Inside Slant, Notes, Quotes, Personnel, Etc.

Coach Andy Reid will spend part of the bye week trying to fix what's wrong with the Eagles' special teams. Under respected coordinator John Harbaugh, the Eagles' special teams units annually are among the best in the league. But they've been struggling the last few weeks.

Two weeks ago, they gave up a 96-yard kickoff return for a touchdown to the Chiefs' Dante Hall. In last week's 33-10 loss to the Dallas Cowboys, both their kickoff and punt coverage units were frequently gashed. Cowboys kickoff returner Tyson Thompson opened the game with a 40-yard return that set up Dallas' first score in the rout. Cowboys punt returner Patrick Crayton had three double-digit-yard returns, including runbacks of 24 and 25 yards that helped kick start scoring drives.

The return teams haven't been much better. Punt returner Dexter Wynn, who last season averaged almost 11 yards per return, is averaging just 4.6 this year. His longest return thus far has been 17 yards. Kickoff returner Rod Hood lost a fumble two weeks ago against the Chiefs and was replaced last week by Wynn, who averaged just 18.8 yards per return.

Harbaugh said after the Cowboys loss that he didn't think the Eagles' special teams problems were rooted in personnel. But two days later, the Eagles released linebacker and special-teamer Mike Labinjo and signed veteran linebacker Zeke Moreno, who is a very good special teams player. Reid also may make a few starters work overtime by putting them on special teams. Linebacker Keith Adams, a former special teams standout before winning a starting job in training camp, played on the coverage units for the first time this season Sunday.

"I've just got to do a better job of getting them to play better," Harbaugh said. "We've got to get off blocks. We've got to play better. I've got to do a better job of getting our guys in position to play better and more physically."

The departure of linebacker Ike Reese, who earned his first Pro Bowl invitation last season because of his special teams play, is one reason for the Eagles' poor special teams play. Reese, who signed with Atlanta in the off-season, was the team's special teams leader. No one really has replaced him.

The Eagles also have been hurt by the loss of kicker David Akers, who is out indefinitely with a torn hamstring. He's been replaced by inexperienced Todd France, who doesn't get nearly the length or hang time on his kickoffs that Akers does.

"It's a concern," Reid said of the Eagles' poor special teams play. "I think field position is a big thing. We can do better there, so we will look at that closely (during the bye week)."

Reid did not discount the possibility of running back Brian Westbrook handling some of the punt return chores. Westbrook was the NFC's top punt returner two years ago. But when his role in the offense increased, Reid was reluctant to let him continue to return punts. But the last two weeks, Westbrook has averaged just 12 touches per game. He has yet to get more than 19 touches in a game this season. At that rate, handling a few punts a game would hardly tax him.

"That would be up to coach Reid," Harbaugh said. "But I think we're fine at punt returner. Dexter will be fine. He had a nice return Sunday, but we had a holding call (by Labinjo, ironically) that brought it back."

NOTES, QUOTES

--The Philadelphia Daily News recently asked Eagles players who they would be star struck to meet. Defensive tackle Darwin Walker, who founded his own successful engineering firm, picked billionaire and Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton. "He was a self-driven successful person," Walker said. "He wasn't an heir to anything. He started from the bottom and took it to the top. He wasn't born with the silver spoon. Most well-to-do people today inherit their wealth. I don't have questions, but I'd love to meet him and see what kind of person he was."

Quarterback Donovan McNabb: "Jesus Christ. I talk to him every day, so I know he knows a lot about me."

Linebacker Dhani Jones picked Kofi Annan, Fidel Castro or Desmond Tutu. Said Jones: "I'll be awestruck in some situations, but I'd be more interested in talking to them. I'm curious about them or impressed with what they've done and what they've accomplished, but if I'm caught up in who they are, I lose who I am." Huh?

--Mike McMahon, the club's No. 3 quarterback, had exploratory arthroscopic surgery on his knee Monday. The results of the scope aren't known, but coach Andy Reid insists that McMahon will be able to practice next week when the team returns from their bye week break and there will be no need to sign another quarterback. Starter Donovan McNabb already is playing with a sports hernia, and it is assumed that if he weren't able to play, McMahon would jump over No. 2 quarterback Koy Detmer and become the starter. The main reason Detmer is listed as the No. 2 QB is because he's also the team's holder for placekicks.

