PHILADELPHIA (AP) - Philadelphia’s new running back, Darren Sproles, remembers the last time he played his first game for a new team - a fairly special performance.
In his first game with the New Orleans Saints in 2011 after leaving San Diego as a free agent, Sproles ran for 75 yards, returned a punt 72 yards for a touchdown and had a 57-yard kickoff return that set up another touchdown in an opening-night loss in Green Bay.
“That kickoff return should have been a touchdown, too,” Sproles said.
Other than the loss, coach Chip Kelly and the Eagles would settle for the same kind of production from their new backup running back and returner when they host the Jacksonville Jaguars in Sunday’s season opener.
“He’s a dynamic player as a running back or a returner,” Kelly said before Thursday’s practice. “I don’t know if any of you guys play fantasy football, but if someone said ‘Hey, you have a chance to get Darren Sproles,’ I’m in. We had a chance to get Sproles. We believed he was a dynamic football player and had seen him firsthand.”
Sproles, who turned 31 in June just after arriving from New Orleans for a fifth-round draft pick, will be used in a variety of ways by Kelly in the Eagles’ versatile, multi-faceted offense.
While he’s not the first kick returner, despite the fact it was his kickoff return in last year’s wild-card game that set up the Saints’ winning field goal against the Eagles, he will be the top punt returner.
“He can be a first down guy, second down, third down, fourth down, special teams. He’s a weapon whenever he’s on the field,” Eagles offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur said. “We’re handing him the ball, throwing him the ball. We’ll use him every which way we can.”
In his final two seasons with the Saints, Sproles caught more passes (146) than he had carries (101). Playing behind the league’s leading rusher in LeSean McCoy, Sproles could be used in that same kind of role for the Eagles.
“God bless him. He is hard to cover out of the backfield,” Eagles defensive coordinator Bill Davis said of Sproles. “And you are very aware as a defensive signal caller who is matched up against him in your man coverages.”
There will be times when Sproles and McCoy are on the field at the same time, which will make things even more interesting for defensive coordinators.
“I don’t think that’s going to be a surprise like oh my God they’re in the game at the same time,” Kelly said.
Sproles isn’t sure what’s going to happen, starting Sunday, either. He’s ready for anything.
“A lot of it will depend on the flow of the game,” he said. “But as long as I’m in space, I’ll be fine. There are a lot of weapons on this team. I think it’s going to be a fun year.”
NOTES: Rookie cornerback Jaylen Watkins, who had been out all week with a hamstring injury, returned to practice Thursday. Rookie wide receiver Josh Huff (shoulder) and backup offensive lineman Matt Tobin (ankle) remain out and will likely miss Sunday’s game.
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