- The Washington Times - Monday, September 17, 2007

The days of game-planning specifically for Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb are over.

Concern No. 1 for Eagles opponents, including the Washington Redskins tonight, is running back Brian Westbrook.

Westbrook is one of the most versatile running backs in the NFL, capable of ruining a defense’s day both as a runner and receiver.

“He’s a big part of the offense, realizes it and knows we’re going to try and get him the football in a lot of different ways,” Eagles coach Andy Reid said.

The Redskins’ retooled defense passed its first test against Miami last week, holding Ronnie Brown to 32 yards on 11 carries.

But Westbrook, who played at DeMatha High School, presents a stiffer challenge. In two wins over the Redskins last year, Westbrook rushed for 201 yards.

“Our whole front eight was strong through training camp and the first ballgame,” Redskins assistant head coach-defense Gregg Williams said. “I’m really pleased with where [the rush defense] is at so far. Our biggest test is this week.”

Since last year, when McNabb suffered a season-ending knee injury, the Eagles’ offense has centered more around Westbrook. Philadelphia’s coaches line him up all over the field, trying to create mismatches against safeties and linebackers.

Williams compares Westbrook to future Hall of Famer Marshall Faulk, the role model for running backs who also can help the passing game.

Faulk’s and Westbrook’s career years are slightly comparable: Winning the Super Bowl with St. Louis in the 1999 season, Faulk had 340 touches for 2,429 yards and 12 touchdowns. Last year in leading Philadelphia to the second round of the playoffs, Westbrook had 317 touches for 1,916 yards and 11 touchdowns.

Since 2003, Westbrook leads all NFL running backs in yards per touch (6.0) and in three receiving categories: yards (2,396), touchdowns (18) and yards after the catch (1,767).

In the Eagles’ loss at Green Bay last week, Westbrook rushed 20 times for 85 yards and caught six passes for 46 yards. But the Packers, thanks in most part to linebacker Nick Barnett’s 13 tackles, limited Westbrook’s long gain to 16 yards.

Tonight Redskins middle linebacker London Fletcher will be charged with keeping tabs on Westbrook, especially if the Eagles use him as a receiver like Miami used its backs last week, stationing them five yards from the line and between the hash-marks. The Dolphins’ running backs caught 12 passes for 88 yards.

“He’s tough, especially with his ability to make plays as a receiver,” Fletcher said. “He runs excellent routes, and they put him in different places to get the ball. He’ll line up at receiver, he’ll motion out of the backfield, and he’ll line up in the slot.”

Shaking his head and laughing, Fletcher added: “He’ll be a little bit of everywhere.”

When Westbrook does line up in the slot, he could be covered by Shawn Springs or Rocky McIntosh or Pierson Prioleau … every Redskins defensive player has No. 36 on his mind.

Opponents of Villanova from 1997 to 2001 can relate. In 1998, Westbrook totaled 3,026 yards, becoming the first player in NCAA history to exceed 1,000 yards rushing and receiving. He left the Wildcats as the college record-holder with 9,512 career all-purpose yards and was named Division I-AA’s top player in 2001.

Drafted in the third round by the Eagles, he immediately caught Reid’s eye.

“I’ve never seen anybody pick up the offense at that position as fast as he did, and that allowed us to do more things with him,” Reid said. “Not only is he a good player, he has a nice feel for what we’re doing.”

Westbrook became the Eagles’ No. 1 back in 2004. He has yet to last a full season, missing time with knee, foot, rib, chest, triceps, ankle and wrist injuries.

At 5-foot-10 and 203 pounds, Westbrook runs a lot bigger, possibly a reason for his nicks.

“He’s a small guy, but he runs with a lot of pop behind him,” Redskins linebacker Marcus Washington said.

Westbrook has definitely made an impact against the Redskins since 2004. In five games (four wins), he has 109 touches for 582 yards.

Looking at the addition of Fletcher and safety LaRon Landry and the emergence of McIntosh, Westbrook senses the sledding will be tougher tonight.

“They’re an improved defense,” Westbrook said. “They have guys that can get it done, good players at pretty much every position. We’ll have our hands full and have to be productive on the early downs to get into third-and-manageable situations.”

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