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He exceeded all expectations and was one of the league's most explosive players. Had he not been given the starting job last season, there's no way the Eagles would have finished third in the league in points, second in total offense or first in plays of 20 yards or more. No player in Philadelphia proved to be more versatile, more dynamic.
We are not speaking of quarterback Michael Vick but of running back LeSean McCoy. In just his second season the 5' 11'', 215-pound McCoy was named All-Joe—a USA Today team selected by NFL players to honor underappreciated overachievers—but was also worthy of being All-Pro. "All you have to do is check the stats," Vick says. "He's someone you have to account for. He's a force."
McCoy became Philadelphia's first 1,000-yard rusher since Brian Westbrook in 2007, and his 5.2 yards per carry ranked fourth among running backs. He was one of only three players to lead his team in both rushing (1,080 yards) and receptions (78), ranking fourth overall with 1,672 total yards from scrimmage. "LeSean came into his own," coach Andy Reid says. "He's one of the shiftier backs in the league. He also has the hands of a wide receiver."
Into his own, but not into the same echelon as Vick and wideout DeSean Jackson, Pro Bowlers whom McCoy calls "the two most electrifying players in the NFL."
"Everyone talks about how great Michael Vick is, or how fast DeSean Jackson is, and I'm just the finisher," McCoy adds with a laugh, only half joking about his role as a fourth-quarter clock eater.
A native of Harrisburg, Pa., McCoy rushed for more than 2,800 yards in two seasons at Pitt and was taken in the second round of the 2009 draft, setting an Eagles rookie record with 637 rushing yards on 4.1 yards per carry. After that season, he promised Reid he'd pay better attention to his nutrition and return stronger, which his coach credits with the uptick of more than a yard per carry last season. "I think since he grew up near Hershey, he enjoyed the fruits of the candy world," Reid says. "But he changed that and really dedicated himself to the profession. People who know football know how valuable he is to our team."
It's common to think of the Eagles as a pass-happy bunch. They were the only team to have two players (Jackson and Jeremy Maclin) finish among the league's top 20 receivers last year, their seventh straight as a top 10 passing team. They also led the league in quick strikes, with 11 touchdown drives of fewer than four plays. But the perception of the Philadelphia offense as an aerial circus, says offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, "is a little different from reality." In fact, the Eagles were fifth in rushing in 2010—up from 22nd in each of the previous two seasons—and were first in yards per carry (5.4).
Vick's contribution to the ground game is undeniable. He ran for 676 yards and nine touchdowns (two more than McCoy), and his average of 6.8 yards per carry was the best in the NFL. But even taking his production out of the equation, Philly's average of 5.0 would still have led the league.
Big plays supplemented by a running game that can protect leads and keep opposing offenses off the field will again be the Eagles' M.O. Their biggest off-season acquisition on offense was former Dolphins running back Ronnie Brown, who, along with McCoy, will keep the clock and the chains moving. That should help a defense that must break in eight new starters—even if one of them is the summer's top free agent, ex-Raiders cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha. Rookie middle linebacker Casey Matthews, a fourth-round pick out of Oregon (and Clay's brother), will be relaying the play calls from new coordinator Juan Castillo, the team's offensive line coach the past 13 seasons.
"Anybody can put big names on paper," says cornerback Asante Samuel, who has been to the last four Pro Bowls. "We've got to figure out how it's going to be put together."