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End of an Era for Eagles and Westbrook

A Farewell To Westbrook

By Lance Epstein

Sit there, shut your eyes and you probably could still imagine and hear the signature moment for Brian Westbrook against the Giants as long time Eagles announcer Merrill Reese described it in his exuberant voice, “45-40, 35-30, he is gonna go, 25-20, , 10, 5, touuuchhhhhdoownnnn Brian Westbrook on a spectacular play!”

After yesterday’s announcement that the Philadelphia Eagles released Westbrook after eight seasons, that memory will be forever cherished in your memory bank. His ability to create match-up problems for the defense and ignite the Eagles offense on what he made look like a simple screen pass is the reason why he will someday be in the Eagles hall of fame.

"Brian is one of the greatest Eagles of all time and he is an even a better person and leader," Andy Reid said at the press conference yesterday. "In my mind, there has not been a more versatile running back that the NFL has seen."

When the smallish running back was drafted out of Villanova many around the NFL designated him as a special teams returner to replace the aging Brian Mitchell. Sooner rather than later, analysts, scouts and opposing head coaches found out he was the ultimate weapon and perfect engine to the Eagles car.

"Brian had all the things we look for in a running back," general manager Howie Roseman said. "He could catch the ball. He could run between the tackles. He could make big plays in the running game and passing game. He was a returner. When you're looking at [other] backs, inevitably, you're saying, how does that guy compare to Brian when he came out [of college]."

Reid used his versatile weapon anywhere on the field to create the mismatch. It was usually your slow-footed linebacker against my elusive running back. Once the mismatch was set, it was guaranteed to kick start an Eagles drive. On multiple occasions that screen or wheel route went the distance; a staple of Westbrook’s career.

Besides using him to create mismatches, Westbrook was a power running back as well. Despite being undersize, he would launch his defenseless body into the air and over the pile to pick up that one yard for the first down.

If it was not his power, his petite size made it hard for opposing defenses to pick him up coming out of the 300 plus pound lineman blocking for him. A miniscule crease allowed Westbrook to work his magic and explode down the field.

Probably the most underrated part of Westbrook’s ability came without having the ball in his hands nor as a receiver. He took pride in being a great pass protector. What LeSean McCoy struggled with this past season, Westbrook excelled throughout his career. He recognized and picked a blitzing linebacker, safety or corner to give McNabb just enough time to generate the captivating down-the-field bomb to a Terrell Owens or DeSean Jackson.

However, the most sensational statistic and mind-boggling fact about the man that could do it all is he fumbled only nine times in about 1,800 touches. Compare that to Adrian Peterson and the Minnesota Vikings who lost three-of-six fumbles in this past NFC championship Game, it is astonishing. Might be the reason that Reid and company speaks so highly of the Villanova product.

"You know what, he had no weaknesses,'' Andy Reid said. "There wasn't any one thing that you could pick out that he was not good at. He was brilliant. There are just certain guys that are just football smart and he was one of those guys. You never had to tell him anything more than one time and it was done, and you had confidence that it was going to be done."

Injuries became a frequency in Westbrook’s time as an Eagle but what came more frequent was him leading the Eagles in rushing. He led the team in rushing from 2003-08.

More impressive was that in 2007, the once thought to only be a third down back, led the NFL in total yards from scrimmage with 2,104 (1,333 rushing yards) and found the end zone 12 times. Nevertheless the Eagles released the one of their most electrifying players in franchise history, a player who finished second all-time in Eagles rushing yards with 5,995 and third all-time in 426 receptions for 3,790 yards.

"Brian Westbrook is one of the most electrifying players in the history of this franchise and is certainly also one of the most popular," Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie said. "He was personally one of the my favorite players to watch each and every Sunday, and his playmaking abilities, leadership and values will be missed."

The move should not and probably did not surprise anyone, taking into account this past season he suffered two concussions in the span of three weeks. His first concussion coming on a Monday night affair against the Redskins, where his head bounced off London Fletcher’s knee. Subsequently in his return against the San Diego Chargers three weeks later, Westbrook suffered another concussion. The Eagles were not going to hope Westbrook fully recovered at the price of $7.25 million.

In addition, the move did not shock the NFL world because LaDainian Thomlinson, another iconic star running back was released just a day before the Eagles making announcement.

However, the question that begs to be answered is, will Westbrook be done as an Eagle or is his entire NFL career over?

Of course, Westbrook is not the same player he was when the Eagles got to the Super Bowl in 2004 or when he has his best season in 2007. But if the always-entertaining Westbrook manages to clear himself of the injury bug, he has some left in the tank.

Today Westbrook state publicly on his radio show, he has no desire to retire and maybe he is right not too. Think about this, his last play for the Eagles was the screen pass where he exploded going for 27 yards up the field against Dallas. On that single play, he demonstrated the ability to still be effective.

Some team will take the gamble and risk on Westbrook. While he is not going to be an every down back nor make the money he used too, his talent used in the correct circumstances, can be still be demoralizing to opposing teams.

Hopefully, Westbrook makes the best choice for him and his family before someone on the field makes it for him. Nobody wants to see him in 15-20 years not remembering where he is or forgetting what he is doing from the concussions.

One thing is for sure, his talent and ability as an Eagles running back will surely never be forgot or duplicated.

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