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Eagles plan to use Sproles more as receiver

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PHILADELPHIA — The Philadelphia Eagles are hoping to utilize running back Darren Sproles more this season as a pass receiver than they did last year.

Sproles led the league in punt returns and had a career-high six rushing touchdowns, along with a 5.8-yard rushing average. But his 40 receptions were his fewest since 2008.

Sproles, 32, is regarded as one of the best pass-catching backs in the league. His 232 receptions from 2011-13 with the New Orleans Saints were the most in the league for a running back during that time.

Saints head coach Sean Payton liked to line up Sproles in the slot a lot. Eagles head coach Chip Kelly had also planned to move him around the formation. But an early injury to backup running back Chris Polk left the Eagles thin at the position and forced Kelly to rethink his use of Sproles.

“Especially early in the year with Chris hurt, Darren was our only other running back (besides LeSean McCoy),” Kelly said. “So if you move him around and put him in a lot of different spots, you’re kind of holding your breath, because our third running back was (tight end) Trey Burton when Chris was hurt.”

During the offseason, Kelly traded away McCoy, but added two new running backs — NFL rushing champ DeMarco Murray and ex-San Diego Charger Ryan Mathews.

The presence of Murray and Mathews should free up Sproles to be used in more creative ways. In Sunday’s preseason game against Indianapolis, he lined up in the slot on three of the six plays he was in the game. He got open on a short cross on one of them, but quarterback Mark Sanchez overthrew him.

“You always want more balls, you know what I’m saying?” Sproles said. “That’s the kind of person I am. Some of the time it had to do with the coverage (last season).

“I’d come in on third down. They kind of would have a sense of what we were trying to do. They would have the linebacker, he’d be inside of me. And they’d bring the safety down to the outside. Made it tough to get me the ball.”

Kelly used “21” personnel (two running backs, one tight end, two wide receivers) just 25 times last season. He is expected to use it a lot more this season, with either Murray or Mathews lining up in the backfield and Sproles in the slot or outside as a receiver.

“They’re working me a little more in the slot,” Sproles said. “We’ll have to wait and see (whether it carries over into the regular season).”

–Rookie first-round wide receiver Nelson Agholor had a solid debut Sunday against the Colts. He caught three passes for 57 yards and a touchdown. The touchdown came on a short hitch pass from Mark Sanchez that he then took 34 yards to the end zone. Agholor also drew a 32-yard pass interference penalty on a Colts defender. His lone blemish was a third-down sideline drop of a pass that was right in his hands.

“This is the preseason,” Agholor said. “You let loose. You put some stuff on film. You learn from the good plays you make and you learn from the bad mistakes. We’re still in a progression mode right now.”

–Kelly held quarterback Sam Bradford and Murray out of Sunday’s game against the Colts even though both were healthy. Bradford, who is coming off his second ACL tear in his left knee, hasn’t missed a practice in training camp and isn’t even wearing a brace on the knee. Kelly said he just wanted to hold Bradford back a week. He is expected to play Saturday night against the Baltimore Ravens.

Murray has sat out several practices already even though both the running back and Kelly insist there is nothing wrong with him. He practiced Tuesday and is expected to participate in the joint practices with the Ravens the next three days. Kelly got short with a reporter after the game Sunday when pressed on why Murray didn’t play if there’s nothing wrong with him.

“You can write whatever you want,” the Eagles’ coach said. “I really don’t care what you guys write to be honest with you.”

–Kelly on the Sunday performances of Matt Barkley and Tim Tebow, who are competing for the third quarterback job: “I thought both of them played well, but I think on both of the occasions, there was a couple of missed communications where some things broke down that were not their fault. So they have to kind of make some adjustments on it. But I thought they both, when they had time, threw the ball very well and were accurate with their throws.”


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