An Eagle Grabs a Sliver in a Crowded Spotlight

EaglesWhen he is in the Eagles’ locker room, running back LeSean McCoy is hard to avoid and easy to hear. He bounces from stall to stall, breaking silences with one-liners and boastful statements about his hometown.

“He’s the class clown,” center Mike McGlynn said. “In that aspect, he’s pretty annoying.”

On the field, McCoy has more quietly become a versatile dynamo in the Eagles’ dynamic offense and a building block in their young foundation. But McCoy, whose 2,617 career yards from scrimmage are a team record for a second-year player, has not earned as many headlines as his more celebrated teammates.

“When you’ve got Michael Vick and DeSean Jackson in your offense, there’s not much spotlight to shine your way,” said Ike Reese, a former Eagles linebacker who is a Philadelphia sports-talk radio host. “But it’s not easy to make fans forget about a guy like Brian Westbrook, and he has.”

McCoy, 22, could play a big role Sunday when the Eagles host Green Bay in the N.F.C. playoffs. It will be the first postseason game in Philadelphia since 2006, when Westbrook was the Eagles’ leading rusher.

In the season opener, Philadelphia tried unsuccessfully to throw into the Packers’ nickel coverage, and McCoy had only seven rushes for 35 yards. The Eagles lost, 27-20.

Since then, they installed Vick at quarterback in place of Kevin Kolb and found more inventive ways to use McCoy, who led the team with 1,080 yards rushing and 78 receptions in the regular season. McCoy had the most receptions among running backs in the N.F.L., helping the Eagles (10-6) win the N.F.C. East.

“So far, it’s been pretty good,” he said of his second season. “I’m just working hard and knowing the playbook. I’m playing confident, not nervous, not unsure. I’m just trusting the game plan.”

He did not travel far to reach this point, having grown up about 100 miles away in Harrisburg, the capital of Pennsylvania. As an energetic youngster, he watched his older brother, LeRon, who was drafted by the Arizona Cardinals in the seventh round in 2005. As a spunky teenager, he annoyed older players at Bishop McDevitt High School. (McCoy’s childhood nickname, Shady, refers to the rare moments when he turns moody.)

“His personality — it just never got boring for him,” Bishop McDevitt Coach Jeff Weachter, a longtime friend of the McCoy family, said in a telephone interview. “If you took him anywhere outside the football field, to a shopping mall or an airport, he would go through the crowd stutter-stepping like he’s juking people all the time.”

Though McCoy injured an ankle as a high school senior, he made the most of his two years at the University of Pittsburgh. McCoy joined Tony Dorsett and Curvin Richards as the Panthers’ only rushers with multiple 1,000-yard seasons.

“You get to the N.F.L., it’s a whole different game,” Dorsett, who was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1994, said by telephone. “You’ve got to become more of a student of the game, and you’ve got to be patient, even though I’m seeing these guys in my peripheral and I can feel them.”

An explosive, shifty runner, McCoy can carry the ball on three consecutive downs and create matchup problems because he is also a capable receiver. In a season highlight, he accounted for 138 yards and scored a touchdown in a 27-24 win over San Francisco on Oct. 10 while playing with a broken rib. That show of toughness endeared him to Philadelphians.

Before their game against the Eagles on Dec. 19, the Giants’ defensive players and coaches said Philadelphia’s offense ran through McCoy.

The Giants drew a blueprint for slowing the Eagles’ offense not by stopping McCoy, whom they held to 64 yards rushing, but by blitzing Vick, who still engineered a 38-31 comeback victory in the fourth quarter. Minnesota replicated the plan a week later, sacking Vick six times in a 24-14 victory.

“If we could have effective runs against the blitz, that would help us in every aspect of the game,” Eagles right tackle Winston Justice said. “And that’s a dynamic that LeSean can bring. He can run against the blitz and make people miss.”

McCoy set the Eagles’ rookie rushing record with 637 yards last season while Westbrook was sidelined with injuries. But McCoy did not seem to settle down and often returned home, a regular on the sideline at Bishop McDevitt’s games.

In the off-season, McCoy committed to staying closer to the Eagles’ headquarters, with the occasional trip to his Harrisburg barber. McCoy increased his workload in the weight room, improved his pass blocking and grew more comfortable with the playbook, allowing him to play faster.

“The best is he’s still willing to learn,” the fifth-year running back Jerome Harrison said while seated at his locker, next to McCoy’s. “He’s been picking my brain since I got here, and not just football.”

Photographs of Westbrook and the franchise’s other Pro Bowl players line a corridor that leads to the locker room. McCoy, who can be overlooked on a field full of stars, could one day join them.

But for now, his voice is what projects around the Eagles’ headquarters.

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