With all that talk about all these quarterbacks on the Eagles' roster, it's easy to forget the primary reason coach Andy Reid's squad managed to recover from its midseason free fall and return to the postseason in 2006.
Brian Westbrook and the Eagles' resurrected running game saved the sinking season even though the dearly departed Jeff Garcia received more of the credit.
With Garcia off to Tampa Bay and starting quarterback Donovan McNabb still recovering from surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee, Westbrook took center stage at the NovaCare Complex yesterday as the Eagles opened their post-draft minicamp.
It's really a fitting place for the man who has become the focal point of the Eagles' offense, and he's certainly had an interesting off-season of his own. It's not often that a guy gets overpaid by $3 million, as Westbrook was earlier this off-season when the Eagles' accounting department made a monumental clerical error and paid the team's star running back his roster bonus twice.
Details of the repayment are still being worked out.
"It was a situation where I received extra money and it was a mistake on the Eagles' part," Westbrook said after the Eagles' morning practice. "But now it's come to the point where we have to figure out the details to try and get that money back to them. There are a lot of different ramifications from a tax standpoint . . . and all the other different things. That's something my agent and the Eagles are working through now."
If anybody on the Eagles' roster was worth an extra $3 million last season, it was Westbrook. After McNabb went down during the Eagles' 10th game of the season against Tennessee, Westbrook averaged 19.6 carries and 24.2 touches per game over the next five games. Before that stretch, he had averaged 14.1 carries and 19.4 touches.
With Westbrook carrying the extra load, the Eagles recovered from a lopsided loss in Indianapolis in Garcia's first start and reeled off five straight victories to claim the most unlikely NFC East title of Reid's tenure.
Now, Westbrook is back and campaigning for more running plays.
"I would love to continue to run the ball like we did during the last part of the season," Westbrook said. "I think the coaches were able to see the things that we were able to accomplish if we give the run the opportunity."
McNabb spent yesterday as a spectator far behind the line of scrimmage as A.J. Feeley worked with the first-team offense. In the two weeks preceding this camp, the focus has mainly been on the Eagles' decision to draft quarterback Kevin Kolb with their top pick in the draft.
Like most everybody else, including McNabb, Westbrook was surprised by that decision.
"I wasn't really watching the draft," Westbrook said. "Afterwards, I was kind of surprised that we would go for a quarterback with our first pick. As a team, I guess you have to build for the future at some point whether you have an all-pro quarterback or not."
The Eagles drafted two players who play Westbrook's position. Penn State's Tony Hunt was selected in the third round, which is the same round when the Eagles selected Westbrook back in 2001. They used their seventh-round pick to take Nate Ilaoa, whose 5-foot-9, 250-pound frame makes him look more like a high school nose tackle than an NFL running back.
Westbrook said he welcomed the addition of Hunt.
"I think it adds depth to our already-deep backfield," Westbrook said.
All indications are that the Eagles will rely more on the run even though McNabb is expected to be back for the season opener. Correll Buckhalter, who remains the No. 2 back behind Westbrook, said he had been told by offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg that he's going to get the ball more in 2007.
Brown hurt. Wide receiver Reggie Brown injured his right knee yesterday during the morning practice when he collided with cornerback William James. James eventually made it back to his feet with some assistance and continued to practice. Brown, however, needed the help of the Eagles' training staff to leave the field and was unable to finish practice because of an injury to his right knee.
"Reggie Brown suffered a leg contusion," Reid said after the morning practice.
Elsewhere on the medical front, McNabb, offensive tackle William Thomas, defensive tackle Montae Reagor, and wide receiver Bethel Johnson all missed practice because of injuries. Thomas is recovering from knee surgery that the team failed to reveal before yesterday.
Reid said Johnson has a stress fracture in his leg and Reagor is recovering from arthroscopic knee surgery. Tight end L.J. Smith also missed the two workouts because of an illness, and safety Brian Dawkins has been excused from the entire camp for personal reasons.
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