, he told reporters: "Nothing personal. I've got a lot on my mind."

When he visited with Eagles coaches at the NovaCare Complex shortly before being signed in March as a restricted free agent, Bell said: "I can catch the ball if you go back and watch the tapes."

Bell spoke with his performance in practice Thursday, making several nice catches on passes from Kevin Kolb. Bell's best NFL season was his first. Signed as an undrafted free agent out of Arizona by the Denver Broncos, he rushed for 677 yards and eight touchdowns and caught 20 passes for 158 yards in 2006.

Eagles coach Andy Reid said Bell is "a very capable starter if needed. And it's a different game for him the way he plays. He's a very physical back."

Meanwhile, McCoy sat out practice Thursday for the second straight day. Mornhinweg didn't offer any indication on whether he would play Sunday night against the 49ers.

"We'll see on him," Mornhinweg said. "He's day to day. He's a tough guy. I'll tell you what, you put the film on in the second half, you would have never thought that he had any type of injury at all. . . . Tough guy. Give him credit for that.

"Mike Bell's an outstanding back, and he's ready to go. We also have a couple other guys that I don't want to get into quite yet personnel-wise, but they'll be ready to go as well."

The other running backs on the Eagles' roster are second-year man Eldra Buckley and rookie Joique Bell, no relation to Mike Bell. Buckley had 44 yards on 15 carries last season, mostly in short-yardage situations, but does not have a carry this season.

"It's no different than anything else," Buckley said of the possibility for more playing time. "We're going out there to play football. That's all what it's about. It ain't about the amount of carries there are, it's about winning the game."

Mornhinweg wouldn't say specifically if the Eagles would use one featured back if McCoy couldn't play against San Francisco or if they'd shuttle backs in and out.

"Both are possibilities right now," he said. "There's going to be several decisions here made late in the week. I hope it's on paper Friday, and it could be Saturday. . . .

"So there's going to be several decisions made very late in this week and how we're going to operate. Everybody's ready with their preparation. . . . All the preparation is going to be there."


Contact staff writer Joe Juliano at 215-854-4494 or jjuliano@phillynews.com.

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