IT COULD HAVE been worse.

Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Johnson could have confused Dan Klecko with a certain lizard that makes a living pitching car insurance.

As it was, Johnson just got the first letter in Klecko's last name wrong, referring to him as "Glecko."

But it wasn't what Johnson called Klecko, but rather what he said about him that grabbed attention yesterday at Eagles practice.

"The fourth defensive tackle is a guy by the name of [Klecko]," Johnson said. "He looks good to me right now. He had a good game the other night and he's had a great camp."

There have been a number of interesting twists in the battles for roster spots.

None has been as surprising Klecko, who was signed as free agent to play fullback and then suddenly got thrown back into the mix at defensive tackle and now is on the verge of making the team.

Hardly anyone expected Klecko, at 5-11, 275, to have a legitimate shot at making the Eagles. But then hardly anyone thought that Klecko, a native of Marlboro, N.J., who played at Temple, would be in his sixth NFL season with three Super Bowl rings already tucked in his back pocket.

"I've been hearing that [he's a long shot] since I've been in the NFL," said Klecko, who has played defensive tackle, fullback and linebacker with the New

England Patriots and Indianapolis Colts. "They said I was too small to be a nose tackle up in New England.

"I just put it out of my mind and go play."

Football is a game of cliches, and Klecko is a great example of this one: It's not the size of the dog in the fight but the size of the fight in the dog.

What he lacks in size, Klecko, the son of All-Pro defensive lineman Joe Klecko, more than makes up for in speed, tenacity and work ethic.

"No, I haven't," Johnson said when asked if he has seen a lot of guys who have been able to do what Klecko does at his size. "He has such quickness.

"He has good football sense and he loves to play. He's a high-motor guy. I'm not going to say he hasn't surprised me some. I'm not quite as surprised after being around him a bit."

With veteran defensive tackle Montae Reagor having his nameplate removed from his stall, it would seem that Klecko and rookie Trevor Laws will be the backups behind starters Broderick Bunkley and Mike Patterson.

Klecko hasn't allowed himself one moment to think about that or digest the positive statements Johnson made about him.

"Honestly, if you guys had not just told me, I'd have no idea what was said," Klecko said. "I don't think about that.

"I've got to get through this week and then hopefully when the roster for St. Louis [the season opener] comes, you're name is still there. I'm just going to keep doing what I did to get here - keep pushing."

It really is a remarkable story.

Klecko was just getting a handle on the Eagles' complicated offense when suddenly he was told his shot to make the team would come in mastering its complicated defense.

There was also the little thing of an already undersized defensive tackle losing more weight to play fullback.

"To tell truth, I'd only lost about 10 pounds to go down to fullback," Klecko said. "Putting the weight back on wasn't the problem. It was eating all that chicken and salad to get it off in the first place.

"[Switching back to tackle] was easy. You just go back to what you know. The only thing was you had to get back in that pass-rushing and run-stuffing mind-set. It wasn't a big deal."

Klecko's experience playing up, down and all around the defensive line in New England helped him figure out Johnson's scheme.

"I had to learn the whole front seven in New England," Klecko said. "It was just as complicated up there. Don't get me wrong because I'm still learning, but I think it's going OK."

And as for that "Glecko" thing, "Jim can call me anything he wants because he's the boss. I'm not going to call him out on it." *

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