Running back to make first start since 2001
PHILADELPHIA -- Dorsey Levens was ready to call it a career. He barely played last year with the Giants and there was little demand for a 34-year-old backup.
But when Philadelphia running back Correll Buckhalter went down in the preseason with a season-ending injury, coach Andy Reid reached out to Levens. With leading rusher Brian Westbrook likely out of Sunday's game against Baltimore with a cracked rib, it's Levens' turn to start.
Levens never thought he'd get that chance again.
"I can't say that I did, honestly," Levens said Thursday. "At my age and position, it's just not a likely scenario at this point. But it's here and it's time to go."
Levens has little time to revel in the opportunity, not when he's facing one of the top run defenses in the NFL. The Ravens are seventh in the league in run defense, allowing 100.3 yards per game and only 3.4 yards a carry.
"It's probably not the best timing in the world because it is a good defense, but the opportunity presents itself," Levens said.
It's Levens' first start since Dec. 16, 2001, in his final season with Green Bay. Levens had two 1,000-yard seasons from 1994-2001 and is fourth on the Packers' career rushing list.
He spent the 2002 season with the Eagles and had the worst season of his career last year with the Giants, averaging a career-low 2.9 yards per carry. Levens said he was ready to quit, but he continued to work out just in case an opportunity to play arose.
When Buckhalter was hurt, Levens got a second chance, albeit a brief one, with the Eagles. Levens was among the final cuts when they pared their roster to 53, but was re-signed after the opener.
Now he's hoping to play a big role as the Eagles aim for their first 7-0 start. Levens insisted his inactivity wasn't a problem and that he had plenty left in the tank.
Still, he said endurance could be a factor.
"Even when I was in great shape playing every down, it still takes a toll on you," Levens said. "I took three reps the other day in practice and I was [winded]."
Levens and reserve Reno Mahe did make some clutch plays with Westbrook out in overtime against Cleveland. Levens picked up 40 yards on five carries and Mahe caught two passes for 18 yards. Levens found plenty of open holes, sometimes making it deep into the secondary before he was touched.
"I kind of got into a rhythm. I think I'm a rhythm back," Levens said. "I got the ball a few times in a row and felt pretty good."
Levens has 86 yards rushing on 20 carries and one touchdown this year.
Certainly Levens and Mahe won't be asked to do as much as the versatile Westbrook, who leads the league in receptions by a running back and leads the Eagles with 458 yards rushing.
"You've got a lot of playmakers still intact, but he's obviously capable of hitting a home run with the run or pass," offensive coordinator Brad Childress said of Westbrook.
Levens isn't sure how much he'll be used.
"I think I heard a coach once say the only reason Andy runs the ball is to give the receivers a rest, and that may be true," he said, smiling.
After rushing for 1,034 yards with the Packers in 1999, Levens has only 1,082 since. He played in 11 games last season and sparingly in five this year. Childress said Levens can still be tough once he gets going and still has plenty to offer -- even at an advanced age for backs.
"He's one of those guys that as he revs up, he gets better," Childress said. "He had pretty low miles on him last year with the Giants. I think he's got carries left in him."
Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press
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