Behind enemy lines: Vick's return not a snap

When the Eagles began their preparations this week for Sunday's game against the 49ers, quarterback Michael Vick was there with his sore right hand taking the snaps, and he's expected to be ready to play when the Niners come to town.

Vick suffered a hand contusion in last week's loss to the New York Giants. The team initially announced after the game that he had fractured a bone in the hand. But a CT scan the next day revealed that it wasn't broken, only badly bruised.

"It's still a little sore," Vick said Wednesday. "I just have to do what I have to do right now, and that's get back on the field as fast as I can."

While Vick is expected to play, coach Andy Reid needs to feel relatively confident that the quarterback not only can handle the pain if the hand gets hit, but that he also can control the football.

Vick already has fumbled seven times in the first three games, including three times against the Giants before he hurt the hand. The 49ers are third in the league in takeaways with eight.

"I'm not going to tell you it's not tender and how hard he can squeeze the ball and all that. It's tender," Reid said. "But he's working through it and just trying to get the range of motion. But right now, he doesn't have the complete range of motion back."

Asked what he needs to see from Vick to convince him he can play Sunday, Reid said: "That he can control the football. That's really what it comes down to."

Reid said he is more concerned about Vick's ability to control the ball under center than he is on shotgun snaps.

"Under center, that's where the problem would be," he said.

"Shotgun, you can get away with it. But under the center, you've got to be able to squeeze. And right now, that's not 100 percent. So we've got to see. I don't know how fast it'll come back."

Another problem would be when Vick runs with the football, which he's already done 24 times this season. The 49ers, who are well aware of Vick's injury, no doubt will be aiming for that hand.

"I was thinking in my (position) meeting today that the most important thing this week will be to protect the ball," Vick said. "The good thing is I don't put the ball in my right hand and I'm predominantly left-handed when I'm running the ball.

"I just have to take care of the football, and even if I have two hands that are 100 percent, I still can't turn the ball over. It's just something I have to mentally prepare for, and I think I'm strong enough to do that. I have to go out there and be mentally conscious of everything going on around me."

Vick took several hits in Sunday's loss to the Giants. While none appeared to be illegal, the quarterback felt otherwise and complained after the game that the officials were letting defensive players get away with murder.

"I felt I got hit late," he said. "No flag. At some point, something catastrophic is going to happen. Not to blame the refs, but more precautions should be taken. I'm on the ground all the time in the pocket."

If Vick can't go this week, which seems unlikely, Vince Young probably would get the start.

Mike Kafka replaced Vick in the fourth quarter Sunday after he got hurt. But he threw two interceptions. Young finally appears to be completely healed from the hamstring strain he suffered in the final preseason game that kept him out of the first two regular-season contests.

"Vince is 100 percent, yeah," Reid said.

And while protecting Vick is certainly an issue, the fact that Vick has suffered two different injuries in the first three games of the season isn't an accurate gauge of the job his still-coming-together offensive line is doing.

The unit has allowed just five sacks in the first three games and is a respectable 11th in the league in sacks allowed per pass play.

With a few short-yardage exceptions, they've also done a good job of blocking for running back LeSean McCoy, who is second in the league in rushing.

"You know what?" right tackle Todd Herremans said. "When the quarterback takes a hit, your linemen are going to take hits. That's the way it is. It doesn't really matter what I think, it's just the view on it. It doesn't matter what I think because he's getting hit too much and we have to come together as a team and solve it somewhere."

Philly defense under fire

Just three games into his first season as the Eagles' defensive coordinator, Juan Castillo is on the hot seat.

His unit has given up 64 points and has allowed eight touchdown passes in back-to-back losses to the Atlanta Falcons and New York Giants.

The Eagles aggressively addressed their defensive needs in post-lockout free agency, adding some difference-making pass rushers (Cullen Jenkins, Jason Babin) and signing one of the league's top cornerbacks – Nnamdi Asomugha – as well as trading for another Pro Bowl corner, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.

The Eagles have 12 sacks in the first three games, but their young linebackers and safeties have been struggling against both the pass and the run.

No one is struggling more than rookie Casey Matthews. The fourth-round pick out of Oregon was handed the starting middle linebacker job on the first day of training camp. He started in the middle the first two games, then was moved to the weak side last week, where he promptly gave up a 40-yard touchdown catch and run to Giants running back Brandon Jacobs.

"Part of it is they all get to learn, get to get used to playing with each other," Castillo said. "Understanding how each one does a certain thing. It's a feel. The longer we're together, the better that we'll be.

"You can't panic. We have a plan. We believe in our plan. We've played some good series. Now we've just got to continue hammering away."

The Eagles will be hammering away at the 49ers this week with Matthews starting the game on the bench.

Matthews is being benched this week in favor of fellow rookie Brian Rolle, who doesn't lack for confidence. The 5-8, 227-pound sixth-rounder out of Ohio State will get his first NFL start against the 49ers.

Rolle already was playing in the Eagles' nickel package.

"Every time you see me on the field you hear my name," Rolle said. "My coaches must have seen the light and felt that I need to be on the field more."

Rolle said he is looking forward for the chance to cover the 49ers' talented tight end, Vernon Davis.

"It's going to be a lot of fun getting out there and playing in space and hopefully getting matched up against (Davis)," he said. "Everybody has their weakness. You can be fast, but fast isn't everything. It's all about technique in this league as well."

Rolle for Matthews isn't the only change Castillo is making this week. He's also replacing Kurt Coleman and free safety with Nate Allen. A starter last year before injuring his knee, Allen replaced Coleman early in last week's game.

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