Brian Westbrook was asked about the doctors.

In the time since he suffered a first concussion this season, quickly followed by another, he has learned a lot about brain injuries and recovery rates, and about the NFL guidelines on the subject. But he might have learned even more about doctors.

"Every doctor," he said, "sees things a little bit different."

So, it's hard to know what to do. Each bit of advice and assurance that he can safely play football again is offset by warnings that he will be running through a large red stop sign if he attempts to run through a line.

After Westbrook's first concussion, suffered Oct. 26 against the Redskins, Westbrook sat out two games. The Eagles running back sat out until the headaches subsided and until he was responding normally to all the cognitive tests mandated by league policy. He sat out until he was examined by the "independent" experts in Pittsburgh, guys with good reputations who also happen to have a financial relationship with the Steelers and the league.

"I learned from the doctors that you won't have a high risk of getting [more] concussions if you heal completely," Westbrook said. "That's the number one thing. You have to heal completely."

Everything about the NFL's guidelines was followed to the letter. He passed the tests. He was symptom-free. He suited up for the Nov. 15 game in San Diego, and they patted him on the back and sent him in.

And he got a second concussion.

"I was not healed completely," Westbrook said. "The training staff and the coaching staff, we did every test we could, but until you go out there and get hit, you're not so sure if you're healed completely or not. It's not like an ankle or a knee."

No, it's like a brain, and the doctors can't offer you a replacement for that later in life.

"I'm concerned about how things will happen for me in the future, how having concussions now will affect me 20 or 30 years from now," Westbrook said.

The documented evidence, although this doesn't come from those independent experts operating within the tent of the NFL, is that every concussion makes the next one more likely. An accumulation of brain injuries has been shown to lead to cases of dementia in later life.

There are dozens of retired football players trying to petition the league and the players' association for help with long-term disabilities, many related to the effects of repeated concussions. They aren't getting very far. The NFL is in no hurry to open that wormy can and admit any liability. The union, more worried about forthcoming collective-bargaining issues, just rubber-stamps the improvements to the league's official policy on concussions.

Under new guidelines, every team has to identify and submit the name of an "independent" neurology expert who will be consulted if a player suffers a concussion. Those candidates have to be approved by both the league and the NFLPA.

So far, amazingly enough, everyone's been approved. Everything's fine. The policy works!

And Brian Westbrook puts his helmet back on, after being assured he is healed, and he suffers that second concussion right away.

". . . Until you go out there and get hit, you're not so sure if you're healed completely or not," as Westbrook said.

It would make sense that the Eagles would be even more cautious this time. Westbrook returned to light practice this week, taking some noncontact repetitions with the scout team. If the exertion caused a resumption of the headaches or other symptoms, he would be backed off, of course.

But even if there are no symptoms, even if Westbrook can pass all the cognitive tests and do the Sunday crossword in French, that doesn't guarantee anything.

"You gradually get him back in and then see," coach Andy Reid said. "The only way to do it is to take baby steps and see how he feels. I'm not going to throw him in there if he's not feeling right. That's not going to happen."

Feeling right didn't help Westbrook the last time, though. And you wonder, after what he has gone through, why Westbrook has not sought out a truly independent expert for an evaluation that isn't sealed with the stamp of the NFL.

He said he is considering getting a fresh perspective. He and his agent are in that process, he said. In the nearly seven weeks since the first concussion, that hasn't happened yet, however. That's a choice he is making, too, and the reason is obvious.

"You want to play the game. You see situations with boxers where they always want to fight the next fight, and you ask them why they want to come back," Westbrook said. "I think it's because of the love of the game. You still think you can play."

Just as he has always done on the football field, Westbrook has searched for the hole that will let him through. The advice he has received so far will let him through. The advice he would get outside might not. It could be just that simple.

The doctors said "once you're back 100 percent healthy . . . you basically have the same risk as you would if you never had a concussion," Westbrook said. "Those are the answers that I wanted to hear, that I needed to hear, and those are the things that really concerned me."

He heard what he wanted to hear, and after all he has learned about concussions, and all he has learned about doctors, he chose to listen. He could be right, but he might not know for sure until it's too late.