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Eagles' defense looks to do some picking of its own

Just after A.J. Feeley's first-play interception Sunday against Seattle, Takeo Spikes had a chance to do the same thing to Matt Hasselbeck.

Just after A.J. Feeley's first-play interception Sunday against Seattle, Takeo Spikes had a chance to do the same thing to Matt Hasselbeck.

On the Seahawks' first snap, Hasselbeck aimed a pass at Deion Branch. Eagles middle linebacker Omar Gaither, blitzing, rose up and deflected the ball straight into the hands of Spikes, who turned and started to run - without the ball, which he dropped. Seattle scored its first touchdown three plays later.

So this week, Spikes stayed after practice to do some extra work on his pass-catching, a persistent problem for the team whose 13 takeaways rank last in the NFL.

"I just felt the opportunities had been there for the big plays, especially interceptions, over the last couple of weeks," said Spikes, who added that he was even more frustrated because he finally feels comfortable in Jim Johnson's defense, to the point where he should be able to make plays.

"The reason why I spent so much time Monday and Tuesday catching balls, [Wednesday] too, is, you never know when the opportunity may come. It hurts so bad, because, a lot of guys joke around, but I've never been in a situation where I've dropped more than I caught. It's always been the other way around," the Eagles' weakside linebacker said. He picked off 12 passes in his previous nine NFL seasons, but hasn't corraled one this year.

Free safety Brian Dawkins recently theorized that the takeaway focus has grown so tight, players are trying too hard, pressing instead of letting the turnovers come to them. Spikes agreed.

"The way for me to stop pressing is to try to do it throughout the week," so catching the ball comes naturally, Spikes said.

The Eagles eventually managed an interception and a fumble recovery against the Seahawks, but with Feeley throwing four interceptions, that wasn't enough. Spikes and Gaither had picks bounce off them, and defensive tackle Kimo von Oelhoffen fell on a fumble, only to have it squirt out from under him. The Eagles' minus-nine turnover ratio ranks 28th.

Doing the Lito shuffle

Jim Johnson tried to gloss over the circumstances surrounding cornerback Lito Sheppard's departure from last Sunday's game against Seattle, but when it comes to glossing, Johnson is no Andy Reid. He eventually tells you what happened, more or less.

Basically, Sheppard, playing with a sore MCL, wasn't doing well on the slippery, wet, resodded Lincoln Financial Field turf. Sheppard has proved his toughness many times since coming to the Eagles as a first-round pick in 2002, but as Johnson noted, players who depend on speed often get frustrated when their biggest asset is compromised.

"It was a long time ago. I'm trying to think - I can't remember," Johnson joked. Then he got serious: "He felt that he was a little banged up, so we went with Will [James]. It was more of a slight injury."

Sheppard, who sat out four games after suffering the injury in the season opener, has indicated that he will continue to try to play. He practiced again yesterday.

"If you're not full speed at cornerback, it's a difficult position to play," said Johnson, who seemed quite animated along the sideline right around the time Sheppard left the game. "If he's not full speed, we're probably going to make that switch again. I think he was [full speed] for a while, but I'm not sure. I think he's fighting through it, and that's all you can ask."


The Eagles will honor running back Duce Staley at halftime of Sunday's game, as he officially retires from the NFL as an Eagle. Staley, a third-round draft choice in 1997, is the franchise's third-leading rusher, with 4,807 yards. He left as a free agent in 2004 and played in 16 games over three seasons in Pittsburgh . . . Sunday also is Toys for Tots day, fans are encouraged to bring a new, unwrapped gift . . . Jim Johnson indicated that Kimo von Oelhoffen, who played last week for the first time since Sept. 23, looked good and will be in the rotation this week, despite the return of starter Brodrick Bunkley. Von Oelhoffen probably will replace LaJuan Ramsey as the third defensive tackle. *