Injuries might limit tailback's role

Updated: November 5, 2004, 3:44 PM ET
By Len Pasquarelli | ESPN.com

Having increased his practice workload every day this week and reporting that he feels he can tolerate the pain of multiple chest-area injuries, Philadelphia Eagles starting tailback Brian Westbrook was deemed "good" to go Friday by coach Andy Reid.

Brian Westbrook
Running Back
Philadelphia Eagles
Profile
2004 SEASON STATISTICS
Rush Yds TD Rec Yds TD
90 458 1 31 249 0

It is not yet certain whether Westbrook, who missed last week's game with a cracked rib and related injuries, will return to the starting lineup. But the team's leading rusher definitely will play in the showdown game against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field, and the number of touches Westbrook gets likely will depend on how he holds up.

"I've been feeling pretty good lately," Westbrook said after the Friday practice, in which he extended himself to working in every segment. "Things are going pretty well with the injuries. So, hopefully, I'll be out there. It's all healing. I don't know what will hurt."

Westbrook returned to the Eagles' walk-through Wednesday and participated in some of the afternoon's full-scale practice. He did more Thursday, then took part in all of Friday's preparations.

If he does not start, and instead comes off the bench, Westbrook will be replaced in the lineup by Dorsey Levens. Sources close to Westbrook, though, said he prefers to start.

The third-year veteran -- who assumed the starting role this season after Duce Staley exited this spring in free agency and Correll Buckhalter suffered a season-ending knee injury in camp -- suffered a non-displaced fracture of his first rib in an Oct. 24 victory at Cleveland. He also has a muscle strain and chest contusion.

Reid said Friday that the chest contusion, not the slight crack in Westbrook's rib, had been the bigger problem. Westbrook, 25, likely will wear extra protective padding for the game against the physical Steelers defense.

"He's running around, and there's no wincing," Reid said. Earlier in the week, Westbrook told Reid that he was ready to go and that the decision was up to the coach.

Eagles head trainer Rick Burkholder said just after the injury that the period for full healing of the rib might be four to six weeks but that Westbrook's return would depend in large part on how he tolerated the pain.

As evidenced last season, when he returned to the field relatively quickly from a severe high ankle sprain, Westbrook is a fast healer.

In six games as a starter, Westbrook has carried 90 times for 458 yards and a touchdown, has a pair of 100-yard outings, and posted 31 catches for 249 yards. While some outsiders were skeptical of his ability to handle a heavy workload at 5 feet 10, 205 pounds, Westbrook has not demonstrated any problems in that area.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. To check out Len's chat archive, click here Insider.

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