Doug Pederson lost the NFL’s all-time rushing leader in yards-per-carry after just five games last year, and he hasn’t forgotten how the Chiefs handled what could have been a devastating injury.
Jamaal Charles, whose 5.5 career rushing average is highest in NFL history by a player with at least 1,000 carries, tore his ACL during the Chiefs’ Week 5 loss to the Bears last October and was lost for the season.
Andy Reid, not known for his love of the ground attack, was the Chiefs’ head coach, and Pederson was offensive coordinator.
The Chiefs used a variety of backs in place of Charles, a five-time 1,000-yard rusher and four-time Pro Bowler. And even missing Charles for 11 1/2 games, they finished sixth in the NFL with 128 rushing yards per game and third with 4.7 yards per carry.
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They went 10-1 without Charles and beat the Texans in a wild-card game before losing to the Patriots in the conference semifinals.
Pederson said one of the reasons the Chiefs were able to continue running the ball successfully even with Charles is because all the backs got a lot of reps in training camp.
“Even in training camp, when we didn't let Jamaal take a lot of live snaps, we got our 2's and 3's and our fourth guy really a lot of time,” Pederson said Wednesday.
Fast forward a year and that’s also been the case at Pederson’s new job.
Ryan Mathews, the Eagles’ projected starter, hasn’t practiced the first nine days of training camp because of an ankle injury he suffered before camp began.
That’s left veteran Darren Sproles, rarely used Kenjon Barner, rookie fifth-round pick Wendell Smallwood and undrafted rookies Byron Marshall and Cedric O’Neal to share the reps.
With Smallwood out of practice Wednesday with a minor quad injury, we saw Sproles, Barner, Marshall and O’Neal handling running back duties on the first day of live full-contact practice.
“Yeah, I've pulled a little bit from how we handled that (Charles) situation,” Pederson said. “This is valuable time. With Ryan hopefully coming back in the next couple of days, this is a great time for them.
“And with Wendell not practicing right now, it's great for those guys to get so many reps and so many touches. It's just going to help the overall balance of the football team and put some good film on tape for a lot of people to see.”
Mathews is the clear No. 1, but he’s only started more than nine games twice in six seasons. Sproles has a 5.0 career average but is now 33 and not likely to carry a heavy load on offense.
That leaves Barner, Smallwood, Marshall and O’Neal as true candidates for the No. 2 job. And with an injury-prone starter, it’s a very important role.