Perseverant might be an understated way to describe Correll Buckhalter's career with the Eagles. The team's fourth-round pick from 2001 has had season-ending surgery three times and still finds himself fighting for a spot on the roster.
"I'm never to the point where I feel so comfortable that I know I am this football team," Buckhalter said. "I never take that approach."
The last time he missed a full season was in 2005, when the 6-0, 217-pound running back reinjured the patellar tendon in his right knee. That was the same injury that caused Buckhalter to miss all of 2004. And in 2002, after breaking the Eagles rookie rushing record with 586 yards on just 129 carries, "The General" from Mississippi tore the ACL in his left knee.
Buckhalter feels that countless people probably wrote him off in his career. Nevertheless, in 2007 he averaged five yards a carry and scored four touchdowns.
"I don't worry about what people say on the outside," he said. "I know how my body feels and I know what I can do. I feel like I actually have never been hurt, which is a blessing, and I am looking forward to showing people that."
Now an eight-year veteran, Buckhalter has taken on a leadership role with some of the younger players like DeSean Jackson and Lorenzo Booker. He remembers being a rookie and cannot believe how quickly eight years have gone by.
"Little guy, you don't understand how fast it goes," Buckhalter says he has told Jackson on occasion. "Take advantage of every situation because it goes by very, very fast."
Even though Booker can potentially take away some of Buckhalter's time on the field, Buckhalter only thinks about what is best for the team.
"It goes back to when Duce Staley and Brian Mitchell were here," Buckhalter said. "Those guys kind of molded me and taught me. It's not about worrying about someone taking your job. It's about being friends on the field as well as off the field. And I take that same approach with Tony (Hunt), Lorenzo (Booker), (Ryan) Moats and Jason Davis. Letting those younger guys know that whatever I can do to make them do better on the field and that I am here for them. (Brian) Westbrook takes that same approach."
Head coach Andy Reid sees the effort Buckhalter has made in each offseason, rehabbing and working out. Reid relies on both Westbrook and Buckhalter to facilitate the process of bringing the new guys up to speed. It is not as if the head coach has to twist an arm to do so because they already understand the value of each player on the field.
"This is a team sport," Buckhalter said. "It is not tennis. It is not track and field. It's a team sport. If we lose, we all lose. If we win, we all win. There is no 'I' in the game of football. It takes all 11 on offense, defense and special teams."
It has not been easy, that is for sure. With the preseason just one week away, Buckhalter wants to focus on working hard, staying healthy and being a productive member of a winning football team.
"What I've come back from and through is behind me now," he said. "It's not even a thought in my mind. It's about coming out here and looking in front of me and letting the coaches know that I am ready to play football."