After attending but not participating in the opening days of the Eagles' full-team mini-camp, starting runningback Brian Westbrook headed to Baltimore where he was evaluated by Dr. Mark Meyerson. It was determined that Westbrook's lower leg and ankle contained bone spurs (dull projections that develop along the edges of bones), and a surgical process to "clean out the ankle" was necessary. In a breaking news story I was alerted of shortly before 12:00 p.m. ET today, I learned that Westbrook (seen in picture below) successfully underwent the surgery, and he is expected to return to football action within 2-4 months. Team athletic trainer Rick Burkholder said this regarding Brian's leg/ankle: "I am not concerned about this injury," "We feel pretty comfortable that he will be ready for the start of the regular season. I think he's going to come back in better shape. I think he's going to come back in the best shape of his life."
Although it's good to hear optimism from Burkholder, it is certain the Eagles will be without Westbrook's services for at least the remainder of the full-team mini-camp and potentially Training Camp, the other runningbacks on the roster will have more chances to display their skills, and possibly have a greater chance of making the team...these backs are listed below. Although it is obvious Westbrook will remain the starter for the 2009 season, his durability has been challenged over the past few years, and it might not be a bad idea for the team to keep a higher amount of RBs this season than usual.
- LeSean "Shady" McCoy, selected in the 2nd round of this offseason's Draft, was one of the highest ranked RB prospects, coming out of Pittsburgh University, and is projected to be the backup in '09 (as well as the starter of the future). But McCoy (pictured above left, #29) could see more playing time than initially expected if Westbrook can't stay healthy and/or he isn't able to recover by the start of the season. McCoy's elusive playing style compares to Westbrook, and the Eagles are hoping he'll turn out to be the same as him (minus the injuries, of course).
- Lorenzo Booker, acquired last year in a Draft-day trade with the Dolphins, was a bust all around in 2008. He failed to display the talent he had shown signs of in his rookie year in Miami, and Westbrook's injury may give him some extra time to prove he's worthy to the team. If Booker can improve his blocking and running moves in practice while Westbrook watches from the sidelines, he just might be able to earn himself a backup job again.
Eldra Buckley could find himslef on a 53-man roster for the first time in his career if he can take advantage of Westbrook's absence. The former Charger spent his first 2 seasons in the NFL on the practice squad, and was released early in the offseason. I'm sure the Eagles didn't expect to be blown away by Buckley when they agreed to a short-term contract with him, but he's quietly been performing well in the mini-camps. He will have to fight hard with Booker and Walter Mendenahll if he wants a spot on the final roster, though.
- Walter Mendenhall has perhaps become one of the most-liked "camp bodies" in years. Signed as a rookie free agent out of Illinois State, the initial thought on Mendenhall was "oh, he's just here to fill out roster space", and "yeah, he'll definitely be released by Training Camp". But Walter, the older brother of Steelers' RB Rashard Mendenhall, has looked strong in all the camps he's participated in--especially the Rookie Camp. His agressive style of play and inspiring work ethic may give him a job in the NFL, and with Westbrook out, he's only getting more of an opportunity.
Leonard Weaver is officially listed as a Fullback, and that's where he'll play, but while Brian Westbrook is gone, Weaver is more than capable of practicing in the RB position. When used on running plays for his former team, the Seahawks, Weaver (pictured above left, #43) averaged 4.4 yards a carry, and amassed a total of 356 yards, which is a high total for this day and age in the league where the Fullback is rarely handed the ball. I don't see him making a permanent transition to RB, but he could certainly move to the spot temporarily to help make up for Westbrook's absence, and at the same time give rookie FB Marcus Mailei more opportunities.
Kyle Eckel, also a Fullback, spent the first year of his 2-year career as a runningback, so he too could give the team a temporary substitute for Westbrook in camp. Originally signed as a rookie free agent in '05 by the Patriots, Eckel was released before the season and didn't play until he was signed by the Patriots again, this time before 2007. In that year, he rushed for 2 touchdowns from the RB spot, and half-way through 2008, he was signed by the Eagles after again getting cut from New England. Gaining 79 yards as a backup FB last season, he is looking to remain on the team as Leonard Weaver's backup, but could get a better chance at making the roster by moving to RB while Westbrook is rehabbing.
All of these RB/FBs will have a big opportunity to show their talent while Brian Westbrook processes through his ankle injury, and we can only guess at whom will come out on top, proving that they took advantage of the injury and made the team.