Injuries deplete Eagles' strong secondary

Updated: October 3, 2003, 5:51 PM ET

PHILADELPHIA -- The Philadelphia Eagles' once star-studded secondary has a new moniker.

"I joke that it's 'Michael Lewis and the No-Names' out there," Eagles coach Andy Reid said Friday.

Because of injuries to All-Pro safety Brian Dawkins and Pro Bowl cornerbacks Troy Vincent and Bobby Taylor, Lewis is the most senior member of the secondary.

And he's a second-year pro who has started just seven NFL games at strong safety.

When the Eagles meet the Washington Redskins on Sunday, free safety Clinton Hart and cornerbacks Lito Sheppard and Sheldon Brown probably will join Lewis in the starting lineup.

Hart, in his first season on the roster after spending most of last year on the practice squad, will make his third straight start for Dawkins, out with a foot injury.

Taylor and Vincent are questionable for Sunday. Sheppard, a first-round pick last year, has started the last two games for Taylor (foot injury). Brown, a second-round pick last year, would make his first career start for Vincent (hamstring).

The Redskins have a solid receiving corps, featuring Laveranues Coles and Rod Gardner. Sheppard and Brown played well against Buffalo's Eric Moulds, Josh Reed and Bobby Shaw in last week's 23-13 victory over the Bills.

"I think they'll be up for it," Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Johnson said. "They handled the pressure last week. They knew they were going to play quite a bit. I think the guy who made a great adjustment was Sheldon Brown, because he's the one who had to go on Moulds last week. He adjusted well."

Brown came off the bench after Vincent was sidelined in the first quarter and held Moulds, a three-time Pro Bowler, to no touchdowns despite eight receptions for 114 yards.

"We're confident no matter when we get to play," Brown said. "We don't need to have played last week to gain confidence. We're confident without even having played."

Vincent's injury also forced rookie free agent Roderick Hood into extended action at nickel back. Hood's only previous experience was in the preseason.

"I'm always looking for my opportunities, and when it came it was kind of a shock. But I wanted to stay level-headed and play well," Hood said.

Johnson normally likes to blitz his cornerbacks or safeties, but he's less likely to do so with an inexperienced group in the secondary because it could create a mismatch. Coles has 28 catches for 194 yards and one TD, and Gardner has 19 catches for 194 yards and two TDs.

It will be important for the defensive line to take pressure off the cornerbacks by generating a pass rush on Washington quarterback Patrick Ramsey.

"We probably will cut down some of our package a little bit and let these guys just play, and hopefully they can handle it," Johnson said.

This story is from's automated news wire. Wire index