Two veterans were noticeably absent from the practice field as the Organized Team Activities (OTAs) got under way on Tuesday. Cornerback Sheldon Brown elected not to attend the first of eight days of voluntary workouts, while running back Brian Westbrook missed the workout because of a sore ankle.
This latest injury, head coach Andy Reid insists, has nothing to do with the chronic left knee soreness which plagued Westbrook last season. Westbrook underwent arthroscopic surgery on the knee during the off-season.
"This past week, he got a hold of (head athletic trainer) Rick (Burkholder) and his ankle was bothering him, so we're checking it out," Reid said. "His knee is feeling good. He went through our last camp and was feeling good. It's just his ankle that's bothering him."
Westbrook set career highs and finished fourth in the NFC with 14 touchdowns in 2008, despite missing two games due to injury, including one he missed with a high ankle sprain. A healthy Westbrook is key to what the team does offensively. The all-purpose back is a go-to guy as a running back and as a receiver out of the backfield.
The team drafted LeSean McCoy out of Pitt to help shoulder the load in the backfield. And no Westbrook on Tuesday meant more reps for the rookie and Lorenzo Booker, who was acquired in a trade on draft weekend in 2008.
Brown, meanwhile, was present at the mandatory post-draft mini-camp, and at the time addressed the concerns he has about his interest in a new contract. At that time, Brown also stressed that he would not be a distraction or a problem for the team.
Reid said he didn't necessarily expect Brown to participate in any of the workouts.
"Sheldon's doing what Sheldon thinks he needs to do," Reid said. "I wish he was here. I want everybody here, obviously."
Ellis Hobbs started at right cornerback for the Eagles, opposite Asante Samuel, his former teammate in New England. The trickle-down effect of Brown's absence translates into more reps for guys like Jack Ikegwuonu as well. Ikegwuonu, a fourth-round pick in 2008, missed all of last season with a torn ACL.
"If you're not here then you give other people an opportunity to show it. I remember (free agent T) Jon Runyan saying that over and over ... He said I'm not going to miss one snap because it gives another guy a chance to step in there," Reid said. "I think that's how the guys think and really that's the truth. It's an obvious statement because it's the truth.
"I really just concentrate on those guys that are here. The guys that are here are obviously getting reps and doing what they need to do."
Reid's Read On Johnson-less Defense
Reid had no real update on the status of defensive coordinator Jim Johnson, who is on a leave of absence as he continues his fight against melanoma.
"I can't tell you exactly where Jim is and what is going to happen," Reid said.
The unknown factor surrounding Johnson, coupled with training camp set to begin late next month, prompted Reid to add former Cowboys defensive coordinator Brian Stewart to his staff this week. Stewart was given the title of "special assistant" with his primary responsibilities focused on the secondary while coach Sean McDermott fills in as defensive coordinator.
"It gives us an extra set of eyes there, another good coach, someone who can work with the secondary as Jim is on his leave of absence," Reid said of the move to add Stewart. "This gives us another experienced coach."
As for the players adjusting to McDermott, Reid said: "The players respect him. They know he knows what he's doing, and he's doing a nice job. He did a nice job with the rookies. He did a nice job today. They know he is a good football coach."
Good News On The Health Front
Four players who sat out the post-draft camp returned in a limited capacity on Tuesday as wide receiver Kevin Curtis and guards Stacy Andrews, Todd Herremans and Max Jean-Gilles participated in individual drills. Curtis is recovering from the second part of sports hernia surgery, while Andrews and Herremans are coming back from knee injuries and Jean-Gilles an ankle injury.
"We'll just gradually bring them back," Reid said.
It was especially encouraging for Andrews and Jean-Gilles, who sustained their injuries over the last month of the season. Jean-Gilles underwent surgery on Dec. 4 to repair a broken fibula, while Andrews is recovering from ACL surgery on his right knee. Andrews, as was reported in Bloghead on Monday, is in line to start at right guard in 2009 while his brother, Shawn Andrews, is expected to start at right tackle.
Reid said Andrews is "physically" ahead of schedule but cautioned that the team will be smart with handling the 6-7, 342-pound lineman.
"You'll probably see more of him at training camp than you will now," Reid said. "It's just important that you remember the time frame that he had this thing and you don't rush him back at all. He spends a lot of time here, has an amazing attitude and he has done everything that we've asked."
Meanwhile, the tight end position is thinned a bit as veteran Matt Schobel (ankle) was also eased back into practice, while rookie Eugene Bright strained his hamstring during practice.