Expect LeGarrette Blount to add tough inside running - and TDs
The new Eagles running back scored more touchdowns in 2016 than all the Birds' backs combined.
During the spring, Doug Pederson repeatedly watched film of LeGarrette Blount's 18 touchdowns last season with the New England Patriots. A few days ago, he did the same.
Then the Eagles ran a series of inside runs during Saturday's practice session, offering in-the-flesh evidence of what their new 250-pound running back can do.
"Just that big body in the backfield I think can, for a defender, present a big problem from a one-on-one tackling standpoint," Pederson said.
The Eagles added the 30-year-old Blount during the offseason to provide needed power to one of the smallest backfields in the NFL. Blount had 299 carries and 1,161 yards to go along with 18 scores last season. All were career highs.
Eleven of his touchdowns came from the 1-yard line. That's where Blount's size could be especially valuable. After a players' day off on Monday, the Eagles will return to practice Tuesday for the first day of live contact. They will be working on goal-line and short-yardage situations. It would seem to be a day when Blount could thrive.
"They're not going to just specifically put me in the role of short yardage and goal line," Blount said. "That's not what they brought me here for. They have an open mind. They're going to put me in every situation. I'm excited about every part of the game."
It makes sense that Blount will want to be more than a situational back. He showed last season he can carry a heavy load, and he's confident he can do the same in Philadelphia. The Eagles plan to use a committee backfield with Darren Sproles, Wendell Smallwood, and Donnel Pumphrey. Running backs coach Duce Staley said the Eagles want to "get the big boy rolling" in games, although each players' usage could fluctuate by week. Pederson lauded Blount's vision and explosiveness, which would suggest he can do more than simply barreling forward.
The Eagles certainly could use that ability, too. In 2016, they ranked 24th in the NFL in red zone offense after scoring touchdowns in only 49 percent of their trips inside the 20. The entire team rushed for only 16 touchdowns. Pederson knows the red zone offense must improve, and Blount could go a long way to help them go a short way.
"I'm definitely trying to," Blount said, "That's the plan."
To his credit, Blount also had touchdown runs of 43 and 41 yards last season. The Eagles' longest touchdown run was 25 yards, and that was their lone rushing score from longer than 8 yards. Pederson also saw those rushes when he studied Blount's touchdowns last week, although Blount would not nudge the coach to check any one touchdown more than another. They all count for six points.
"I just like scoring — from 1 yard, 40 yards," Blount said. "Touchdown's a touchdown. You need them to win."
Blount is likely going to be the early-down back for the Eagles. If he wants to expand his repertoire, he can be more of a threat as a receiver. Blount had only seven receptions last year on eight targeted passes and has been targeted more than 12 times in a season just once since entering the NFL in 2010. The Eagles like to throw the ball to their running backs out of the backfield; Blount said he's becoming "more and more comfortable with the offense every day" when asked about his pass catching.
That would also keep the Eagles' offense from appearing predictable, too — something they must be careful about with role players in their backfield. If it becomes apparent that they'll often run when Blount and Smallwood are in the game and often pass when Sproles and Pumphrey are in the game, it will be easier for opposing defenses.
"You don't want to be predictable by personnel," offensive coordinator Frank Reich said. "If all of a sudden LeGarrette comes in, you don't want [the defense] just to think run. But we actually like that predicament because we try to use it to our advantage. So LeGarrette comes in the game, he's a workhorse runner. We know teams fear him running the football. … All you've got to do is run a handful of play-action to keep them honest because the play-action plays tend to produce — you get those linebackers stepping up to stop him, it creates huge holes in the secondary."
It's true that there's a threat of play-action if Blount is running well. And it's also important to be able to run when defenses know you'll run. But Ryan Mathews and Smallwood rushed on 232 of their 451 snaps last season — more than half of their snaps. Maybe Blount can be a more effective runner, but it's still something to watch.
Blount said it's too soon to know how the running back snaps will be distributed. First he can help the Eagles in short-yardage and goal-line situations, both apparent when Pederson watched all 18 touchdowns from last season.
"Exciting to see him as we get going now in these games," Pederson said.