Eagles' rookie RBs poised to show what they can do

Eagles' Bryce Brown runs with the football during afternoon training camp dills at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pa. on Monday, July 23, 2012. ( Yong Kim / Staff Photographer )
Eagles' Bryce Brown runs with the football during afternoon training camp dills at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pa. on Monday, July 23, 2012. ( Yong Kim / Staff Photographer )
Posted: July 25, 2012

BETHLEHEM — LeSean McCoy, who turned 24 on July 12, is the oldest running back Ted Williams is coaching at Eagles training camp this year.

"I might be the most unique coach in the NFL, coaching nobody over the age of [24]," Williams said Monday, as rookies and select veterans began camp workouts.

Williams, starting his 18th year on the Eagles' staff, his 16th as running-backs coach, isn't complaining about the inexperience of the group, which includes second-year man Dion Lewis and a pair of rookies, seventh-rounder Bryce Brown and undrafted free agent Chris Polk.

Lewis isn't here yet — he'll report with the other vets Wednesday, but he was in Albany, N.Y., Monday appearing in court, where charges were dropped in that July 8 fire-alarm-pulling incident, attorney Craig Crist said. Lewis showed enough as a rookie to be reasonably sure of making the roster, though he probably won't retain his job as kick returner.

The two rookies, Brown and Polk, have looked intriguing. Both probably have better talent than their entry credentials suggest — Brown dropped, because he left the team at Tennessee and then at Kansas State; he has played one game the past two seasons. Polk has undergone two left shoulder surgeries, and his labrum still isn't tight, he said Monday — but this has been the case the past 2 years, and "I never missed a game," he said.

"I'm really impressed with both of them, because they work hard, and they appear to be intelligent enough to master this offense, which is really the biggest problem you get," Williams said. "It's a mouthful; you put a plate in front of 'em, it's a whole meal. They have to learn which bites to take to get it digested.

“The best thing about them is, they have extraordinary skill sets, both of 'em do. Chris is faster than I thought he was. He's bigger [5-11, 222] than he looked on tape. I knew how big Bryce was [6 feet, 220], how fast he was, I didn't know how athletic he was. They both have rare talent…I think those guys are going to be good players.

“The surprising thing is how well they've shown that they can understand. We give them rules, we give them adjustments…so far, they've shown they understand. That's really amazing, for the little amount of time they've been here and the little amount of reps they've got…This might be the furtherest-along group of kids I've ever had."

That last point, Williams said, could have to do with the new collective bargaining agreement limiting on-field work in the spring.

"The new CBA's helped us, because we've had far more meeting time. We've met ad infinitum. We were able to take it from ground zero all the way up. Just hours and hours of study and talk," Williams said.

Nobody wants to get too excited yet — there has been no work in pads, there have been no preseason games for either Brown or Polk to miss a blitz pickup and get a quarterback splattered. But if the two rookies, who are roommates at Lehigh, hadn't shown a lot this spring, the Eagles would have moved to add a veteran before camp started.

Brown is smooth, especially catching passes out of the backfield. Polk is more powerful. Polk said he worked in a pro-style offense at Washington, has pass-blocked before. Brown, not so much. That's required to get on the field in the Eagles' scheme.

"We're going to find out real fast if I can pass-block, because I've never done that," Brown said. "I am going to do that. I am willing to do that, I am willing to learn…I am ready for the challenge."

Williams said he has another challenge for Brown, as well.

"I haven't gotten it out of him yet, but Brown has a second gear," Williams said. "I tell him all the time, I want to see that second gear. He knows he has it, but he doesn't use it. I say, ‘You know, why you don't use that second gear? Because you never had to.' I said, ‘At this level, you're going to need to use it. I need to coach it out of you.'"

Asked about that later Monday, Brown said, "If he sees it, it's there. He's going to push me until I get there. I appreciate that…He's definitely on me pretty hard."

Polk might be the short-yardage answer, behind McCoy, of course, who is the first answer to every question, after rushing for 1,309 yards last season while leading the league with 17 rushing touchdowns and 20 touchdowns overall.

"Polk is just raw power…He just runs through people. He don't miss 'em," Williams said. "He looks to me, like, if he can continue to grow at the rate he's grown so far, the sky's the limit for him."

You have to wonder whether that is an optimal style for a guy with a bum shoulder, which probably explains why Polk wasn't drafted after rushing for 4,049 yards at Washington.

"I'd rather run right at you than run past you," Polk confirmed. "This is my third year playing with [the shoulder situation]. I've never missed a game for it. I don't think it's going to hold me back."

Polk knew his shoulder had raised concerns with NFL teams, he said. General manager Howie Roseman, talking about Polk last week, noted that when a player starts to slide because of a medical issue, teams start to figure that some other team or teams must be more plugged in to negative information than they are — the league gets spooked, in effect.

"I knew it was going to be a big deal, but not that big a deal," Polk said. "I played [practically] my whole college career with it, didn't miss any practices, any games. Looking at an MRI, you'd think, ‘OK, this guys really going to suffer.' But turn on the film, you wouldn't even think I had a hurt shoulder."

The MRI shows, Polk said, "that I just have a torn labrum. Thank God nothing's broken or anything. At the worst, it'll kind of slide out a little bit. Even if it dislocates, and it's, like, swollen and I can't move it for a day, the next day, I'm right back at it."

Polk said he can have more surgery, but would be looking at an 8-month recovery. He doesn't think he needs it to play.

We'll start to know more when the pads go on Friday.


Contact Les Bowen at bowenl@phillynews.com. Follow him on Twitter @LesBowen. For more Eagles coverage and opinion, read his blog at www.eagletarian.com.

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