JEVON KEARSE even taped his wrists when he suited up in the new blue-and-yellow "throwback" uniform for the news conference announcing the Eagles' plans for their 75th anniversary season.
"I wanted to wear [football] gloves, but none of the gloves matched. I gotta coordinate," said Kearse, who entered the gathering exclaiming that, "it feels good to be back in a uniform."
Kearse, who hadn't pulled on pads since suffering a season-ending knee injury in overtime of Game 2 last Sept. 17, was ready for action, even though the only thing likely to hit him yesterday was a blizzard of confetti the team shot into the air to make the most of its photo op.
"I want to get to the quarterback, man. I'm a quarterback-eater, and I'm hungry. I need to eat," Kearse said, relating a locker room conversation with strong safety Sean Considine, who had allowed that the current sculpted, 240-pound "Freak" might be better suited for the secondary.
Kearse explained that his rehab regimen has focused almost exclusively on cardio work lately; he's in great shape, but he expects to add 20 pounds or so before training camp opens July 27 at Lehigh.
It will be interesting to see if the Eagles draft a defensive end early this weekend. On paper, there is little room, with Kearse and Darren Howard signed to long-term, big-money deals, along with Trent Cole and Juqua Thomas. Jerome McDougle remains under contract, as well. But the Eagles really need Kearse to stay healthy this year and for Howard to be much better than he was last season, in his initial tour with the Birds. If you aren't confident in those scenarios, then you need a defensive end, maybe even in the first round. General manager Tom Heckert recently cautioned against ruling out that possibility.
There likely will be some intriguing DE talent still on the board when the Eagles select 26th overall Saturday. Perhaps Purdue's Anthony Spencer, or Florida's Jarvis Moss, who is built a lot like Kearse? Maybe Moss' teammate, Ray McDonald.
Kearse recalled his draft day, when the Tennessee Titans took him 16th overall in the first round of the 1999 draft. Kearse validated that selection by notching a career-high 14 1/2 sacks in his rookie season.
"Some people might be happy just to go in the first round, or the first day, but I was a little ticked that I got picked No. 16," he said. "I felt like I was good enough to go anywhere in the top 10 . . . I used that as motivation against the teams that didn't pick me."
Many observers think the Eagles will come out of the first day of the 2007 draft with a safety or corner, a running back and either a linebacker or a defensive end. But even though Kearse turns 31 in September, he feels the team doesn't need to worry about drafting for his spot.
"With 2 or 3 more weeks of rehab, I should be ready to come back 100 percent," Kearse said. "I'm trying to come back 110 percent . . . Me coming back healthy, and if everyone comes back healthy, they can do what they're going to do in the draft, because we're going to already pretty much have the guys here."
He said there was a time, a few months ago, when he felt he'd hit a plateau in his recovery, but he was able to work through those worries. The season also was very difficult for Kearse, especially the stretch when the Birds lost five of six games.
"When we were losing, I was putting the blame on me, because I was injured. I felt there were a lot of things I could have done to help the team out," he said.
Kearse was off to an amazing start last season, having rededicated himself in the offseason. He had 3 1/2 sacks in the two games he played.
"That was the most daunting part of it," he said. "I was off to the best start of my career. But I've been talking to other athletes, former athletes, and they tell me if it's meant to be, it's meant to be. I'm expecting to start right back where I left off."
Last season, the Eagles couldn't get consistent pass rush pressure after Kearse went down and they couldn't stop the run, finishing 26th in the NFL in that category.
"At the end [of the season, when the Eagles won six in a row before losing to New Orleans in the second round of the playoffs] I saw that we do have the talent, we do have what it takes," Kearse said. "It's just a matter of keeping everybody healthy and doing it every game, every play."
Kearse has heard speculation that he is washed up, after turning 30, losing last season to injury, and playing poorly in 2005.
"I can't even talk about how bad I want to get back on that field and prove people wrong," he said. "I've always been a man of action. I'll let my actions speak."
Because he was modeling the new/old uniform, Kearse was asked his thoughts on it. He said he liked the color scheme, and is looking forward to the Sept. 23 game against Detroit in which the Eagles will wear the throwbacks.
"I'm looking forward to any game, really," he said. *