Nobody has come out and directly said much about Brian Westbrook's scheduled surgery on Friday. The athletic training staff will probably address the procedure after the work is done and a timetable is established for a recovery. The coaching staff moves on. Players know only so much and one, running back LeSean McCoy, wasn't even aware Westbrook was* *scheduled to have surgery until reporters told him on Thursday after practice.
When a player is injured, the words that are not spoken, the gestures that are not made ... they often tell the story. In this case, the one that involves the right ankle of Brian Westbrook, the unofficial word is a whole lot more encouraging than the picture some are painting out there.
"Brian is going to be fine," said running back Lorenzo Booker, who is not a doctor but who spoke like one in front of his NovaCare Complex locker with dozens of reporters crammed in around him. "It's the first week of June. He has June, July and August to get ready for the meaningful games. He is going to be there, and he is going to be Brian Westbrook.
"With him not at these practices, I have a chance to get more reps, teach some of these young players about the offense and prove myself every day. When it comes time to play, Brian will be our running back."
So, and this is me talking and not any sort of "official" statement from the team, the Eagles aren't *planning to sign any of the number of "big-name" running backs on the streets. They *aren't in panic mode over the injury that requires Westbrook to have his second surgery in this off-season.
And they are fully confident that Westbrook will be ready to go for the 2009 season, pending the results of the procedure.
That is my sense. It is far from official, but I've been around long enough to know when there is concern -- which, of course, there *has *to be whenever a player goes under the knife -- and when there is a dark-and-gloomy forecast. This feels much more like the former than the latter.
Until we know the prognosis for Westbrook's recovery, the Eagles are going with what they have. That means major reps for both Booker and McCoy. It means that McCoy's already-accelerated learning curve gets hopped up another beat because he will take so many more practice snaps and the attention to detail will be stressed that much more by running backs coach Ted Williams.
I'm trying to get a feel for this football team every day. I watch every practice and I see the enthusiasm and the terrific energy put forth by this team. The pads aren't on so the hyperbole only goes so far, but, geez, I love what I see. All three phases of the team are going after it. I see competition all over the field. One day Quintin Demps sprints across the field and make an interception and the next day Rashad Baker makes a leaping interception. Asante Samuel has everyone ramped up in the receivers vs. defensive backs one-on-one drills. The linebackers look great in coverage against the backs and tight ends. The quarterbacks are throwing the ball well. The receiving crew is deeper, I think, than it has ever been here.
There is a lot to love right now about this team. And at the same time ...
"I think we have a lot of talent here, but I can't tell you what my sense of this team is yet because the pads aren't on," said wide receiver Jason Avant. "Football players know that the game changes once the pads are on."
"I'm excited about the defense," said safety Quintin Mikell. "I see a lot of guys flying around, getting to the football. That's what I'm concentrating on. Things are going really well with our defense. It's early, but we have a lot of players fighting and competing and that's what you want."
The emphasis, then, is on the positive here. Oh, the Eagles are on top of things with Westbrook and they have to make sure they are covered completely at that position ... just in case. The Eagles won't be caught short at halfback. They also aren't going to run around and make a rash decision when they don't need to do so.
But they do need to make certain that all of their bases are covered, and that they are grading Booker and McCoy fairly and harshly and that players like Kyle Eckel and Eldra Buckley and Walter Mendenhall are given time to present their cases for a roster spot. The Eagles cannot take for granted that Westbrook will be back and that he will be Westbrook. They have to make sure they are ready if he isn't the Pro Bowl running back from two seasons ago.
The whispers in the hall and the chatter in the lunch room are positive, though. At this point, that's all I can go by, so I'm sharing my observations with you. It's June and it is not time to overreact, as many out there do. In here, within the walls of the NovaCare Complex, cooler and more experienced heads prevail, and the Eagles look ahead knowing they are in the process of putting together something special on the football field.