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McCoy's new challenge? Running behind a fullback

Rewind LeSean McCoy’s greatest hits. You’ll notice a missing player.

In 2013, when McCoy rushed for a career-high 1,607 yards, the Eagles used multi-back set 2 percent of the time. And in 2014? Try 0.5 percent of the time.

No team comes close to Chip Kelly’s use of the single back.

So let’s forget about the “weird orgy” party that never happened for a moment. How will McCoy run with a fullback in front of him? Before Kelly, coach Andy Reid preferred to spread defenses out, too.

And here in Buffalo, the Bills signed Jerome Felton to a four-year, $9.2 million pact. They absolutely plan on employing a power rushing scheme with Felton and McCoy in tandem. Felton thinks it could lead to a 2,000-yard season for the 27-year-old back.

McCoy may be the NFL’s best running back in open space. His instincts, his cut-on-a-dime style past backs broke down, can take over.

This training camp, he’ll be re-teaching himself how to read a fullback in front of him picking off linebackers. His vision changes.

One back from the 1990’s, when every team still utilized a fullback, thinks McCoy can adjust.

“My favorite runners who I most get excited about,” said former All-Pro Jamal Anderson, “they have a great sense and feel for the game in addition to exceptional vision. There’s a familiarity there and understanding of ‘Hey, we’re going to get on the same page.’ Those things will definitely need to work themselves out. But when you have the vision and sense of knowing where to go that he already possesses, I just really can’t see that he’s going to have a tremendous amount of difficulty.”

McCoy will need to run with more patience in tighter quarters, and that's where offensive coordinator Greg Roman's work with Frank Gore could come into play. He was basically the anti-Kelly, using multiple backs 57.5 percent of the time last year, per Football Outsiders, and 78 percent of the time in 2013.

The fact that McCoy doesn’t shy from the tough yards makes Anderson believe this marriage will work.

He points to the NFL’s all-time leading rusher, Emmitt Smith, adjusting to Daryl “Moose” Johnston in Dallas.

“He’s the type of runner who had tremendous vision, a tremendous feel and sense for the game especially between the tackles,” Anderson said. “The thing that impressed me with McCoy is that there was never a hesitance to run between the tackles. And you see guys who aren’t 220-225 who like to bounce — he never had any of those difficulties. Now you’re going to place him in certain situations with the juggernaut in front of him.”

Whereas offenses in New England, Pittsburgh, even Miami are surely trumpeting continuity on offense in their respective camps — and the value of everybody being on the same page — the Bills are like an AAU team playing together for the first time

A potential star in his second year (Sammy Watkins). The fourth-highest paid tight end from Miami (Charles Clay). The dangerous slot receiver (Percy Harvin).

Four different potential starting quarterbacks. And, in the backfield, McCoy and Felton.

They’re all playing together for the first time. Through the changes, Buffalo will try to establish an identity inside-out with their two veteran backs.

“That relationship, that familiarity,” Anderson said of Felton, “he understands how to deal with elite backs.”

When the Falcons signed fullback Bob Christian, Anderson admits he was skeptical because he was a bigger back than Christian. By mid-season, he couldn’t imagine playing without him.

Anderson cried when Christian was lost to a knee injury late in the 1998 season.

“The synergy between me and him was magic,” Anderson said. “He had been so influential with our communication — we had great communication. It happened so fast. If I ever got mad at Dan Reeves, I said ‘Thank you for Bobby Christian.’ … We don’t want to invoke the greatest running back in Buffalo history because of his precarious history since. But, you know what I mean? You have to physically run the ball on the ground.

“Talk about understanding your role and going out to be, basically, a headhunter. That’s what he does so well. If he’s able to be healthy, this is an element to McCoy’s game that he hasn’t really enjoyed. You know? Now, now, now, arguably one of the most elusive backs in football is going to have a tank in front of him.”

“We’re talking about a whole different thing here.”

This is the time for McCoy to get used to that "tank."

The chemistry lessons at St. John Fisher College certainly go beyond the quarterbacks and receivers.

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