Dead men walking?

Even if they are, there isn't much Ryan Moats and Jerome McDougle can do about it, except work their hardest and hope for the best.

Moats and McDougle don't seem to figure into the Eagles' 2007 plans, unless other players are injured or they are able to produce some sort of miraculous, 11th-hour revival of their faded promise.

Moats is a running back the Birds drafted in the third round out of Louisiana Tech in 2005. At the time, the team was going through a contentious contract negotiation with Brian Westbrook and it seemed that Moats might be groomed to replace Westbrook, as early as 2006. But Moats was ill-prepared for the West Coast offense. The team reached agreement with Westbrook on a new deal late in the 2005 season, amid behind-the-scenes grumbles that Moats still couldn't figure out where to line up or whom to block. Those concerns persisted through last season, when Moats barely saw the field after running into punt returner Dexter Wynn in an Oct. 15 loss at New Orleans, causing a critical fumble.

Since last season ended, the Eagles have re-signed running back Correll Buckhalter and drafted both Penn State running back Tony Hunt, in the third round, and Hawaii running back Nate Ilaoa, in the seventh round. The only departure so far is the decision not to bring back running back Reno Mahe, who is a free agent. Moats might be able to eke out a roster spot, if Ilaoa ends up on the practice squad or something, but he seems further from a prominent role than ever.

McDougle looms as the biggest draft-day mistake of the Andy Reid era. The Birds traded up from 30th to 15th overall in the 2003 draft, spending a second-round pick in the process, just to nab the defensive end from Miami. Injuries limited his progress before a gunshot wound cost McDougle the 2005 season and perhaps much more; when he returned last season, a strong training camp start quickly fizzled after a rib injury, and McDougle failed to win playing time on a struggling defensive line. He played in 14 games but managed just one sack, the third of his career. There was a perception that McDougle was just happy to be alive, that maybe his intensity wasn't what it had once been.

Moats might have a little better chance to stick around - he has burned fewer chances than McDougle, and his position isn't as logjammed as defensive end, where second-round draft pick Victor Abiamiri gave the Birds six defensive ends, all except McDougle and the rookie signed long term. McDougle is entering the final season of his original contract.

Yesterday, when Reid wrapped up the offseason's first minicamp for reporters, he was asked a question about McDougle, third-year linebacker Matt McCoy and Moats. Maybe Reid just didn't hear the question completely, but his answer defended McCoy and Moats while making no mention of McDougle.

"Ryan has done nothing but improve throughout here," Reid said of Moats. "He's a snap away from having to be in there and playing full time, and that's the way he's preparing himself."

Moats, 24, said he feels confident he can play elsewhere if he can't play here.

"It hasn't been an easy process," said Moats, who has gained 347 yards on 77 carries, 4.5 yards per carry, much of that in meaningless games. "I've done some good things on the field. Of course I want to play, but it doesn't happen that way all the time. This is my situation, and I have to learn from it and grow. I think I have. I'll be ready."

McDougle, 28, said he can "only do what I can control and that's go out there and practice hard."

McDougle knows his situation, though, knows he is unlikely to suddenly find traction here in a fifth Eagles season. Asked if he sometimes wonders if he'd be better off starting over elsewhere, McDougle said: "Well, you said it, I didn't say it. The only thing I do is just keep practicing hard, make sure I'm in my best physical shape I can be in, make sure I'm healthy, keep doing what the coaches ask me." *