LeSean McCoy said yesterday he has been working out occasionally with his mentor, Brian Westbrook, but understandably they don't talk much about Westbrook's future. That's a touchy subject between the Eagles' all-time leader in yards from scrimmage (9,785) and his designated replacement.

Westbrook, 30, is a free agent but has made no visits, with teams undoubtedly concerned about the medical issues that ended his tenure in Philadelphia.

McCoy's future seems much better defined. Last month, when Westbrook was released, Eagles coach Andy Reid said of McCoy, a second-round rookie last season who set a franchise rookie record with 637 rushing yards (on 155 carries): "That's who's going to take the ball from here."

It's a daunting task, stepping in for the back who fit Reid's offense better than anyone else ever has, or likely ever will.

"Coming in knowing that, your focus has got to be definitely different," McCoy said. "I just want to hopefully pick up where Brian left off, everything he's taught me, just present that on the field."

Westbrook, in his too-brief prime, might have been the best pass-catching back the NFL has ever seen; certainly, he was the best the Eagles have ever seen. He not only caught the ball, he ran routes like a wideout. McCoy caught 40 passes for 308 yards as a rookie, showing Westbrook-level hands, perhaps, but not Westbrook-level instincts.

"I don't know if I can be as good as Brian in that category," McCoy said. He said he feels they are similar in "how we run the ball, to be used all around the field."

McCoy, 21, said he "wasn't really happy" last month when he heard Westbrook was being released, even though his role obviously stood to expand. He felt Westbrook had helped him a lot, and he was "just getting to know" the former Villanova star.

If New Orleans chooses not to match the Eagles' tender to restricted free agent Mike Bell, the Birds will have a veteran who can help share the load, as can Pro Bowl fullback Leonard Weaver. The Daily News has learned that the Eagles put a no-trade clause in the Bell tender, so the Saints wouldn't be tempted to match and then try to get something for Bell, from the Eagles or another team. So far, the Saints have not signed free-agent running back Justin Fargas, which would be a definite signal they didn't intend to match.

Still, the onus here is on McCoy, who seemed to sag late in his initial season, gaining just 109 yards in his final 32 carries, over five games. That isn't unusual for a rookie, faced with a season that lasts almost twice as long as what he was used to in college.

"It was long. I was tired," McCoy said. "All the rookies from [2008] kind of warned us about it. Doing the same thing over and over and over, practice, running, probably beats you down more physically than mentally."

McCoy said he wants to get stronger and faster, to keep that from happening again; toward that end he is down at NovaCare taking part in the offeason conditioning program, but he mainly wants to "get more focused," now that he is the focal point.

Along with his new role, McCoy has a new number - he's finally getting to wear his college No. 25. McCoy tried to switch from 29 to 25 last year when Lorenzo Booker was cut, but the NFL has rules about that sort of thing, because of merchandising. The league made him wait until this year.

Tapp dancing

New defensive end Darryl Tapp said he hasn't yet had a chance to speak with defensive coordinator Sean McDermott, who is out of town, but Tapp said Eagles coach Andy Reid told him he is here to play left defensive end, opposite Trent Cole.

"I think I'm an every-down end," said Tapp, who will wear Chris Clemons' old No. 91 jersey. Tapp was traded from Seattle to the Eagles for Clemons and a fourth-round draft pick. He then signed a 3-year deal with the Birds to replace his restricted free agent tender. "I'm prepared to come in here and work my way up and push myself to a starting role."

Tapp chuckled when reminded of what has become his claim to fame - Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers' claim that Tapp bit him on the forearm last Oct. 12 when the Pack played the Seahawks.

"He said I bit him, through my facemask and my mouthguard, and left a bruise that lasted 2 months," Tapp said.

Tapp said he had re-enacted the scene with a Seattle TV reporter, who courageously offered up his forearm, which Tapp was unable to bite with force.

For more Eagles coverage and opinion, read the Daily News' Eagles blog, Eagletarian, at www.eagletarian.com.