Darren Sproles is listed as a running back and has spent his entire career at that position. But he has worked at times this summer at slot receiver, and the 11-year veteran has welcomed the additional duties. One way Sproles' role could expand this year while trying to increase his offensive production is mixing in with the receivers.
"It's year two for him, so I think he feels really comfortable in terms of what our running backs are doing," coach Chip Kelly said. "So we are just kind of cross-training him like we do some other guys in terms of how do we get our best players on the field and put them in different situations."
Sproles played only 29 percent of the team's offensive snaps last season. He totaled 716 yards from scrimmage, which were his fewest since 2010. He finished with 40 catches, which were his fewest since 2008. Sproles made his first Pro Bowl because of his special-teams production, but he was not the offensive weapon that his skill set suggests. That was especially the case in the second half of the season, when he netted just 244 offensive yards.
Kelly said during the spring that he wants Sproles on the field more in 2015. Sproles spoke with Kelly this offseason about his role in the offense. He is encouraged by the possibilities.
"We're just trying to get more stuff for me to do," Sproles said. "We're going to get me out wide and stuff like that."
Playing in the slot could help Sproles get more playing time because it would put him on the field with another running back. One of the issues last season was that if Sproles was in the lineup, it usually meant LeSean McCoy came off the field. There were packages with both players, but they were seldom used. That problem compounds this year because both DeMarco Murray and Ryan Mathews merit playing time.
So if Sproles lines up in the backfield, it likely means both of those running backs are on the sideline. If Sproles is in the slot, the Eagles could have Murray or Mathews in the backfield.
"We've just got to wait and see," he said with a smile.
Sproles said the key to moving him in the slot is determining how defenses will cover him. Kelly wants players who can beat man coverage. The coach said last season Sproles was so dangerous against one-on-one coverage that teams started to double-team him.
"We've got to go through the film and see, when I line up at slot, how are they going to play me?" Sproles said. "Are they going to double me or are they going to single me?"
He expects a linebacker will be on him – advantage, Eagles – with a safety over the top. That could create a mismatch elsewhere.
Sproles spent some time in the slot during his time with the New Orleans Saints, so he's familiar with how to get open in traffic. It will not be a primary role, but it can be a package the Eagles introduce.
"We'll line him up in a lot of different places," offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur said. "We'll find a way to get him on the field. We just think that's a smart thing to do. Whether we're handling the ball or throwing it to him, we'll certainly make sure that happens."
Sproles is 32 and among the five oldest running backs still on an NFL roster. He has been in NFL since 2005, is coming off his first Pro Bowl season, and laughs at the question of whether he hears the clock ticking on his career.
"My body feels great," Sproles said. "As long as I have my quickness and speed, I'll be fine."
Entering his 11th NFL season, Sproles is invigorated by finding different ways to prove himself in the NFL. One way he could do it this year is catching more passes out of the slot.
"It really seems like it's going to be good," Sproles said.