THE EAGLES don't have any regular-season games scheduled for the next 3 months, so Brian Westbrook's absence from yesterday's opening of a voluntary Organized Team Activity (aka minicamp) to get a sore ankle checked out isn't likely to knock the 2009 Birds completely out of Super Bowl contention.
But if you already felt a little unsettled about how Westbrook's yards per carry in 2008 slipped to 4.0, his lowest since 2005, and how his 54 receptions for 402 yards were his lowest totals since 2003, well, feel free to remain queasy. And oh, yeah, BWest turns 30 - the age at which so many NFL running backs find their wheels have turned into pumpkins - on Sept. 2, before the start of those aforementioned games that count.
"Brian Westbrook has a sore ankle that he is having checked today, and we'll just see," Eagles coach Andy Reid said in his scheduled news conference following the first workout of an 8-day camp, the last event before Lehigh next month. "I don't have a report for you there, but we'll just see how that works out."
How it worked out yesterday was that second-round rookie LeSean McCoy and veteran backup Lorenzo Booker got a bunch of running-back reps, which in McCoy's case definitely was a good thing; he has a lot to master, at one of the most complex positions in Reid's West Coast offense.
Westbrook's agent, Todd France, did not respond to a request for comment.
"It was surprising" to be out there with the first team, McCoy acknowledged. "It was a tad faster" than the offensive pace at last week's rookie camp, he said. "It was pretty cool, man. Donovan McNabb's your quarterback; that's still mind-blowing.
"It's a lot to learn," said McCoy, who frequently was split wide, something the Eagles used to do a lot with Westbrook, but didn't do as much last season when he was limping from ankle and knee injuries. Westbrook underwent what he called a left knee "cleanup" early in the offseason. His right ankle injury, suffered in Week 3, seemed healed by the end of the year.
"At every level, you've got to prove yourself," said McCoy. "This is one of those steps. You've got to go in and learn and prove yourself."
McCoy allowed that he wouldn't have minded having Westbrook there to answer questions during the 2-hour workout.
"To ask a player like him, instead of asking a coach, would kind of simplify it a little bit better," McCoy said. "Not 'better,' but just the way he would do it . . . I could see it the way he would see it."
Maybe that will happen today, if Westbrook is back. Asked what happened to Westbrook's ankle, Reid said:
"He's been working like crazy. He's in great shape right now. This past week, he got ahold of [head athletic trainer] Rick [Burkholder]. His ankle is bothering him, so we're checking it out here. I wish I could tell you more, but I don't know more right this minute. But we'll know more as we go on here the next couple of days."
Reid said Westbrook's knee had recovered and he was scheduled to be a full participant, before the ankle issue arose.
McCoy said he and Westbrook spoke yesterday at NovaCare, presumably before Westbrook went to see about his ankle.
"We just talked about small stuff, nothing related to football," McCoy said.
The Westbrook-McCoy dynamic will be interesting to watch. McCoy is the strongest attempt the Eagles have made to obtain a complement/successor to the player who set a franchise record with 2,104 yards from scrimmage in 2007. Westbrook has not made himself available to reporters since McCoy was drafted. We don't know whether he welcomes the possibility of the youngster taking some of the workload, or if he sees the drafting as a shot across his bow.
McCoy said he thought Reid might be gauging how he reacts to something like an unexpected increased workload, with Westbrook out.
"I think he wants to see where I'm at, as far as if I pick up the plays and everything, in more of a situation like this, where I'm expected to know some things and I'm expected to produce," McCoy said.
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Andy Reid addressed the hiring of Brian Stewart as a "special assistant on defense," with Sean McDermott running the unit while Jim Johnson is treated for cancer. "I don't really have a report for you on Jim" other than what has been said previously - that Johnson is undergoing more chemotherapy, Reid said. Asked if he is concerned that Johnson won't be able to coach this season, Reid said: "We'll just see how things go down the road here." . . . Tight end Eugene Bright strained a hamstring during the workout. *