THIS WAS March of 2014 at the NFL owners meeting in Orlando, Fla., just two weeks after the Eagles had slipped something into the drink of Saints general manager Mickey Loomis and persuaded him to hand over Darren Sproles for the bargain-basement price of a fifth-round draft pick.

On that day at the Ritz-Carlton resort, Chip Kelly talked of all the wonderful ways they were going to utilize the dangerous pass-catching running back.

"We've got to be smart enough as coaches to get the ball in his hands because he's a dynamic player with the football in his hands,'' Kelly said. "His versatility and the ability to do different things with him is intriguing.''

Indeed it was/is. In the previous three seasons with the Saints, the 5-6, 190-pound Sproles had been the most prolific pass-catching running back in the NFL. He was a matchup nightmare for linebackers and safeties.

He had 232 receptions in those three seasons, 1,981 receiving yards, 16 receiving touchdowns, a 76.1 percent catch rate. All of those numbers were league highs among running backs.

The prospect of what an offensive mastermind like Kelly would be able to do with Sproles in the passing game had Eagles fans drooling. But in the two seasons he coached him, Kelly never seemed to be able to find a way to really maximize Sproles' pass-catching skills. Certainly not like the Saints' Sean Payton had.

Sproles had just 40 catches with the Eagles in 2014, the 14th most among NFL running backs and his fewest since 2008. Last year, he had 55 receptions, but averaged just 7.1 yards per catch, 28th among running backs, and his lowest reception average since '07. He has scored just one receiving TD in his two seasons as an Eagle.

Sproles, who will turn 33 later this month and is entering the final year of his contract, did not attend any of the Eagles' voluntary organized team activities this spring, opting to train in California where he could spend more time with his wife and children.

But he was back at the NovaCare Complex Tuesday for the first day of the team's mandatory minicamp, getting his first up-close-and-personal look at Doug Pederson's offense.

Sproles looked very much at home in the offense, which isn't surprising. Running backs coach Duce Staley has been in constant contact with him over the last several weeks, briefing him on the West Coast hybrid that has a lot of similarities to the offense he played in with the Saints.

Pederson said on Tuesday that Sproles will be "a big part of what we do offensively" this season, which is an interesting comment given Sproles' age and his disappointing receiving numbers the last two seasons. But he believes Sproles, who takes excellent care of himself, still has a lot left to give, at least as a receiver if not a runner.

Sproles had 83 rushing attempts last season, the third-heaviest ball-carrying load of his career. He averaged just 3.8 yards per attempt.

Kelly always seemed to have a tactical excuse for why they didn't throw the ball more to Sproles. But it is expected to be a point of emphasis with Pederson if only because the running back always has been a big part of the West Coast passing game.

"If you go back and just look at what we did in Kansas City with our running backs with Jamaal (Charles) before he got hurt and then with the two other guys (Charcandrick West and Spencer Ware) after the injury, we like to move our running backs around, and (Sproles is) a guy that creates matchups against the defense, and we're going to move him around," Pederson said.

"We are not necessarily going to keep him in the backfield. His role will be extensive, both offensively and also on special teams, and I'm excited to kind of get to see what he can do this week a little bit."

In 2013, Pederson's first year as Andy Reid's offensive coordinator in Kansas City, Charles was targeted 104 times and caught 70 passes for 693 yards and seven touchdowns. Dexter McCluster, a 5-9, 165-pound running back-wide receiver combo player, had 53 catches for 511 yards that same year.

Last year, Charles was targeted 30 times and had 21 catches in just four-plus games before suffering a season-ending knee injury.

Pederson's mentor, Reid, always relied heavily on a running back in the passing game. LeSean McCoy had 78 receptions in 2010. Brian Westbrook averaged 71 catches a season from 2004 through 2008.

"Darren is a tremendous athlete," Pederson said. "Great skill set. I plan on using him quite a bit."