Who's Going To Run The Ball?

With both injury prone Brian Westbrook and Correll Buckhalter in the backfield, the Eagles had to figure that one of them would wind up hurt. So, with Westbrook potentially out for the start of the season, who will step up in the backfield?

Put together a list of the things that must happen for the Eagles to make a Super Bowl run this season and Brian Westbrook staying healthy is right near the top. Aside from quarterback Donovan McNabb, the fifth year running back is the biggest key to the success of the Eagles' offense.

Which is why there's cause for concern that Westbrook already is hurt. The fragile 5-9, 205-pounder sprained his foot in the Eagles' first preseason game two weeks ago and has not been back on the field since.

He sat out Thursday's 20-10 loss to the Baltimore Ravens, and head coach Andy Reid said there's a pretty good chance he won't play again the rest of the preseason.

Westbrook suffered a Lisfranc sprain of his foot late last year and missed the final four games of the season. Then, on the first series of the Eagles' first preseason game, he sprains his foot again. Initially, Reid called the injury "day to day." Finally, this week, he acknowledged that Westbrook had stretched the ligaments in his left foot.

Reid said that if Westbrook doesn't play again until the September 10 season-opener against Houston, "That's the way it goes. I don't want to risk any further injury on that thing. I want to make sure it's healed and healed right, and we get the right shoes for him ... orthotics or whatever he needs to go out and play."

The Eagles don't have a lot of proven depth behind Westbrook. Second-year backup Ryan Moats is an elusive runner, but fumbles too much, which is a no-no in Reid's offense. Bruce Perry, who suffered a serious concussion in the same game that Westbrook got hurt in, has missed the last two preseason games.

That leaves Correll Buckhalter, who has missed three of the last four seasons with knee injuries, Reno Mahe and Marty Johnson, who was claimed off waivers two weeks ago.

Buckhalter, seeing his first game action in two years, had a 48-yard catch-and-run against the Ravens that set up the Eagles' only touchdown. Mahe and Johnson combined for 38 rushing yards on 5 carries.

Buckhalter played the second and third series of the Ravens' game with the number one offense. He had just 8 yards on five carries, but withstood some big hits and took a shovel pass from McNabb for a 48-yard gain.

While it's doubtful the 6-1, 215-pound Buckhalter could ever be a heavy-duty back again, he could be a short-yardage and goal line option for the Eagles if he can stay healthy.

"I feel great, man," he said after the Ravens game. "I feel like the old (number) 28."

"I was just looking forward to playing. I just did what I did in practice. I took it one play at a time. I was able to make a big play thanks to the great blocking by the offensive line. I'm still a little rusty. There are some things I need to work on."

Said McNabb: "For him to come back and bounce back this strong, we cheer for him. He can regain some confidence from this and be able to move on."

Johnson is somewhat of an unknown, but is looking to fit into the Eagles offense. The former Ute running back had a school record 15 touchdown carries in as a senior in 2004. Johnson had a nice season in NFL Europe this season, notching 424 yards and two touchdowns for Berlin. The Eagles were most impressed by his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield, which is a requirement for backs in Philadelphia.

So far in the preseason, Johnson ranks second on the team in carries with 15 and leads all backs with 71 yards rushing. It's likely that the Eagles will continue to work him hard in preseason to see what he may be able to do for them once the regular season begins.


War Nest Top Stories