Kearse Is A Weighty Issue For Birds Defense

Eagles fans got a glimpse of the real Jevon Kearse early last season when he got off to a good start and was a key part of their defense. Then, another injury ended his season and now, his off-season conditioning program and commitment to football have been called into question.

While all eyes have been on quarterback Donovan McNabb and his battle to recover fully from major knee surgery, there's another developing story line on the other side of the ball that could have ramifications for the Eagles chances of pushing deep into the playoffs. Philadelphia's aggressive defense always plays a major role in their success and defensive coordinator Jim Johnson is suddenly facing a major issue.

The first concern is with defensive end Jevon Kearse weighing somewhere around 230 pounds - frightfully thin for a 6-foot-5 pass rusher coming off knee surgery of his own. Kearse won't hold up for a 16-game season at that weight, especially since he will turn 31 in September and has clearly lost the top-end speed that earned him the nickname "The Freak."

Kearse has reassured the team that he'll pack on 25-30 pounds in time for training camp, but questions are starting to arise about how committed Kearse is to getting back into top playing shape. And even if he rapidly adds weight, how much of it can he retain while working through the rigors of training camp?

"I think it could be a problem if it keeps going down," Johnson said. "I think his weight is back up a little bit, and hopefully it will be by training camp. I don't want him to get down too light. I think it will be a problem if he gets too light."

"He just doesn't have any meat on his bones right now. But he's working to gain weight. Usually, he'll be up to around 245-250 by training camp, and that's something we like to see."

Kearse insists that he's going to be ready to go both mentally and physically by the time he hits Lehigh. In fact, he doesn't see any reason for concern. "Too skinny? No," insisted Kearse. "I'm too fit. I did too much cardio. I feel like my body has had a lot of time to heal up," said Kearse. "I feel good. Hopefully, I can pick up where I left off (before the injury)."

It's a serious issue for Johnson, whose line is already thin on the outside. Trent Cole proved last season he's best used as a situational pass rusher, and Darren Howard was a huge disappointment as a free-agent addition in 2006. Jerome McDougle is on his last legs with the team, and Juqua Thomas isn't an every-down player.

The team spent a second-round pick on Notre Dame's Victor Abiamiri, a player with nice potential. But he's raw and, barring a tremendous training camp, Abiamiri isn't a starting option.

So that leads us back to Kearse, who Johnson desperately needs healthy and productive, wreaking havoc off the edge to protect a solid but unspectacular secondary. If Kearse, whose last double-digit sack season was in 2003, doesn't provide that element, it might not matter whether or not McNabb can return to Pro Bowl form.

Johnson isn't the only one concerned about Kearse's conditioning habits. Apparently, his teammates have noticed as well. Former Eagles linebacker Gary Cobb took Kearse to task lately and said players have told him that Kearse has spent too much of the off-season down at his Florida home "partying like a rock star" and not enough of it in the weight room. According to Cobb, Kearse "is living like he's not playing football anymore."

"Right now, from everything I've seen and heard, he's not ready to play football. Playing football in the trenches in the NFL requires a certain mentality, and I don't think Kearse is in a football mindset," speculated Cobb.

"Believe me, I can tell by looking at Kearse that he hasn't been doing a thing down there in Florida," Cobb said. "The boys (Kearse's teammates) say he's got a collection of divas that will make your eyes pop out."

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