Boston Scott helped save the Eagles season last December, no ifs, ands or buts about it. They would not have made the playoffs without him.
He stepped in when the team was on the ropes and Miles Sanders was hobbled by an ankle injury and its top three wide receivers all were hurt, and played a critical role in the four straight homestretch wins that enabled them to clinch the NFC East.
He racked up 350 yards from scrimmage in those four wins. Had four rushing touchdowns, including three in the Eagles’ playoff-clinching 34-17 win over the Giants in Week 17.
Not bad for a guy who’s not tall enough to get on most of the rides at Disneyland. Not bad for a guy who was the 201st player taken in the 2018 draft. Not bad for a guy who spent the first five weeks of last season on the practice squad and had just 23 carries before his December heroics.
All NFL teams have to reduce their rosters to 53 players by Saturday at 4 p.m. The Eagles currently have six running backs in camp. They likely will keep four.
Sanders, who has missed most of training camp with a lower body injury, and Scott are locks. Corey Clement, who has missed 17 games the last two years with knee and shoulder injuries, probably is safe as well.
That leaves Elijah Holyfield and undrafted rookies Adrian Killins and Michael Warren battling for the final running back job, though at least one of those three almost certainly will end up on the team’s expanded 16-man practice squad.
“Boston has been a bright spot,” head coach Doug Pederson said Tuesday. “He’s picked up where he left off at the end of the season and has been looking really good.”
It’s still possible the Eagles could add a veteran running back before the season starts on September 13. But on Tuesday at least, Pederson seemed content with the fast, young group he has. Then again, this is a guy who fired his offensive coordinator and wide receivers coach a day after saying they would be retained. So who knows.
Leonard Fournette, who rushed for 1,152 yards and had 76 receptions for Jacksonville last year, was waived over the weekend and officially became a free agent Tuesday.
The 6-foot, 228-pounder could help a team like the Eagles that finished 21st in first-down rushing average last season, much the same way LeGarrette Blount did in 2017. He certainly would add some size to a fast, but smallish unit.
But given the Eagles’ salary cap situation, Fournette probably is a little too pricey for them, even if they were interested.
After getting cut the last two summers, first by the Saints, who took him in the sixth round of the 2018 draft, and last year by the Eagles, who later re-signed him to their practice squad, Scott doesn’t have to lay awake at night wondering whether there will be a roster spot with his name on. There is.
Even though he knows that, he said his attitude is the same as it’s always been.
“I think it’s important to just do what I’ve been doing, man. Take it one step at a time, one play at a time. Don’t let the moment be too big or too small. Stay in the present, be appreciative that you’re there and then make something of it.”
Scott credits Eagles running backs coach Duce Staley with keeping him focused.
“When I got here, Duce talked to me about the mindset to have,” Scott said. “He said you want to be prepared for the opportunity even if it doesn’t come, rather than not being prepared for it and then it comes and you’re not ready for it and you mess up.
“The mindset I’ve had since college when I walked on [at Louisiana Tech] has been, I don’t know if the opportunities are going to come, but I’m going to make the most of them when they do come.”
While Scott doesn’t have to sweat cut-down day this year, he knows he still needs to continue to play well.
“It’s important to have confidence, but at the same time, this is the NFL,” he said. “Literally ever single year, their job is to find somebody better than you. Their job is to find someone to replace you.
“Any opportunity [I get] to step out on that field and live out my dream and do the things I’ve always wanted to do is truly a blessing. My excitement level is at an all-time high. But it’s controlled chaos. I definitely don’t want to get too hyped up and burn out on opening day.”
Sanders, who is expected to be ready for the season opener, rushed for 818 yards as a rookie last season and had another 509 yards on 50 receptions. He averaged 14.3 touches per game.
The coaching plan is for his touch average to increase this season. That doesn’t mean Sanders is going to morph into Earl Campbell and Scott and the rest of the running backs will be placed in mothballs. But as long as he stays healthy, Sanders will be the lead dog.
The Eagles have a versatile running-back corps that will again be a big part of the passing game. Sanders was one of just two backs in the league last year that had five or more receptions of 30 yards or more. He had five, just one fewer than the Chargers’ Austin Ekeler.
Scott had 24 receptions last season, 23 of them in the final four games. In the Eagles’ playoff-clinching win over the Giants in Week 17, he had 84 receiving yards on four screens.
“We call him the Little Big Man,” Staley said. “He’s small, but he runs big. He has that quick twitch. He can make people miss or run past you. He has good hands.”
Scott impressed Staley and Pederson early last season with his play on the scout team against the Eagles’ first-team defense when he still was on the practice squad. When Clement had to be put on injured reserve with a season-ending shoulder injury in mid-October, Scott was promoted.
“He’d be in one-on-one situations with our linebackers and safeties” when he was on the scout team, Staley said. “You could see him get better and better in the run game.
“That was the part that was important for him. Understanding the run game. Knowing when to be slow and when to be fast. And he capitalized on it. What he did late last season didn’t surprise me at all.”