PHILADELPHIA -- Running backs don't typically like to give away carries. Most want the ball. They prefer to play themselves into a rhythm so that they get stronger as the game goes on.
But LeSean McCoy, the NFL's rushing leader a season ago, has no problem abdicating carries to new Philadelphia Eagles teammate Darren Sproles. He actually is encouraging it, because not only does McCoy trust the 30-year-old Sproles, he believes an increased role for Sproles will only benefit him in the fourth quarter when the game is on the line.
A fresh McCoy makes the Eagles more dangerous, late in games and late in the season.
"There's been games when I've been tired late in the game," McCoy said. "Then there are some times in the game where it's late in the game, and the defense knows we need a play. You can see the defense eyeing me up. A guy like Sproles, that's fine. Give him a matchup with a linebacker or a safety, and we're going to win."
The Eagles traded for Sproles in March before they made the most jarring, controversial move of the offseason and released wide receiver DeSean Jackson. While Sproles does not replace Jackson, who had his most productive year as a pro last season under new coach Chip Kelly, Sproles does give Philadelphia another viable offensive weapon.
He is one of the smallest players you will see on an NFL roster, but he is wickedly fast and a multidimensional player whom Kelly will use to stretch the field, create mismatches and force the tempo. Sproles can run between the tackles, catch the ball out of the backfield and line up in the slot. He can pass protect, and he can be a decoy in a two-back set when McCoy gets the ball.
Sproles doesn't make up for the fact that Jackson, who caught 82 passes last season for 1,332 yards and nine touchdowns, is now in Washington, but he should help because he gives opposing defenses one more thing to worry about.
"It's like, 'Who do you have covering him?'" said new Philadelphia safety Malcolm Jenkins, who played with Sproles the past three seasons in New Orleans. "He's quick enough to get off on DBs. He's a running back who can still run between the tackles, surprisingly. You wouldn't think he can. And then he gets out of the backfield, and he's on a linebacker in space. Very, very tough to cover. He's somebody that you've got to be aware of at all times."
Kelly got a firsthand taste of what Sproles could do in January. The Eagles had just taken a 24-23 lead over New Orleans with four minutes, 54 seconds left in a wild-card game at Lincoln Financial Field. From inside the Saints' end zone, Sproles returned the ensuing kickoff 39 yards and drew a horse-collar penalty on Eagles cornerback Cary Williams, which gave New Orleans the ball at the Philadelphia 48-yard line.
Ten plays later, kicker Shayne Graham booted a 32-yard field goal through the uprights to win the game for the Saints.
It was all set up by Sproles' return.
This week, Kelly lauded Sproles' indefatigable motor, his football intelligence and the leadership he has provided the younger running backs, including McCoy. But Kelly would not reveal how Sproles will fit into his offense.
"We are just trying to get reps and get plays, and we are not game-planning anybody," Kelly said. "When we start to get into the season, we'll start to see how we can deploy our personnel in appropriate matters to win games."
Sproles said he thinks the Eagles' offense has a chance to be "special." He likes the pace of Kelly's offense and thinks it will keep defenses off balance. Although Sproles rushed only 53 times for 220 yards last season, he caught 71 passes for 604 yards and two touchdowns.
But he is well aware of his No. 1 priority this season: "As long as I keep [McCoy] fresh, we're good."
That is a scary prospect indeed. McCoy had a career year in his first season playing for Kelly. He led the NFL with 314 carries, 1,607 rushing yards and a 100.4 yards-per-game average. All were career highs. McCoy also caught 52 passes for 539 yards and two touchdowns and scored nine rushing touchdowns.
And while McCoy said he tired late in some games in 2013, he ended the regular season by eclipsing 130 rushing yards in consecutive games against Chicago and Dallas.
Still, McCoy would not mind handing off some of the load to Sproles.
"I feel confident in taking a break or two and the performance at that position doesn't drop too much," McCoy said. "He picks up, and he does a great job."
That's what the Eagles need now more than ever with Jackson gone. If they are going to have a shot at repeating as NFC East champs, Philadelphia needs McCoy to be healthy and productive. Sproles should help that happen.