The Eagles were extremely light on depth coming into Sunday’s showdown with the Baltimore Ravens. With Darren Sproles and Wendell Smallwood sidelined, the team were forced to turn to undrafted rookie Byron Marshall. That need was amplified once Kenjon Barner went down with injury early into the game. Marshall stunned the world during his time at Oregon, becoming the only ever player in Pac-12 history to record 1,000-yard seasons as both a running back and a receiver. But how would he fare in his NFL debut?
Marshall caught 8 passes for 60 yards and rushed 34 times for 86 yards during preseason..but a Ravens Defense hungry for a victory provided a very different challenge. On his first regular season carry, Marshall rushed for just three yards. On his second, the rookie stumbled and fell to the ground, losing yardage on the play. The learning curve rapidly became a steep incline for Marshall, but one he would look to overcome.
Marshall struggled to find his feet early on. He was extremely hesitant when it came to hitting the hole and would often look for holes to emerge as they would back in his Oregon days..but against the toughest run Defense in the league, that was never going to be the case. The initial indecisiveness of Marshall not only hurt the Eagles Offense, but painted a slightly bleaker for the undrafted rookie.
The more touches he received, the more he looked to settle into the Offense. The rookie tendencies still plagued his game early on as Marshall relied on his elusiveness a little too much. Two spins on just as many seconds may look panicky from the outside view, but this is a running back getting his first taste of NFL regular season action. Gauging just what is and isn’t feasible, Marshall was almost pushing each boundary, learning how to adapt his game to the pro’s with each and every snap.
As Marshall’s confidence began to build, the production followed. Although he was still trying to cut into holes that simply weren’t there, his awareness was only heightening as the game went on. What was really impressive in the early and slightly more disappointing stages of Marshall’s debut, was his ability to keep is legs moving and driving forward after contact was made. He may only be 5’9 and 201 pounds, but Marshall’s drive and will to push forward on runs made him increasingly difficult to bring down.
And then, all of the pieces came together. Marshall’s increasing awareness, elusiveness and determined style all culminated in his first big gain in the NFL. The former Oregon Duck cut inside Zach Ertz through a tight gap before shaking off a tackle and driving into the Defender ahead of him for extra yards. Ball security is paramount in these situations and even when hopping on one leg, Marshall kept the ball tight to his chest and braced for the pending impact.
Once the confidence had been established, the production floodgates opened for Byron Marshall. The Eagles running back had plenty of room to run on an inside route, but read the closing hole up ahead as well as detecting future hall-of-famer Terrell Suggs. Marshall cur inside like a hot Knife through butter, leaving Suggs for dust as he then accelerated further down the field and tried to cut into a gap that looked to widen. The explosiveness shown by Marshall on this play as well his vision was beyond impressive.
Marshall’s only improved from here on out. Anticipating holes far more instinctively than in the opening snaps and more impressively, running decisively. As opposed to waiting for an opportunity to present itself, Marshall ran with urgency, as demonstrated by this simple yet electric cut up the middle on a draw.
The last aspect of Marshall’s game that really spoke volumes, was his burst. From a stationary position here, Marshall tears straight through a hole to the left, putting his acceleration off the line on show. His ability to hit the top gear early gives him a massive advantage when trying to take advantage of press coverage situations and create space for himself downfield.
Marshall may have ended the game averaging 2.2 yards per carry on 9 attempts, but don’t let that cloud a scenario that many NFL debutants have been overwhelmed by in the past. In the backend of the season, Marshall had only been activated for a number of days before making his professional debut..and how many times has a rocky start fractured the debut of an NFL rookie?
Marshall was able to overcome his early struggles and adapt to the NFL rapidly and impressively. His ability to quickly move on from mistakes and adjust his style in order to find production against such a stern Defense was admirable..and a quality that will not be lost on Duce Staley.
Given the uncertain future of Ryan Mathews and age of Darren Sproles, this is Byron Marshall’s chance to campaign for a future role within the team. Kenjon Barner’s injury may open the Gate’s for some playing time against the Giants, giving Marshall one more shot to impress.
Mandatory Photo credit: Rob Carr/Getty Images