LeSEAN McCOY has always known his place. He deferred to Brian Westbrook, when McCoy was a rookie and Westbrook was the established star. You'd still have a hard time getting McCoy to acknowledge he has surpassed Westbrook.

This season, as it became apparent McCoy was going to shatter every franchise benchmark for a running back in his first 3 years in the NFL, McCoy has talked about benefiting from all the weapons around him, and from defenses having to watch out for the scrambling of quarterback Michael Vick.

Now McCoy's place is the starting backfield for the NFC Pro Bowl team. This might not change McCoy's demeanor, but it does affect the league's perception of who he is, McCoy acknowledged on a conference call with reporters. And it affects his own perception of what he can become. It wasn't an accident that McCoy, 23, used the soapbox provided by the Pro Bowl announcement to make it clear last night that, as a prominent star here, he wants and expects Andy Reid to return as the Eagles' coach.

"You think about all the better players and running backs in the league, I can call myself one of them," said McCoy, whose 1,309 rushing yards rank second in the NFL heading into the final weekend of the season. McCoy leads the league with 20 touchdowns, 17 rushing TDs, both Eagles records. "I always read about Adrian Peterson and Frank Gore. Now I actually get to say I'm part of those guys."

As expected, McCoy, left tackle Jason Peters and defensive end Jason Babin made the NFC squad, all as starters. Defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins is a first alternate and cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha is a second alternate. First alternates often get into the game because of injuries or because Super Bowl participants can't attend. It might be a slight upset that the Pro Bowl people think Asomugha has had a better year than Asante Samuel, whose streak of four successive berths ended.

All told, it was a solid haul for a 7-8 team that missed the playoffs, but defensive end Trent Cole, who has 10 sacks despite playing with a calf injury that cost him two games, certainly could make a strong case, at least as an alternate. Babin said he thought the calf injury cost Cole in the Pro Bowl judging, which is done off input from fans, players and coaches.

McCoy had a strong case last season, when he was bypassed despite gaining 1,080 rushing yards on only 207 carries, 5.2 yards per carry, and catching 78 passes for another 592 yards.

"I worked hard for this," McCoy said. "It means a lot to me. It means a lot to my teammates, guys that have pushed me, and they had faith in me to reach this type of accomplishment."

Less than an hour before the announcement, McCoy was tweeting about how tough it was to wait. He later said he really didn't know then, although players in other cities had let it be known they were going.

"The first one I called was Joe Banner. I said, 'I need a new contract! Naw, I'm playin',' " McCoy joked. He then said he first texted his mother and his friends.

But his joke touched on a serious matter. McCoy has 1 year left on his original, $3.5 million rookie deal. McCoy ended up firing and rehiring agent Drew Rosenhaus twice this season. A source close to the situation said the turbulence had to do with the Eagles making overtures to Rosenhaus about a new deal for McCoy, while being unable to come to agreement with Rosenhaus on a deal for wideout DeSean Jackson, who is in the final year of his contract.

Navigating the Jackson-McCoy minefield is a big issue for the Eagles this offseason. It will be a huge upset if McCoy enters the final season of his rookie deal without a big raise.

"I'm a local guy," said McCoy, a Harrisburg native. "I would love to be here. I think the biggest thing for Philly, when you talk to other players, the first thing they mention is how the coaches are. Andy Reid is one of the best coaches, best personalities, works real hard. A coach like that, you want to play for. I'd really love to be here . . . There's lots of time to talk about contracts and stuff like that, but . . . this is the right fit for me, not only footballwise but just as a person. Coach makes everyone feel like we're part of this thing together. Before my Pro Bowl year and everything, he showed me [the same level of respect]."

Babin, meanwhile, has 18 sacks, a half-sack behind NFL leader Jared Allen. Babin goes to the Pro Bowl for the second year in a row, continuing the unlikely emergence that began under defensive-line coach Jim Washburn in Tennessee last season, when Babin managed 12 1/2 sacks. He'd never had more than five in a season his first 6 years in the NFL, after arriving as a first-round draft choice of Houston in 2004 and also playing for the Seahawks, Chiefs and Eagles before landing in Tennessee and learning the four-point-stanced ways of the "wide-nine."

"Last year was a big deal, it was something I'd been working on to achieve," Babin said. "This year, the pressure's on [after signing a 5-year, $27.5 million free agent contract with the Eagles]. To be honest with you, the NFC has a lot of really great defensive ends in it . . . I'm pleased."

Babin turns 32 in May. His is among the most unusual paths to NFL stardom. He acknowledged part of his motivation this season was the "1-year wonder, one-trick pony talk - he's a fluke, he can't do it again next year."

Peters, who turns 30 next month, did not participate in the conference call organized by the Eagles, as is his custom. This is Peters' fifth Pro Bowl in a row, his third since coming to the Eagles in a trade with Buffalo. Among Eagles offensive tackles, only Peters, Frank "Bucko" Kilroy (1953-55), Bob Brown (1966-67, 1969) and Tra Thomas (2002-03, 2005) have appeared in three Pro Bowls with the team.

Spagnuolo speculation

A San Diego Union-Tribune report yesterday said it is "all but certain" that current Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo will return to the Eagles, as defensive coordinator. The report cites league sources. Spagnuolo, an Eagles defensive assistant under Jim Johnson from 1999-2006, is likely to be fired by the Rams. It isn't clear that he wouldn't have other alternatives, or that the Eagles are going to fire or demote first-year defensive coordinator Juan Castillo.

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

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