For Lewis, Helping Birds Will Help Himself

Michael Lewis had plans for a big season, but instead, found himself on the bench. Slowly though, Lewis has worked himself back into the lineup and continues to work himself toward a new contract.

Michael Lewis had hoped to help the Eagles make a Super Bowl run. He had hoped to play well enough to earn his second Pro Bowl invitation in three years. And he had hoped to play well enough to get a new, big-money contract from either the Eagles or another NFL team when he became an unrestricted free agent in March.

But Lewis' high hopes took a detour six weeks into the season when the strong safety was benched by defensive coordinator Jim Johnson. The benching was warranted. Lewis, a strong run-defender, but never a particularly good pass-defender, had become a coverage liability.

In Week 5 against Dallas, with the Eagles clinging to a seven-point lead late in the game, he let Cowboys wide receiver Terry Glenn get behind him and had to commit a pass interference penalty at the six-yard line to prevent a touchdown. Only an end zone interception by Lito Sheppard two plays later prevented the game from going into overtime.

The next week, Lewis bit on another double-move, this time by the Saints' Joe Horn, who burned him for a 48-yard fourth-quarter touchdown that erased another seven-point lead. The Eagles ended up losing the game, which triggered a slide that would see them lose five of six games.

After the Saints' loss, Johnson benched Lewis and replaced him at strong safety with second-year man Sean Considine, who isn't the big hitter Lewis is, but is a better pass-defender.

Johnson eventually found a new role for Lewis as a quasi-linebacker in the Eagles' nickel and dime packages. Lewis also is on the field against two-tight end formations.

Lewis played a major role in Sunday's 21-19 win over the Washington Redskins. Made some nice stops against the run, helped hold the Redskins' dangerous tight end, Chris Cooley, to four catches for 46 yards, and intercepted a Jason Campbell pass and returned it 84 yards for a touchdown.

"Mike's whole attitude ... he's handled the (benching) situation well and has come through with some very large plays for us," coach Andy Reid said.

Lewis made the Pro Bowl in 2004 when the Eagles went to the Super Bowl, along with two of his other three defensive backfield-mates, free safety Brian Dawkins and cornerback Lito Sheppard.

But when the Eagles developed problems with their pass rush last season (they had just 29 sacks), it really exposed Lewis' shortcomings as a pass-defender. Those pass-rush problems have extended into this season, which again affected Lewis' play.

Lewis turned down a contract extension offer from the Eagles two years ago, thinking he'd have a shot at much bigger money after his current deal expired. But his benching and reduced role definitely is going to cost him money in March.

"I'm a starter, and that's what I believe in my heart," Lewis said. "Whether it be here or somewhere else, I know I'll start again."

It isn't likely to be in Philadelphia, unless Lewis is willing to think about a move to linebacker. And while he is essentially playing that role this season, he has no interest in making a permanent move to linebacker.

Lewis clearly doesn't think he deserved to be benched. He felt he was made a scapegoat for the Eagles' early problems with their pass defense. But he has continued to play hard for however many snaps he's on the field, in whatever role Johnson and Reid see fit to use him.

"Whenever my number's called, I'm ready and (the coaches) know that," Lewis said. "Things happen for a reason; I'm a firm believer in that. And you just move on from there."

"Of course, when you're told you can't play and they put in another guy, it's going to hurt. But at the same time, I believe in the Lord and He will work everything out. That's the approach I took. Whatever role they've given me, I've tried to make the most of it."

Notes from the 'Nest...

  • Cornerback William James, formerly known as Will Peterson, will go up against his old team, the New York Giants, on Sunday in a game between two 7-6 teams fighting for a playoff berth. James was one of the league's better young cornerbacks until injuring his back early last season. The Giants released him last spring. He was signed by the Eagles in early November, but he injured his knee before Thanksgiving and missed two games. He returned last week and had a big play that led to an Eagles touchdown. Covering Redskins tight end Chris Cooley on a slant route, he tipped the ball into the air. Safety Mike Lewis caught it and returned it 84 yards for a touchdown.

    The Eagles signed James to a deal just through the end of the season. But if they like what they see - and so far they do - they're hoping to re-sign him. Nickel back Rod Hood will be a free agent at the end of the year and has made it clear that he wants to go somewhere where he'll have an opportunity to start.

    At 6-0, James is more than two inches taller than the Eagles' two starting corners, Lito Sheppard and Sheldon Brown, which gives them a more favorable matchup against taller wideouts such as the Giants' Plaxico Burress, who they will face this week.

    "We're in a race right now that nobody knew we would be in," James said. "To go up there (to Giants Stadium) and win would probably be one of the greatest feelings I've had all year."

  • The Eagles made a roster move this week, releasing backup linebacker and special teams player Jason Short and signing running back and kickoff returner Bruce Perry. The Eagles' current kickoff returner, Reno Mahe, has struggled the last few weeks, averaging just 18.1 yards on 10 kickoff returns in the last two games. Perry likely will handle kickoffs Sunday against the Giants. Mahe probably will continue to return punts, though the Eagles have Brian Westbrook in reserve for game-on-the-line situations.
  • Three and a half months after the Eagles traded for him, wide receiver Donte Stallworth still is living out of a suitcase in a Philadelphia hotel.

    Stallworth, who was acquired from the New Orleans Saints for linebacker Mark Simoneau and a conditional draft pick, is in the final year of his contract and didn't see the sense in looking for more permanent digs yet. Stallworth has five touchdown catches and is averaging nearly 20 yards per reception. But the Eagles want to see if he can stay healthy before they make a long-term financial commitment to him. Stallworth has been bothered by hamstring problems that forced him to miss four games and had him at considerably less than 100 percent for at least two others. Stallworth said he's hopeful that he'll end up re-signing with the Eagles. "I love it here," he said. "I've only been here for a couple months and there are still some things I haven't seen. Matter of fact, I just found out where the Liberty Bell was a week ago."


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