BETHLEHEM, Pa. - Andy Reid doles out carries to his running backs like scraps under the table.

So when a back gets a leftover from his beloved passing game, it's best to gnaw on it and make the best of what's left on the bone.

But what happens when there are three or four running backs scrounging for carries? Are they satisfied with their portions or do they bark for more?

The Eagles have a stable of running backs in training camp this year, and the pecking order is in place. LeSean McCoy, taking over full time for Brian Westbrook, is the No. 1 tailback. Mike Bell, despite a hamstring injury he suffered Sunday, is the backup. And Eldra Buckley, Charles Scott and newly acquired J.J. Arrington will fight it out for the third spot.

But there is also Leonard Weaver, a hybrid fullback making running back money. The trick for Reid and offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg this season, however, is not divvying up the pie so that each running back is content. It's in finding the right complement to improve the offense.

Bell, playing for Super Bowl champion New Orleans last season, was part of one of the better three-headed running back monsters of recent memory. Pierre Thomas was the dual-threat, shifty tailback. Reggie Bush was the pass-catching threat out of the backfield. And Bell was the north-south, short-yardage back.

"We have great running backs in the backfield that can do different things and bring different things to the table," Bell said earlier in the day before his injury. "I think that's what you need. You need a variety of different things so teams won't get used to running the same exact play."

While the Eagles may not have the same firepower as the 2009 Saints, they do have running backs that balance each other. If the 6-foot, 225-pound Bell likes to power ahead, McCoy prefers to bob and weave through a defense.

"Mike is obviously a bigger guy and more of a power guy . . . and if he sees that spot and you're in the way, he's taking you with him," Reid said. "McCoy kind of picks and chooses in that area, but he's got that elusiveness that is rare in this league."

Both have displayed their styles in the early portion of camp, despite some early rust from the offensive line. Bell, before his injury, continued to get tough yards running as the second-team tailback against the first-team defense in the live tackling sessions of practice. McCoy showed a great burst, especially when he took a screen pass from quarterback Kevin Kolb Sunday and ran 30-plus yards for a score.

"It feels like I'm a sophomore back at Pitt - finding holes, breaking tackles, making receptions," said McCoy, who left college after only two seasons. "Last year, I thought I had a good year. But there was something missing. The extra . . . whatever I have."

After two moribund seasons in Denver and then in New Orleans, Bell rebounded last season for 654 yards and five touchdowns on 172 carries. But when the Eagles signed him as restricted free agent, it raised a few eyebrows because Bell hadn't done much pass-catching since his rookie year and because he had pretty much never been asked to block.

Both skills are necessary for a running back in the Eagles' West Coast offense.

During the morning practice, Bell pancaked defensive end Trent Cole.

"I caught him off guard a little bit," Bell said. "It's important because I was never really asked to do that before in my career."

Arrington could find a niche if he shows he has recovered from microfracture knee surgery in June 2009. He participated in his first Eagles practice Sunday after the Eagles traded away linebacker Joe Mays to Denver for his rights. Even though his new No. 33 jersey didn't have his name on the back, Arrington feels like his pass-catching abilities will keep him aboard.

"I definitely think I can bring that here," Arrington said. "I used to run routes and stuff outside the backfield, so I figure once I understand the routes and the motions, I'll be pretty good with that."

If Arrington does pan out - or even if Buckley, a relentless runner, or Scott, a run-over-people rookie, wins the last spot - the Eagles could have their best trio of running backs since 2003 when Correll Buckhalter, Duce Staley and Westbrook split Reid's crumbs.

"It's important to have three good running backs and that's what we're trying to put together here now," said Staley, a coaching intern during camp. "Of course, these guys are young. McCoy is young, but you see the talent in McCoy. When you look at Bell, you see the talent."

Contact staff writer Jeff McLane at 215-854-4745 or jmclane@phillynews.com.
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