While Polk sat out of training camp and the entire preseason, save for limited work in recent practices, a new breed of running backs came into town, astonishing the fans with second-team variations of LeSean McCoy's quickness and timing.
Matthew Tucker comes to mind. Behind Lane Johnson and a line of second-teamers, Tucker took the rock from Mark Sanchez and hit holes with battering ram-like oomph. After being relegated to the practice squad last year, the 227-pound powerhouse shone the spotlight on himself this preseason, scoring four touchdowns in the process.
Henry Josey was another stunner, an undrafted rookie who nearly had his dreams shattered with a horrific knee injury suffered at Missouri in 2011. Josey went undrafted, despite having the third-fastest Combine time in the 40 yard dash this year. At 194 pounds, Josey's footwork and work ethic were there for all to see, especially against the Jets, when he became the lone healthy running back late, and ended up carrying a hefty 22 times for 121 yards.
Polk could only watch. The space behind McCoy and Darren Sproles seemed to be up for grabs, and his torn hamstring wasn't allowing him to compete with these fresh-faced marvels. Seemed as though Tucker could easily replace Polk's power game, while Josey could be a compliment to the group with his brand of hummingbird-like quickness.
Instead, Tucker and Josey were both let go. Josey was the third axed Bird to have news of his release break on Friday. Tucker's release was discovered on the final list that became available early Saturday afternoon.
Despite all of the question marks, Polk made the final roster, the power supply behind world-class 'Shady' and the elusive Sproles.
“Chris Polk has a body of work," explained Eagles General Manager Howie Roseman. "When you talk about backup spots, Chip has talked about looking for special teams contributions, and he’s done a really good job on special teams."
“We’re counting on Chris Polk here going forward."
The special teams play is certainly a focal point for Kelly. If you're not a starter, you better know how to block, and you better be a wedge-buster. Josey is reportedly below-average in those respects, so it's a bit less surprising that an idle Polk beat the rookie out.
What about Tucker? In his second year with the Eagles, are his special teams prospects so substandard compared to Polk's prowess that Kelly would keep an oft-injured Polk over Tucker's marvelous play?
Kelly and Roseman apparently believe so, further galvanized by their belief that Polk will be as close to pristine as needed come September 7 against the Jaguars.
Polk's contributions in that game will go unnoticed. McCoy's fixing to carry the ball at least 20 times, with some hand-offs mapped out for Sproles. Nick Foles will probably take a couple of dashes, some perhaps by design, others out of necessity.
Polk was the third-string running back a year ago (behind McCoy and Bryce Brown), and he only carried the ball five times before December. Of his 11 carries on the year, in just one game were his runs meaningful: late in the win over the Lions, when they needed someone with the weight and traction to run in the snow, eating up precious seconds.
Fans who oohed and ahhed at Tucker and Josey this August will see a Polk whose contributions won't show up on the stat sheet. If Sproles or Nolan Carroll break a good return, eyes will be on them, not any expert block Polk may have made. Much like James Casey gets dumped on for being 'invisible' in 2013 (his best plays indeed came on special teams), Polk's in an unenviable spot.
An anonymous GM this week said, in strong terms, that Chip Kelly couldn't care any less about criticism. This means the Twitter roll-call of fans expressing shock over the choice of Polk over the others will just be brushed off like so much dandruff.
If that mindset rubs off on Polk, he'll be much better off for it.
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