Eagles will test-drive Sproles in preseason opener

Darren Sproles says the offense will be dangerous.
Darren Sproles says the offense will be dangerous. (MICHAEL BRYANT / Staff)
Posted: August 09, 2014

Of the 32 new players wearing an Eagles uniform, no player comes with more intrigue into Friday's preseason opener in Chicago than Darren Sproles. Other newcomers might have bigger roles or brighter futures, but curiosity remains about how coach Chip Kelly will use the versatile, 31-year-old running back.

"We're not going to go out there and show everything we're trying to do," Sproles said. "We're going to show just basic stuff."

Kelly argued that there's not much the Eagles can do with Sproles that has not been seen during Sproles' nine seasons with the Chargers and Saints.

"You've seen him be a returner, you've seen him be a running back, you've seen him be a receiver," Kelly said. "He's not going to be an offensive lineman, but he'll play all those positions for us. I don't think anybody is going to look at our preseason tape and say they're hiding him and not using him to do this. Darren, like everybody else, needs reps in our offense."

This is Kelly being practical. But he can also be devious. Because even if it's obvious that Sproles will be used in several ways - including as a punt returner - there are creative ways to use him and find him open space. Sproles was asked what more he has in his repertoire that has not been seen on film, and he offered a telling smile.

"There's actually a lot," Sproles said. "Because in the past, teams basically just used me in the passing game. Now, Chip has me running the ball, too."

In one package seen in practice, Sproles and LeSean McCoy were in the backfield together. To do this in a game, the Eagles would not be able to play with two tight ends or three receivers, so there will be some mixing and matching required to maximize the five skill-position players.

"It's going to be tough [for defenses] because you don't know who has the ball, and there are so many options," McCoy said. "And the hard part is not just having me and Sproles at the same time, but we're going at such a fast pace. You can see the formation from scouting and watching film and line up a defense for them, but we're going so fast, it's hard to do it."

Offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur said the Eagles have practiced that look often, but he said he does not know how much more it will be shown. Shurmur said one of the advantages is it allows the Eagles offense to be "multiple." A defense must determine what personnel group to put on the field against it, and then the Eagles can spread out in many ways to try to exploit that defense in a no-huddle attack.

Kelly said opponents are aware of who is on the Eagles, and they will not be so stunned that they leave Sproles wide open because they were not expecting him to play with McCoy.

"It's not like that's going to be a surprise, like: 'Oh, my God, they're in the game at the same time!' " Kelly said. "I think when people go to play us, they realize that we can put those guys on the field at the same time."

Yet the thought of it encapsulates what made the Sproles acquisition so enticing for the Eagles. He can be used in so many ways and spots, and Friday will be the first glance in a game.

Sproles expects to play in the preseason, but not often. The Eagles will prepare him for the regular season while also keeping some of what they'll do concealed. And it's enough that even Sproles admits he's curious about what's to come.

"I really am," Sproles said, "because the stuff we've been doing in practice, I think it's kind of dangerous."


zberman@phillynews.com

@ZBerm

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