It's funny how things work out.

Eight months ago, Jamar Chaney was the 220th player taken in the NFL's 255-player draft. Thirty-two other linebackers went off the board before the Eagles finally got around to taking the 6-1, 242-pounder out of Mississippi State with the first of three seventh-round picks.

On Sunday, that seventh-round afterthought is expected to be the Eagles' starting middle linebacker when they face the Giants in the Meadowlands in a game that could decide the NFC East title.

Chaney stepped in last Sunday and did a solid job as a replacement for starter Stewart Bradley after Bradley dislocated his right elbow early in the second quarter of the Eagles' 30-27 win over the Cowboys.

He was in on a team-high seven tackles and helped hold a Cowboys ground game that had averaged nearly 150 rushing yards in the previous four games to 110 yards on 24 carries.

Cowboys running backs Felix Jones and Tashard Choice combined for just 28 yards on nine carries in the nearly three quarters that Chaney played.

"He stepped in for Bradley and played pretty good,'' coach Andy Reid said yesterday. "Bradley's your leader on the defensive side of the football, and he steps in.

"He wasn't shy with his calls. He was accurate with them. And he played good, physical football. His challenge is, now that he's on film, people have opportunities to study him. So he's got to take it up a notch.''

Reid said the Eagles have no plans to put Bradley on injured reserve. They expect him to be sidelined for the final three regular-season games, but are hopeful he'll be back for the playoffs, if they qualify.

"We'll just see and try to get a feel for how long this is going to take,'' Reid said.

In the meantime, Chaney is expected to replace him, though Reid wasn't ready to make it official yesterday, mainly because he and defensive coordinator Sean McDermott hadn't yet had a chance to discuss it.

But Chaney's impressive play Sunday, coupled with the fact that the only other middle linebacker alternative, veteran Omar Gaither, wasn't even activated for the Cowboys game, makes it pretty obvious that the rookie will be getting his first NFL start Sunday. Beyond that, it will depend on how he plays.

Bradley wasn't the only Eagles linebacker to go down against Dallas. Rookie Keenan Clayton, who had been seeing limited action in specific defensive packages, injured his hamstring. Reid said Clayton will be out at least a week.

Also, quarterback Michael Vick injured the thumb on his throwing hand when he banged it against the helmet of a Cowboys pass-rusher on one of his two interceptions. He said after the game that it looked worse than it felt. And Reid said yesterday that he doesn't expect it to prevent his quarterback from practicing and playing this week.

Cornerback Asante Samuel, who has missed the last three games with a sprained knee, and right tackle Winston Justice, who sat out Sunday's game after hyperextending his knee against Houston in the previous game, both had what Reid described as a "good, thorough workout'' at the Eagles' training facility yesterday.

"It looks like they should be back and ready to practice and go,'' the Eagles coach said.

Even without Samuel, the Eagles intercepted the Cowboys' Jon Kitna twice, running their league-high interception total to 22. They also gave up two more touchdown passes. They've allowed 26 already, the third most in the league.

"Nobody wants to be out there more than Asante,'' Reid said. "He doesn't miss games. That's not his deal. He wanted to be out there [Sunday] and he tested it [last week] and it didn't work. Now, he had a good workout today, so we'll see.''

There will be no seeing about Bradley. He's definitely out for at least the rest of the regular season, and a young Eagles defense is about to get even younger.

It's safe to say that when the Eagles drafted Chaney in the seventh round last April, they didn't envision him becoming their starting middle linebacker 14 games into his first pro season. But that doesn't mean they don't have confidence he can do the job.

Chaney ran the fastest 40-yard dash of any linebacker in the draft – 4.54. But there's more to playing linebacker than just being able to run fast.

"Like LeSean [McCoy] with blocking, Jamar's strength [coming out of Mississippi State] wasn't using his hands,'' Reid said. "He did it with speed, quickness and making guys miss. That was their defense.

"In the NFL, you've got to be able to use your hands and get off those blocks quickly. Those are big men attacking you. He has developed that. You saw it on special teams, getting guys off of his body to free himself up to make plays. And you saw it last night as he worked [to get off blocks].''

DeSean's antics

Asked yesterday for his thoughts on DeSean Jackson's little Nestea plunge across the goal line at the end of his 91-yard scoring catch and run, which drew a 15-yard penalty for taunting, Reid said, "I'm going to sit him down for the rest of the year.'' After the expected chuckles from reporters subsided, he said, "Listen, I love his enthusiasm. He loves to play the game. There's not a lot of guys out there who love to play the game more than he does. Do I like those things? No, I don't like them. Do I express that to him? Yes I do. And I'll leave it at that.'' *