Eagles' RB Brian Westbrook to Undergo Surgery on Right Ankle

LVCorrespondent IJune 4, 2009

PHILADELPHIA - MAY 1: Running back Brian Westbrook #36 of the Philadelphia Eagles practices during mini camp at the NovaCare Complex on May 1, 2009 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Hunter Martin/Getty Images)

That huge collective groan you recently heard from Eagles Nation was courtesy of the news that franchise running back Brian Westbrook would indeed need to have ankle surgery that could jeopardize him from being ready for training camp and the start of the Eagles regular season opener. 

Westbrook had battled through a high ankle sprain throughout the 2008 season and many times, including the playoffs, needed the assistance of shots just to get on the field. 

“We talked about it when he was at the doctor’s office and went through the options and decided it was better to clean it up," Westbrook’s agent, Todd France, said of the surgery. “The ankle has been bothering him since last year.” 

It has been reported that Dr. Mark Meyerson will be removing bone spurs from Westbrook’s right ankle in a clean-out procedure. The recovery time on ankles is very iffy (usually six-to-eight weeks), especially for NFL skill position players. 

Of course we all remember former Meyerson patient former Eagles receiver Terrell Owens coming back only a couple weeks after surgery to star in the Super Bowl, but every case is different.

So how did the Birds get to this point and where do they turn from here? I am not sure if Westbrook was keeping his injury a secret during early mini-camps, but what I want to know is when did Andy Reid and the Eagles training staff find out? 

As usual, Reid wasn’t telling the media much, as he played it close to vest until he finally disclosed the injury in a recent press conference.

“Westbrook was seeing a doctor about an ankle problem,” Reid quickly said.

It doesn’t really matter when the Eagles knew about the injury, because quickly, a doctor’s visit has turned into surgery on June 4. Now the Eagles' stellar offseason, including their anticipated magic carpet ride to the top of the NFC East, may have been stalled. 

Westbrook’s ankle woes had been lingering since a Week Three win over the Steelers. But everyone, including yours truly, thought Westbrook would be totally healed after he had his knee scoped in January, which seemed like a run-of-the-mill after season procedure before this ankle thing popped up. 

Westbrook was being counted on by the Eagles to have a bounce back year after a season where he kept fighting leg injuries producing okay numbers of 936 rushing yards, 4.0 yards per carry and nine TDs in 14 games. 

B-West even had flashes here and there where he looked like his old self—remember the spectacular Wild Card win-sealing 71-yard catch-and-run touchdown in the fourth quarter versus the Vikings?

But those moments were not as plentiful as his Pro Bowl years in ’06 and ’07.  

To the Eagles' credit, in the 2009 NFL Draft, they started planning for the future by grabbing running back LeSean McCoy (5' 11", 210 lbs., 4.49 40-yard dash) in the second round from Pitt.  Westbrook was clearly not himself in the NFC Championship game versus the Cardinals, finishing with pedestrian numbers (two receptions for 26 yards, 12 rushes for 45 yards and one fumble). 

So McCoy was supposed to be the smaller half of the Eagles new two-headed monster in the backfield, getting 10 to 15 touches a game to keep Westbrook fresh.  With the addition of McCoy, huge offensive tackle Jason Peters, OT/OG Stacy Andrews and “true” fullback Leonard Weaver, the Eagles seemed to be finally poised to lean more on running the ball—in ’08 the Eagles only had 427 carries for 1,697 yards as team respectively ranking them 17th and 22nd in each category.  

But now with Westbrook’s ankle injury all bets are off and the Eagles must pick up the pieces starting with getting McCoy ready. The versatile underclassman running back does have some skill as an elusive runner with great lateral moves—college career rushing totals 2,816 yards and 35 touchdowns. 

Plus, he is a very good receiver known for running great routes and having soft hands—65 catches for 549 yards. But in the NFL, the name of the game is picking up a blitz and blocking, which has derailed many young runners (see former Eagles draft pick Ryan Moats). 

The Eagles could have had an option for the Westbrook situation with veteran Correll Buckhalter, but the Eagles former between the tackles runner left town for Denver while complaining he never “really” getting a real chance. 

Of course, there is always the prospect of the Eagles bringing in a veteran back (Ahmad Green, Warrick Dunn, Deuce McAllister, Edgerrin James and others) like they did with Dorsey Levens in 2004, but you know Reid will look internally first. 

So the Eagles will look for McCoy, disappointing holdover Lorenzo Booker, and big combo back Kyle Eckel to pick up the slack for Westbrook until he is totally healthy.

Speaking of health, I did some research on players that had surgeries or lingering injuries going into training camp and if you are the Eagles, you must be holding your breath.

Before the 2000 NFL Season, Jacksonville Jaguars Pro Bowl safety Carnell Lake was not the same in training camp after having foot and ankle surgeries in March. After returning to camp on August 1, the 12-year veteran was not right and X-rays showed his foot injury never healed causing him to undergo season-ending surgery.
The Jaguars finished 7-9 that season after Lake’s bone graft surgery and the former hard hitting safety only played one more year in 2001 for the Ravens. Before the 2006 NFL Season, Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger had an emergency appendectomy in September, which was Big Ben’s second surgery in 2½ months. 
Earlier in June, Roethlisberger had multiple surgeries to his head after a motorcycle accident. The 2005 Super Bowl Champion Steelers never seemed on the right page after Big Ben missed the first two games of the regular season and wound-up finishing 8-8 while missing the playoffs I know Eagles fans will vividly remember this one. Before the 2007 NFL Season, Eagles tight end LJ Smith underwent sports hernia surgery. 
The procedure took place on May 30th and Smith continually was nagged by different injuries throughout a disappointing season (22 receptions, 236 yards, and 1 TD in 9 starts). 
The Eagles struggled all season in the red zone finishing 8-8 only after winning their last three games and missed the playoffs. Before the 2008 NFL Season, Bengal receiver Chad “Ochocinco” Johnson waited until mid-June to have ankle surgery. 
Johnson had bone chips removed from the ankle and returned after missing some time in training camp. However all during the 2008 season, Johnson lacked the explosiveness that he once possessed finishing with only 53 receptions for 540 yards and four TDs in only 10 games started. 
The Bengals ended their season 4-11-1, leaving an unsettled atmosphere around their team and coach.

We will have to wait and see if Westbrook can buck the odds for a 30-year old running back with some mileage on his tires coming back strong. 

However, all of this speculation has to make you wonder how Eagles capologist Joe Banner feels now about giving Westbrook an extension (three years, $21 million with $13 million guaranteed in ’08 and ’09) during training camp in 2008. 

At the time the Eagles didn’t have much choice as Westbrook was coming off a 368-touch career year where he set an Eagles franchise record for combined rushing and receiving yards (2,104 yards including over 1,200 yards rushing and 90 catches). 

Lloyd Vance is a senior NFL writer for Taking It to the House and an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA).


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