Jacksonville, Fla. - The Philadelphia Eagles are dedicated in finding ways to get the ball into the hands of running back Brian Westbrook. If the talk is true, that could include seeing Westbrook returning punts in Sunday's Super Bowl against the New England Patriots.
With a one-game season all that remains, both teams will leave no angle unexamined as they look for every possible edge. For the Eagles, that could include maximizing Westbrook's versatility and big-play ability by returning him to the role he was so successful in during the 2003 season. Westbrook, who has worked on catching punts every day in practice, said Tuesday he would welcome any such opportunity in the Super Bowl.
"I would love to do it," Westbrook said. "I would love to have done it all year long. But because of my role on offense, it's tough to do both. Especially when you're coming off a long punt return, it's hard to jump right back into the offense. If I get an opportunity, hopefully I'll make a play."
Although Westbrook said he didn't know if he would be returning punts against the Patriots, he wouldn't hesitate to approach the coaching staff during the game if he recognized an opportunity.
"At this point in the season, you have nothing to lose. This is the last game, you can't leave anything on the sidelines. If I feel like I can make a big play in the game, you have no choice but to go to the coaches and let them know that, 'Hey, I see their weakness right here. We can take advantage of it and make a big play.'"
Westbrook ranked second in the NFL and first in the NFC in 2003 with a 15.3-yard punt return average, including two return touchdowns. He was moved away from those responsibilities as his role in the offense expanded this season, leaving the punt return duties to rookie Dexter Wynn (18 returns for 194 yards) and second-year player Reno Mahe (19 returns, 109 yards). The Eagles did not have a punt return this season, ranking 13th overall in return average.
Philadelphia special teams coordinator John Harbaugh, who wouldn't rule out using Westbrook on punt returns Sunday, said it was a situational decision but cautioned against making changes leading up to the Super Bowl.
"I think we're really happy with the guys we have there," Harbaugh said. "I really do. There's been a lot of talk about that, but I see it as a little bit demeaning to Dexter Wynn. Dexter has done a great job. He's averaging over 10 yards per return, he's caught every ball, and he's a rookie. You have to ask yourself, 'Do you really want to mess with that?' That's kind of where we're at right now."
One of the worst kept secrets around the NFL is that Patriots defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel will be named the next head coach of the Cleveland Browns following the Super Bowl. Philadelphia offensive coordinator Brad Childress, who also interviewed for the position, all but conceded he wouldn't get the position Tuesday.
"You kind of get a feel for how the winds are blowing," said Childress, who noted the Browns have not contacted him during the week of the Super Bowl because it would be against NFL rules.
Childress, who said he thought his interview with Cleveland "went well," also took the high road when asked if he was disappointed in the Browns' search.
"I think that is their decision," he said. "I don't know if I'm disappointed. Give it your best shot and Randy [Lerner] has to do what is best for Randy and the Browns. He's doing what he believes is best."
Talking About Brady
Even during the Philadelphia Eagles hour-long Media Day session, much of the talk was about Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. Far and wide, members of the Eagles hold a large amount of respect for Brady, in large part to his 56-14 (.800) overall record as a starter, including a perfect 8-0 record in the playoffs.
"He's the key," said defensive end Jevon Kearse. "He's the heart and soul of their team if you ask me about it. The guy just wins games. He doesn't have really big numbers in any category, he just wins games. He's got some pretty big numbers in the win category, I must say that, but he just finds a way to win no matter what it takes."
Quarterback Donovan McNabb wasn't hesitant to throw some respect to his counterpart, saying the attention that Brady receives - such as the comparisons to Joe Montana - are well deserved.
"I am happy that Tom Brady is finally receiving attention for the success he has had," McNabb said. "I think sometimes players get overlooked because they don't put up big numbers. Tom Brady has done so much for the New England Patriots and for the community in New England. I am excited to see that they are finally giving him some attention and it is well deserved. For him to be compared to a guy like Joe Montana, that's a special feeling. You can't take that away from him."
Fab Five Freddy
Wide receiver Freddie Mitchell didn't require one of the 10 podiums designated to Eagles players at Tuesday's NFL Media Day to attract attention. Mitchell has done plenty of that lately, starting with his comments last week regarding the New England Patriots secondary. Mitchell, who was available to media Tuesday for the first time this week, indicated Reid had spoken with him about the remarks, saying "I wouldn't say [he was angry]. He didn't like the comment I said. That's his program. That's how it goes."
Mitchell, who went on to say he didn't feel bad for making the comments, said he was "definitely shocked" by the media attention it has drawn.
"I was saying when I saw the media pumping it up, I was like, 'If you're hyping up Freddie Mitchell and Rodney Harrison, it's going to be a (lousy) Super Bowl,'" explained Mitchell. "I mean you have two great quarterbacks in Donovan McNabb and [Tom] Brady but it's not really on them each time you turn on the TV. It's kind of interesting how this is all playing out."
On The Line With Lurie
If anyone has a solid perspective on the cities of Boston and Philadelphia, it's Jeff Lurie. The Eagles owner, a Boston native and longtime friend of Patriots owner Bob Kraft, is an avid Red Sox fan and offered his take on fans in the two cities.
"Philadelphia is an incredible football town," Lurie said. "Boston is an amazing baseball town. The Red Sox have always been the most popular team in Boston and New England, even with all the success of the Celtic dynasty and recent success of the Pats. Philadelphia is, with all its ups and downs, a football city. Eagle fans, with their passion, are a lot like Red Sox fans."
A Soup Question
Media Day is known as an opportunity for questions from all angles, as all 53 players on each roster are required to attend for the full 60-minute session. It was no surprise then that McNabb was questioned about the long-running Campbells Chunky Soup ads featuring he and his mother, Wilma, who has become a minor celebrity in her own right. McNabb was asked if the diet his mother feeds him includes any solid foods or is limited only to soup.
"It all starts with the soup and ends with the soup," McNabb said. "In the middle is the soup. That is why my diet has really been intact. Eating the soup, savory beef pot roast, chunky chicken corn chowder, the list goes on. All of those wonderful, wonderful soups."
In case you were wondering, McNabb's favorite soup is pot roast savory beef.
The Eagles return to more of a normal media schedule on Wednesday. Reid will hold a press conference at 8:00 a.m., followed by media availability with Eagles players. The team will operate on the same schedule Thursday. On Friday, Reid will hold an 8:30 a.m. press conference, and no players will be made available to the media.