No setbacks. Brian Westbrook is "ready to roll," says head coach Andy Reid. A team that has won five straight games without Westbrook, that has lost only once in the eight total games he has missed this season, welcomes back one of the most versatile, intelligent and productive players in all of the NFL in this decade.
And people worry that Westbrook's presence will disrupt the offense?
It really shouldn't happen that way. Westbrook, cleared medically to play Sunday against Denver, stepped up his practice regimen on Wednesday and will do the same on Thursday and Friday. For two weeks, he had worked with the scout team, champing at the bit to play but unable to do so after suffering two concussions in a period of three weeks.
Now it's time to turn Westbrook loose. Well, that may not exactly happen right away, as Reid is expected to ease Westbrook back into the offense, maybe give him a handful of touches, a dozen or so snaps. Nobody really knows. The Eagles don't. Westbrook doesn't. He has fresh legs and a sharp, clear mind. He is physical ready and mentally committed to returning to the football field and being, well, Brian Westbrook.
What is the best way to use Westbrook and to aid an Eagles team that is averaging 28.5 points a game, second-highest in the NFL this season? Is there any chance at all that his return hinders the production of rookie halfback LeSean McCoy and veteran fullback Leonard Weaver, or alter in any negative way an Eagles attack that has averaged 29 rushing attempts during this five-game winning streak?
Westbrook's return, from this perspective, is nothing but great news. I'm not expecting him to be the player who churned out 2,104 yards in a fabulous 2007 season, and he may not even be the Westbrook who scored 14 touchdowns in the regular season and one in the playoffs last year.
But having Westbrook adds all kinds of possibilities. That the Eagles can line him up anywhere in the formation, creating favorable matchups and some interesting personnel groupings when you consider having McCoy, DeSean Jackson and the rest of the threats on this offense out there as well. Westbrook doesn't have to be the traditional halfback on Sunday, and in future weeks, but he certainly be a player defense must account for when he is on the field.
The screen great, already pretty good and improving with McCoy, instantly gets better with Westbrook's vision, his darting moves, his quick shift in acceleration. Is there any better receiver out of the backfield? The red zone, also showing signs of life, could use Westbrook, who has been a touchdown machine in his career in the red zone.
Yeah, we all are going to cross our fingers and hope Westbrook suffers no further damage, no more knockout hits. He is wearing a special helmet that has more padding and is designed to cushion blows to the head, so the belief is that Westbrook should be less susceptible to concussions. But we know what a violent game this is, and that the only way to truly avoid concussions is to not play football.
Westbrook wants the game, though. He needs the game. He has been remarkably patient in the weeks that have gone by and he has been by McCoy's side every day whispering advice, helping the rookie see things in the study game, counseling him on the sidelines. McCoy has grown such a great deal in a very short time and Westbrook deserves credit as a mentor and a leader.
Now it's time, barring any setbacks, for Westbrook to again take the field. He played in the opening-day win in Carolina, was excellent in Oakland (141 total yards from scrimmage) and then gained 54 yards on eight touches in the loss in San Diego.
What does it mean if the Eagles can get 50 or 60 yards on a half-dozen or more touches against the Broncos. Oh, it will open up so much. Defenses won't know which way to turn -- there goes Westbrook in the short passing game, who is covering Brent Celek in the mid-range game?, and who is paying attention to Jackson down the field? -- and the Eagles will have so many options for Donovan McNabb in the passing game.
The presence of Westbrook isn't necessarily going to alter the game plan. The Eagles have found a very comfortable and productive balance, and they have had the ability to beat teams with the run and the pass. Denver's defense is fast, plays hard, and relies on both attributes more than sheer size and brute strength to win battles.
Westbrook's shake and shimmy will come in handy, assuming that he comes back and gets up to speed quickly. It shouldn't be a problem for Westbrook. He'll have three weeks of work under his belt by the time Sunday arrives. He will make an impact, in a very positive way. No matter how Reid and offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg integrate Westbrook into the offense, the Eagles are a better team with him on the field, available for duty.
Once upon a time this season many believed Westbrook would never play again. Here he is, though, and his play is an exciting prospect to look forward to, a bonus late in the season for an offense that instantly becomes more explosive with Westbrook.