Running back Brian Westbrook mingled with the alumni from the Easton and Phillipsburg High School football teams who trained at the NovaCare Complex on Wednesday. He observed as the players who were a part of the annual Thanksgiving rivalry that ended in a 7-7 tie back in 1993 get in shape to settle the score once and for all on April 26 as part of a web series that is being documented by Gatorade. Westbrook relished in how much fun the players were having with the opportunity to put the pads back on once again over 15 years later.
"I'm excited for these guys and I know they're excited," Westbrook said. "Hopefully, they'll come out of this game healthy."
Westbrook certainly understands what it's like to play through pain.
Maybe a little too well.
Even though Westbrook amassed 1,055 rushing yards and 15 total touchdowns in the 2008 regular season and playoffs, he admits he wasn't able to play at a "100 percent" level. He missed one game with an ankle injury and another due to a rib injury. But it was a knee injury that kept Westbrook from being able to practice before a number of games this past season. That's why once the season ended Westbrook decided to have his knee cleaned out.
"I'm feeling good," Westbrook said. "I had pain in my knee for a few years now. I'm excited to play football pain-free. When you're part of the NFL, you have to play hurt sometimes. You just try to help your team as much as possible." Photo Gallery : Gatorade REPLAY Films At NovaCare Complex
If a healthy Westbrook isn't difficult enough for opposing defenses to stomach, they will have to account for pieces of the puzzle added to enhance Westbrook's game. The Eagles signed tackle Stacy Andrews and fullback Leonard Weaver in free agency and will welcome the return of two-time Pro Bowl guard Shawn Andrews, Stacy's brother.
"Just to have those three guys is very exciting for me. They'll do a great job, I know that and hopefully give us the opportunity to run the ball a little bit more and be more effective at it," Westbrook said.
Westbrook also expects the Eagles to add some depth at his own position whether it's through free agency, a trade or in the draft. Currently, the Eagles have Westbrook and two other running backs - Lorenzo Booker and Eldra Buckley - on the roster. Westbrook's backup from last season, Correll Buckhalter, signed with the Broncos in free agency. Westbrook has "no problem" if the Eagles choose to further solidify the running back spot.
"You see that throughout the league. You see two or three guys who can play," Westbrook said. "Any talent that you bring on this team - running back, quarterback, receiver, line - whatever it is, it will definitely help this team win and that's what you're looking for - to win football games."
Westbrook said he didn't know enough about the other running backs in the draft to offer an opinion as to whom the Eagles should select. But Westbrook realizes that when the Eagles take the field for the post-draft mini-camps it will be a much younger squad. Even though the Eagles allowed veterans like Tra Thomas and Brian Dawkins to leave in free agency, Westbrook believes the Eagles have done a good job of restocking the talent cupboard to keep the core of the team strong.
"Coach (Andy) Reid and Joe Banner and those guys upstairs have done a great job of replacing talent," Westbrook said. "They've done a great job of bringing new guys in here to feed the need for talent here and hopefully they will continue to do that. I wouldn't say (that we're) rebuilding. I still think we have a strong core of guys here. I think we're reloading in that sense to get some new talent in here, some younger guys that can still play the game and we'll have a new group of leaders."
The challenge with younger players, said Westbrook, is making sure that they are not content with the "semi-success" the team had last season - reaching the NFC Championship Game.
"There's no time to rest on your laurels. You have to work even harder to try to win that Super Bowl and that's what we're going to do," Westbrook said.
And with one of the game's most electrifying playmakers healthy, the offense that broke the franchise record for points last season should be even better in 2009.