Football / Sports

Despite limited preseason involvement, Sproles will have major role in Eagles' offense

Darren Sproles could not contain his smile. He did not want to reveal what Eagles coach Chip Kelly has planned for him in the offense this season. He would only admit that his preseason totals of nine carries and three catches were not even a glimpse of what's to come when the Eagles open the season Sunday against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

"We haven't shown anything yet," Sproles said.

Teammates volunteer praise for Sproles. The 31-year-old veteran is a diligent worker who fits in the Eagles' locker room culture. But when asked how Sproles would be used, those teammates became similarly mum.

"Y'all just need to wait and see," quarterback Nick Foles said.

Sproles would only offer that he would be used in space, which is not breaking news. That's how he was used in San Diego and New Orleans over the last nine years. But Sproles confessed to a different excitement about entering this season, and it has to do with the possibilities of Kelly's offense.

Sproles' optimism was apparent in the spring, and it only intensified during the summer -- even though he was used sparingly in the preseason. Sproles would only say that Eagles fans would like what's to come. He said before the first preseason game that he did not expect to play much in August but that what the Eagles were doing in practice could become "kind of dangerous."

"It's how creative is your coach at that point, because he can do a lot of things really well," said safety Malcolm Jenkins, who was Sproles' teammate in New Orleans.

Before the first preseason game, Kelly said the Eagles would not hide Sproles. He explained that coaches had already seen enough of Sproles during his career to know he would be used as a running back, receiver, and returner. He joked that the Eagles would not put him on the offensive line.

Despite what Kelly said, it was clear that the plays called for Sproles seemed vanilla. The Eagles never used Sproles and LeSean McCoy on the field together. He was on the field only once with two tight ends. Sproles caught punts but never returned one. Even Kelly said Tuesday that there is more Sproles can do.

"You know, we're excited about him," Kelly said. "I've said he's a really talented runner and you'll see him carrying the football, and he's obviously a weapon coming out of the backfield. So you'll see a lot more out of him."

The intrigue is about what more there to see. Sproles excelled under Norv Turner and Sean Payton -- two of the football's best offensive minds -- and there's a sample size of eight seasons to show his many skills.

"Just use your imagination," Jenkins said. "Whatever you think you know about Darren Sproles, you probably don't. And whatever you say he can't do, he probably can."

The Eagles are committed to using him in the running game, which Sproles has said is one different way he expects to be used. He totaled more catches than carries in three of the last four seasons.

The McCoy-Sproles package is also going to be a wrinkle. The Eagles want to create mismatches for Sproles with linebackers, so where they align him and move him before the snap will be involve the intricacies that the team has kept veiled so far.

Eagles defensive coordinator Bill Davis said when he coached against him, he usually needed to put a player on Sproles' side or an extra body in man coverage. Linebacker DeMeco Ryans, who has played against Sproles in each of the last three seasons, said he looks like the same player this summer as the one who caused his defenses so much angst.

"Every time I've lined up against him on another team, you've got to keep an eye on Sproles," Ryans said. "He can line up everywhere, can do anything on the field."

The Eagles have touted this quality about Sproles since they acquired him in March and immediately gave him a contract extension. On Sunday, they'll finally show why they're so excited.

"You haven't seen nothing yet," Sproles said.

(c)2014 The Philadelphia Inquirer

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