--The Eagles have given up seven touchdown passes in the last three games, including three in Sunday's 33-10 loss to the Cowboys. It was the first time in 35 regular-season games that the Eagles have given up that many TD passes in a game. Over the last five seasons, they've allowed an average of just 15 per season.

--After Sunday's loss to Dallas, Terrell Owens wore a Michael Irvin No. 88 Cowboys jersey on the team bus and plane. The guess is he anticipated that the Eagles would defeat the Cowboys and wearing the jersey of Irvin, who is a pal of T.O.'s, would be a nice rub-it-in-their-face touch. Instead, many Eagles fans interpreted it as a slap in the face.

Eagles players and coach Andy Reid insisted it didn't bother them.

Said Reid: "He's a big Michael Irvin fan. On the way home, I give these guys an opportunity to wear comfortable clothes. I have done that since I have been here, and he's very close with Michael. I don't think it's that big of a deal."

--Running back Brian Westbrook's numbers have dropped dramatically the past two games. In the Eagles' win over the Chiefs and loss to the Cowboys, he had just 24 touches for 84 yards. That's 3.4 yards per touch. In the three games before that, he racked up 439 yards from scrimmage on 56 touches. That's 7.8 yards per touch.

--Eagles wide receiver Greg Lewis is one of just five starting wideouts in the league who came out of college as undrafted free agents. The other four are Denver's Rod Smith, Tennessee's Drew Bennett, San Diego's Eric Parker and Washington's David Patten. Lewis, who is 26th in the league among wideouts in receptions this season with 21, was the third wide receiver on his college team at Illinois, behind the 49ers' Brandon Lloyd and Walter Young, who is on the Pittsburgh Steelers' practice squad. Lewis on why he went undrafted, despite 4.41-second speed in the 40-yard dash and 38 catches as a senior: "They looked at me as being (too) small (he weighs just 170 pounds). I really didn't have any type of route at Illinois. I played in the slot there. I couldn't go fast or do anything, really. I just caught the ball and got hit by the linebacker most of the time. That was pretty smart to put the smallest guy on the team there and have him get blasted all the time. But that's pretty much all I did."

Despite his small size, Lewis did 16 reps in the 225-pound bench press at his Pro Day workout before the 2003 draft.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "You don't like to have games like this. But they bring you back to reality." - cornerback Lito Sheppard after the Eagles' 33-10 loss to Dallas last Sunday.

BY THE NUMBERS: Donovan McNabb failed to throw a touchdown pass last week for the first time in 15 games.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

With their special teams struggling, the Eagles likely will start using a few more of their starters on the units. Linebacker Keith Adams was one of the team's top special teams standouts before becoming the starting weakside linebacker. He was used on the kickoff coverage unit last week for the first time this season. The Eagles also signed veteran linebacker Zeke Moreno this week. Moreno is a good special teams player. They cut another linebacker, Mike Labinjo, to make room for Moreno. Labinjo did not play well on special teams in last week's 33-10 loss to the Dallas Cowboys.

Coach Andy Reid gave his team the entire week off because of the bye. They aren't due back until Monday morning. PLAYER/PERSONNEL NOTES

--LB Zeke Moreno was signed this week in an attempt to bolster the team's struggling special teams.

--LB Mike Labinjo was released when the Eagles signed another LB, Zeke Moreno. Labinjo, who was primarily on the roster because of his special teams ability, did not play well last week.

--PK David Akers could be out for another 8-10 weeks, according to one broadcast report. Akers has a torn hamstring. The Eagles will only say they are taking it week to week with Akers.

--RB Brian Westbrook could be used some as a punt returner in the next few weeks. The Eagles are getting little out of their current PR, Dexter Wynn. Westbrook, who has had just 24 touches in the last two games, is an option.

--QB Mike McMahon had exploratory arthroscopic surgery on his knee. It's not known what it revealed. The Eagles insist McMahon will be available to practice when they return from the bye week next week.

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