PHILADELPHIA — His quick feet and powerful bursts make Darren Sproles a threat to score whenever he touches the ball.
That’s why the Philadelphia Eagles are finding more ways to use him.
The former Saints standout has made a big impact in his first two games with his new team, earning the NFC Offensive Player of the Week award after a dynamic performance in Monday’s 30-27 comeback win at Indianapolis.
Sproles had a career-high 152 receiving yards, including catches of 57 and 51 yards on short passes. He also ran for a 19-yard touchdown to help the Eagles rally from a 17-6 halftime deficit. Sproles had a 49-yard TD run in the season opener for Philadelphia (2-0).
“We’re using him in a way that we can best take advantage of his skillset,” offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur said. “He’s done an outstanding job.”
When the Eagles learned Sproles was going to be released in the offseason, they traded a fifth-round pick to New Orleans to make sure they got him. Coach Chip Kelly viewed Sproles as a perfect fit in his up-tempo offense.
He takes some of the burden off All-Pro running back LeSean McCoy while also playing a key role in the passing game.
Sproles has 11 catches for 166 yards and 97 yards rushing on 15 carries. He has returned six punts, too.
Considering his age (31) and size (5-foot-6), some wonder whether Sproles can hold up over a full season if he’s getting the ball that often.
“He’s 200 pounds; he’s short, but he’s not small and I think there’s a difference,” Kelly said. “He’s really, really put together, and he’s probably the most fit guy on our team. ... He’s a little different than your prototypical small guy.”
His height actually helps Sproles because he can hide behind blockers and get lost in the scramble before hitting the second level.
“He has the ability to go from 0-to-60 very quickly,” Kelly said. “A lot of guys, sometimes it takes them a while to get going. He can kind of find his way out into the screen, whether he’s got to go inside the tackle or outside the tackle, and then be patient enough once he gets the ball to take off. But I think he also has great vision to understand where his blocks are coming from and sets them up really, really well.”
Sproles was known for being a gamebreaking returner during his first five seasons in San Diego. He had four touchdowns on punts and kickoffs, and backed up three-time All-Pro running back LaDainian Tomlinson.
Sproles became more involved in the offense in his three seasons in New Orleans. He caught 86 passes in 2011 and averaged 77 catches per year with the Saints. He’s on pace to have 88 receptions and 120 carries this season. Both would be career highs.
Kelly was coy in the preseason about how he planned to use Sproles. Putting him with McCoy together in the backfield gives defenses fits.
“When we’re on the field at the same time, they don’t know who’s getting the ball or what we’re doing,” Sproles said.