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NFC CHAMPIONS Westbrook key to the Eagles' offense



Published: Fri, February 4, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



Thought to be too small, he proves to be a capable runner, receiver and blocker.

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. (AP) -- With each fake and every juke, Brian Westbrook leaves defenders grabbing for air and coaches searching for answers.

The New England Patriots will get a first-hand look at the elusive Pro Bowl running back in the Super Bowl.

"He's such a great athlete," Patriots safety Eugene Wilson said. "He can run, he can catch ... he's fast. They do a lot of things with him. We have to be ready."

The versatile Westbrook became one of the NFL's best all-around players in his first season as the Eagles' primary running back. He ran for 812 yards and three touchdowns and led all backs with 73 catches for 703 yards and six touchdowns in just 13 games.

Motivation

Not bad for a guy considered too small to be more than just a third-down back in the NFL.

"When people put that label on me, I hear it and I keep going," said Westbrook, generously listed at 5 feet, 10 inches and 205 pounds. "But my ambition and my goals are what drive me.

"I think because of my size and where I went to school, people put that tag on me pretty early without even giving me the opportunity to be a feature running back. I think that was wrong. That's what analysts do, that's what people do. For me, I just have to go along my way and prove them wrong."

The speedy Westbrook set an NCAA record with 9,885 all-purpose yards, including 84 TDs in 46 games, at Division I-AA Villanova. A third-round pick in 2002, he has developed into one of the Eagles' most indispensable players.

With Westbrook sidelined with a triceps injury last season, the Eagles couldn't get past the NFC championship game, their third year in a row they came within one victory of the Super Bowl. When they finally made it to the Super Bowl on this try, All-Pro receiver Terrell Owens was missing but not Westbrook.

"He's a triple threat just like Marshall Faulk was, the blocker, the catcher, the runner," quarterback Donovan McNabb said, comparing Westbrook to the Rams' running back and past NFL MVP. "He's very intelligent and able to do whatever it takes to win."

Most dangerous on the edge

On the football field, Westbrook is difficult to defend because he isn't easy to find. Though he spends much of his time behind McNabb in the backfield, he is most dangerous when he lines up as a receiver.

Eagles coach Andy Reid sometimes splits Westbrook wide to the right or left, puts him in either slot or lets him go in motion. The purpose is to create a mismatch, hoping Westbrook is covered by a linebacker or a safety.

"He can play every position on the field whether it's the widest position in the slot, next to the tackle, as a split back, as a single back, or an I-tailback," offensive coordinator Brad Childress said. "You don't find many people like that. You see many people put there as decoys. He's able to strike from all those positions. His versatility is what impresses me the most."

Westbrook's success should translate into a much bigger paycheck next season. He'll be a restricted free agent, meaning the Eagles can match any team's offer.




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