Eagles' McCoy shows he is the real deal

LeSean McCoy scoring a touchdown in the second quarter on a 1-yard run against Carolina. DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff
LeSean McCoy scoring a touchdown in the second quarter on a 1-yard run against Carolina. DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff
Posted: August 18, 2013

LeSean McCoy's introduction to Chip Kelly's offense came on Thursday night, when the Eagles' franchise running back rushed eight times for 47 yards and one touchdown in the first half of a 14-9 preseason win over the Carolina Panthers.

He juked his way to many of those yards, including a 21-yard gain in the first quarter in which McCoy reversed field and left an unsuspecting tackler on the ground from one of his cuts. It was McCoy at his finest - and the one who earned a $45 million contract two seasons ago.

"People forgot about me," McCoy said. "I heard people in fantasy [football] knocked me down."

McCoy said this with a smile, but even he admits 2012 fell below standards. One year after rushing for 1,309 yards and totaling 20 touchdowns, McCoy was limited to 840 rushing yards and five total TDs last season. He struggled with a concussion and an injured offensive line, but it was a regression during a career that had previously been ascending.

Enter Kelly, who is known to feature running backs, even if it's out of the shotgun in a single-back formation. Practice does not include contact, and McCoy sat the preseason opener with a knee injury, so Thursday was the first glimpse of McCoy in the new system.

"I got to see the real Shady in person," rookie quarterback Matt Barkley said. "I watched a bunch of YouTube highlights, but he is the real deal."

McCoy's first carry was an 8-yard scamper for a first down with two cutbacks to open space. Asked after the game if the first carry was all Kelly needed to see from his Pro Bowl running back in the preseason, Kelly insisted that McCoy must stay on the field.

"LeSean needs to practice, and LeSean needs to play, and he'll be the first to tell you that," Kelly said. "I think he wanted to play longer tonight, but we have to be smart with him.  Is he talented? Yeah. But does he need to practice? Yeah, everybody needs to practice, and everybody needs to play."

McCoy independently agreed with his coach, confessing that he felt "rusty" on the field and that he still needs to work his way into game shape.

"This type of offense is so different because we go at a fast tempo," McCoy said. "You need to be conditioned to run that type of tempo, play after play. It was crazy because I've seen how tired the defense was. I was like 'wow,' imagine if it was like this for four quarters of this tempo. It just shows you how effective the offense will be."

He also lamented the fact that the Eagles scored only 14 points with the first-team offense, and had two potential scoring drives thwarted by turnovers in their half of the field. McCoy reminded that turnovers "killed us the last two years," and the offense needs more time together on the field.

McCoy also benefited from a system that features the running game. Even if Chip Kelly's run-pass ratio at Oregon was skewed because the Ducks were so often ahead, expect a much closer distribution this season than under Andy Reid. There were 16 first-half rushing plays and 18 first-half passing plays, and the numbers could have been different but for decisions made on run-pass options.

"When you run the ball enough," McCoy said, "they don't know what's coming."

McCoy concluded that Kelly was "honest and he was correct" about what he told the team about the offense, and that the system can be effective in wearing down opposing defenses.

But it also requires a different running style. Every one of McCoy's rushes came out of the single-gun, shotgun formation. Only on his 1-yard touchdown was there someone else in the backfield, and that was Riley Cooper faking an end-around and opening up space for the score.

One half and eight carries is a small sample size, yet it appears that McCoy is poised for a big season. If he can stay healthy through the preseason, the offense will feature one of the NFL's finest running backs - which will undoubtedly please the fantasy football owners that McCoy said forgot about him.

Contact Zach Berman

at zberman@phillynews.com. Follow @ZBerm on Twitter.

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