THE BIG BIRD isn't back.
The ones who are, though, gave the Eagles the aura of a team on the mend and on the rise. Every Eagle not on injured reserve practiced yesterday, the first time in months since that had happened.
"We are getting better," said cornerback Sheldon Brown, one of the formerly walking wounded. "But we're a work in progress."
The progress of Brian Westbrook, concussed twice this season and due to miss his sixth of seven games tomorrow night, took an interesting turn this week. Westbrook wore a helmet equipped with extra padding.
He typically, tersely, declined to address his situation yesterday, but his inclusion this week on the scout team with no reported post-concussion issues heartened his boss.
"I think it was good for him. It's taking baby steps here, but he was able to make it through these days and felt good," coach Andy Reid said. "I just have to hear from the doctors and trainers and then Brian. I'd be foolish if I didn't listen to him and his part of it. When he's ready to go they will all let me know and we'll go with it."
Brown's hamstring issue actually receded a couple of weeks ago. Then, it seemed, the Eagles would struggle in a stretch against weaker opponents. Brown was injured just as third cornerback Joselio Hanson was slapped with a four-game suspension for violating the league's banned-substances policy.
Hanson is back, in fine shape and able to resume his job as nickel corner. Now, with the Giants, 49ers, Broncos and Cowboys to plow through, the Birds are gearing up for a healthy homestretch.
Former starting wideout Kevin Curtis, out for the past 10 games due to knee surgery, even practiced with the starters for a few plays yesterday. His replacement, rookie receiver Jeremy Maclin, wore a walking boot and missed practice Wednesday and Thursday because of plantar fasciitis in his left foot, but Maclin assumed his full workload yesterday.
Curtis and Maclin are the only Eagles listed as questionable.
Reid said would take a setback for Maclin to miss the game. Curtis, however, will be a tougher call for the 45-man game-day active roster, considering he will likely need to be eased back in and that other players in other positions might be of greater value on special teams.
There is no doubt that linebacker Akeem Jordan will play. Exactly where he'll play remains to be seen.
"He can play all three spots, and he really has done that this week," Reid said.
When Jordan suffered a hyperextended knee Nov. 8, he was the team's starting weakside linebacker. Will Witherspoon, a weakside linebacker acquired via trade in October to shore up the decimated middle linebacker spot, has returned to the weak side for the past four games, as resurrected Jeremiah Trotter became a viable option in the middle.
The Eagles clearly are reluctant to move Witherspoon or to tinker with Chris Gocong on the strong side. Instead, it appears, Jordan will get a taste of all three positions, and will work in with Tracy White in passing situations – sort of a "slash" entity.
"He really does add another dimension to our defense," Gocong said. "He's a great coverage guy. Great against the run. Also, he helps out on special teams here, which is a big deal. There are a lot of linebackers on special teams, and not too many roster spots, so it's good to get another guy in that mix."
Other notable participants included left tackle Jason Peters and receiver/punt returner DeSean Jackson. Peters didn't miss practice at all this week after being cleared of any neurological problems following his shoulder and head injury that knocked him out of Sunday's game in Atlanta. Jackson, who missed the Atlanta game while recovering from a concussion suffered the week before, was worked back into full participation as this week progressed, and is ready to resume his full in-game workload.
Reid would not commit to when, if ever, he thinks Westbrook can resume his full in-game workload. Reid noted how, in practice, Westbrook has finished plays full-strength, sprinting downfield at a play's conclusion, juking and darting to strengthen football muscles that have been dormant as his head healed.
While it seems unlikely a full-strength Westbrook would be available next week, when the Niners visit, even the stoic redhead couldn't suppress a glimmer of glee.
"That's a plus from a team standpoint," Reid said - then cautioned that a lot of players have nagging injuries and, with a month to go, the Birds are anything but over the hump. "Every game is a hump."
Sheldon Brown, not much of one for sentiment, offered a rare, poignant remembrance of doomed Giants Stadium, to which the Eagles return for their last regular-season game:
"The one thing that sticks out to me is the Brian Westbrook return. The ball bounced on the ground - he was a punt returner back then - and he was running down the sideline, and I can remember chipping a block at the end of it. It turned out to be one of the [longest] plays in the team's history."
Brown referenced Westbrook's 84-yard punt return for a touchdown Oct. 19, 2003, then the second-longest punt return (now third) in Eagles history.