LeSean McCoy is a month away from the milestone birthday that typically means a running back’s career is running out of time.
Thirty. The Big 3-0.
It’s the age when the legs tend to stop churning quite as swiftly as they once did, when “elusive” goes from describing the ability to avoid would-be tacklers to the futility of finding a lost step. Or two.
Everyone on and around the Buffalo Bills knows that birthday is coming for McCoy, that he’ll begin training camp late next month with No. 25 on his jersey and 30 stamped on the psyche of those scrutinizing his every move.
That includes teammates. They’ve watched McCoy make those amazing plays that went a long way toward the team leading the NFL in rushing in 2015 and 2016, and allowing him to reach another Pro Bowl last season as the Bills’ lone offensive threat.
What will the 2018 version look like?
“I don’t think there’s any slowing down,” tight end Charles Clay said after Tuesday’s mandatory minicamp practice. “You see that he doesn’t take any real punishment. He does a good job of moving and dodging tacklers. And then, when he is getting tackled, he does a good job of … landing. It’s almost weird. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him take a big shot, just because he’s so good at manipulating his body. I could go on and on about the dude.”
Clay had just finished practice under a blazing sun, followed by a lengthy session of catching balls hurled at him from a Jugs machine. He was tired, dripping with sweat, and no doubt eager for a shower.
Yet, he had plenty more that he wanted to say about McCoy.
“It is unbelievable some of the stuff that he can do,” Clay said. “His footwork, everything. Hands, his IQ. And he’ll go in there and he’ll block. He’ll pass block. I guess that was the thing that surprised me the most when I first got here ( in ’15, as a restricted free agent from Miami), is how willing he is (to block) and how good of a teammate he is. It’s unbelievable.
“You hear about superstars around the league, you hear about divas. I mean, he’s so far from that. He could rush for 15 yards and we win, he’s in the locker room still happy. Granted, he’s got his goals in mind. Everybody knows, from Day One, he has his goals, but ultimately the guy just wants to win. And it’s a lot of fun playing with him.”
Let the record show that the trademark ego is still prominent. Yes, that was McCoy, speaking with the media for the first time since the end of last season, standing in front of a group of reporters in the Bills’ field house Tuesday referring to himself as an “elite player.” Yes, that was McCoy, who after six seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles and three with the Bills, has 10,092 rushing yards, talking about “12,000 … we’re chasing that.”
But that was McCoy also speaking about winning and how much it factors in how much longer he sees himself playing at a high level. A year ago, McCoy said he thought he probably had five good seasons left.
Is the number now four?
“I mean, we’ll see,” he said. “I think it has a lot to do with winning – winning and other achievements that I want to make and accomplish. Every year I try to jot down some goals to achieve. And it’s weird because every year, not that I didn't expect to get this far, but I look at backs like (35-year-old Miami Dolphins running back) Frank Gore. There’s not a lot of guys like that out there, so I want to try to chase that and be one of those guys. I hang out in the offseason with a lot of the (younger) running backs, like the (Todd) Gurleys and the (Le’Veon) Bells and like the way they view me is like the old-head baller. And it drives me.
“Because I remember being 25, 24, looking at the older guys, saying, ‘I’m going to catch him, I’m going to be better than him.’ So now it’s like the reverse, and that’s OK. I’m still an elite player, but these young guys are creeping on me, so I’ve got to continue to do better and do better, stack my numbers up, stack the wins up, just make that portfolio of just a baller, a solid career.”
McCoy’s blockers haven’t seen any signs of regression during offseason workouts. No one watching has.
Although contact isn’t allowed, McCoy has had more than his share of plays where he gets into open space and puts large patches of green between himself and the nearest defenders.
“First of all, if he’s behind you, you never know where he’s going to go, so you’ve got to sustain your block,” tackle Jordan Mills said. “And as soon as you see that cut-off jersey and those hands wiggling and you see him passing by, you say, ‘Oh, he’s going to make something happen.’ And when you see that, he’s gone.”
“Some (backs), they like (running) down the hill, some like to make it a little wider, some like to bounce it,” said guard Vlad Ducasse. “But with Shady, he’s very unpredictable, so that’s why you need to know what you’re doing out there. I can’t be too short on my edge, I can’t be overreaching. I’ve got to be right on my technique, because you never know what Shady’s going to do. And whatever he does, he’s going to make it look good. But with him, whether you make a mistake or you miss a block, he makes so much stuff happen, he makes you right.”
The skill is remarkable, but there’s plenty more to McCoy’s game than his natural gifts.
You don’t reach your 10th NFL season or remain a viable force nearing your 30th birthday without having other things going for you. McCoy’s attitude towards making sure his body and mind serve him well is a major part of the equation.
“If you prepare yourself the right way, you can play as long as you want to,” Mills said. “He eats right, he trains right, he’s always studying, he’s always trying to get better. And he’s always looking at, ‘Well, I’m the best, but how can I get better?’ He’s never complacent at what he does, and that’s what makes him Shady. He’s a great player and he improves every year.
“You get to appreciate it when you watch it on film, to see how he moves and how he operates. People just think he just does stuff reckless sometimes. He’s smart and when he sees something, he’s going to put his foot in the ground and just go.”
Clay is astounded by the amount of labor McCoy pours into his game. He watches how much iron he pumps in the weight room. He sees him running sprints along the sidelines when he isn’t getting practice reps.
“I mean, he works,” the tight end said. “Talent can only get you so far. To put up those kind of numbers, it’s not just talent. He definitely works. He looks exactly the same as he did when we got here. It’s a testament to how the dude works. It’s unbelievable, honestly.
“And I don’t see him slowing down anytime soon.”