- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 29, 2001

PHILADELPHIA Back in 1997, James Thrash and N.D. Kalu were rookies hoping to make the Philadelphia Eagles, who were coming off a playoff berth. Kalu, a defensive end, was a fifth-round draft pick from long-downtrodden Rice and Thrash was a free agent receiver from tiny Missouri Southern.

But the Eagles cut Thrash before training camp started in July and Kalu suffered the same fate the following August after playing briefly in three games as a rookie. Each went on to prosper to an extent in Washington.

Now both have returned as free agent signees to where their NFL careers began, albeit with much-expanded roles.

The 26-year-old Thrash, who rejoined the Eagles on March 9 after signing a five-year, $8 million contract that included a $2 million signing bonus, is expected to be the top receiver for a team that surprisingly advanced to the second round of the 2000 playoffs. Thrash caught just 15 passes in his first three Redskins seasons, but he had 50 catches last year after becoming a starter one game after Michael Westbrook went down with a knee injury.

Thrash essentially goes from being a fill-in in Washington to phenom quarterback Donovan McNabb's main target in Philadelphia whose other wideouts have a total of 46 career catches and eight starts.

"I don't need a No. 1 [receiver]" Eagles coach Andy Reid said yesterday. "I just need guys who can go do their jobs. James is ready to be a starter."

The 6-foot, 200-pound Thrash just wants to play. Halfback Duce Staley said the hard-working Thrash "attacked the playbook" after signing with the Eagles.

"Andy Reid told me I had a great chance to come in here and get some playing time," Thrash said of his free-agent visit. "That was the main thing for me. I want to be out on that field. I also visited San Diego because I knew the offense and I knew Norv [Turner, Thrash's coach during his first three-plus seasons]. And I visited Denver because it was home until my sophomore year of high school. I didn't rule Washington out, but it was time for me to move on. My thing is I'm a tough receiver. I go hard on every play and try to outwork everyone. I'm not approaching this season any differently because I'm a starter."

Eagles halfback/returner Brian Mitchell said Thrash hasn't changed, although as a starter he won't be asked to play special teams as he did in Washington.

"James is one of the hardest-working guys in the NFL," said Mitchell, a Redskins teammate from 1997 to '1999. "When you work that hard, only good things are going to happen. He's gone from [being inactive almost every week] to a legitimate starter. Last year, James returned kicks and punts, covered kicks and punts and still caught 50 passes. He stepped up and made a big impact when Mike went down. I have nothing but confidence in James."

Three days after Thrash signed with the Eagles, Kalu, 26, also returned to Philadelphia. Kalu's five-year, $10 million contract included a $2.2 million signing bonus. But unlike Thrash, Kalu figured to be a backup even before he suffered a high ankle sprain in last Thursday's preseason game against Tennessee, which likely will sideline him for the Sept. 9 season opener against St. Louis.

At 6-3, 267 pounds, Kalu is undersized the reason he started just one game in Washington and only played enough to record 7? career sacks despite his quick first step. Philadelphia already has 6-2, 280-pound Pro Bowl defensive end Hugh Douglas but Reid doesn't think the Eagles overpaid for Kalu.

"N.D. gives us another pass rusher," said Reid, whose team had 35 sacks last season other than Douglas' 15. "He's a very high-tempo player. He could play every down if necessary because he has good hips and good core strength, so he can take on bigger guys."

Douglas, whom the New York Jets virtually handed to the Eagles in 1998 for second- and fifth-round draft picks, said Kalu could become a full-time player like him.

"N.D. is fast and strong and quick," Douglas said. "I don't understand why the Redskins let him go, even if they have Marco [Coleman] and Bruce [Smith]. This is a game of leverage. If you can stay low and get up under the bigger guy's pads, you've got a chance."

That's something Kalu knew he wouldn't get in Washington.

"I met with coach [Marty] Schottenheimer and he had me believing that I would be back in Washington, but when it came down to it, they really didn't get involved," said Kalu, who also visited Atlanta, Detroit and the New York Giants. "I was disappointed, but I was elated to come here. This team is young and is going to be good for years. I want to fight for a starting job, but it's going to be hard if I'm out out for two or three weeks. Right now, I just want to get into that rotation and get back to coming around the corner."

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