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Brian Westbrook: Broken Down 30-year-old running back?


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The Broncos flew running back Brian Westbrook in for a visit yesterday. They checked him out today and we will see if they work out a deal. Westbrook was released by the Eagles on February 23, 2010. He only played in seven games last year, as he dealt with 2 serious concussion issues. It was his least productive season since his rookie year (2002). But that wasn't the reason Westbrook was cut by the Eagles. He was due to make $7.25 million if the Eagles brought him back next season. That high price tag coupled with his decreased production made the move an obvious one.

On Tuesday, Westbrook was in Washington visiting the Redskins seeking employment. He left without signing a contract. His brother Byron, who is a CB for the 'Skins, told The Washington Post that Brian had been medically cleared to play in 2010 by doctors with the St. Louis Rams, whom Westbrook visited last week.

"He did get cleared medically when he [recently] visited the Rams," Byron Westbrook said. "They did a physical, a checkup on him, and the Rams did deem that he was good to play. Remember, at the end of the season, after the second one [concussion], he did get a change of helmets.

"It was more of a concussion helmet, which helped him take hits in the head. The question is going to be in the back of his mind, but you're going to take those hits if you're going to play this game."

The Rams are also believed to be highly interested in giving Westbrook a chance to resume his career. When in top form, Westbrook is second to none as a pass-catching back, and he was much more than simply a 3rd-down security blanket for Donovan McNabb in Philadelphia. He was an every-down threat that defensive coordinators had to prepare for each week.

Brian Westbrook is one of the NFL's most versatile players. He is particularly better when he gets the ball in space than when used as a straight-ahead runner. He has shown tremendous pass catching ability in his career and could be a valuable asset to a team like the Redskins or Broncos. Both teams use the running back-by-committee approach.

If the Broncos do sign him, he will reunite with former Eagles and close friends Correll Buckhalter and Brian Dawkins.

With Knowshon Moreno, Buckhalter and J.J. Arrington already in the rotation, Westbrook would bring more experienced depth to the Broncos offensive backfield. Knowshon is the obvious starter and will see the most action. Buckhalter had a career year last season splitting carries with Moreno, and still has the speed to be effective. Coach Josh McDaniels has said he expects Arrington to be among the team's kickoff returners. Both Arrington and Westbrook are great in the open field and are adept at catching passes out of the backfield. They could split time as a 3rd down option for the Broncos.

Westbrook is a great running back even if he is injury-prone. The RB-By-Committee that the Broncos use could add a few more years to his career. It worked last year with Correll Buckhalter, and Josh McDaniels is counting on it with J.J. Arrington.

Recent seasons in particular seem to illustrate offensive coordinators approval of a running back by committee approach as opposed to a one-man backfield, which used to be the norm. For example, the top two rushers of all time, Emmitt Smith and Walter Payton, both posted 1,000-yard season well into their 30's.

What all of these statistics mostly point to is that a running back's success generally comes down to finding the right situation, and should be looked at on a case-by-case basis. While a running back's production often declines with age, there really isn't a steadfast rule that illustrates it.

Westbrook has never played a full season, having missed 16 games for a variety of injuries to his knees, ankles, ribs and triceps. But he has always come back from those injuries throughout his career.

He battled through several injuries at Villanova (he missed an entire college season with a knee injury), yet still attained the all-time NCAA record with 9,512 all-purpose yards.

Drafted in 2002, Brian saw very limited action, but responded well in his second year, gaining 613 yards rushing on a 5.2 average with 7 TD's. He also had 37 catches for 332 yards and 4 TD's. his numbers grew along with his playing time in 2004.

In 2005, Westbrook's season was cut short by injury, but in the next three years he became one of the best running backs in the NFL. In 2006, he rushed for 1,217 yards and caught 77 passes for 699 yards. In 2007, he topped 2,000 yards from scrimmage (1,333 rushing and 771 receiving).

On December 6, 2005, Westbrook sustained a mid-foot injury during a 42–0 Monday night loss to the Seattle Seahawks that cost him the rest of the 2005 season.

He resumed his productivity in 2006, despite early concerns over a swollen knee. Westbrook set a career-high in rushing yards with 1,217, topping 1,000 yards for the first time in his career. He also lead the team with 77 receptions for 699 receiving yards. His 11 total touchdowns (7 rushing and 4 receiving) were also tops on the Eagles.

In 2008, he started to show signs of slipping but again showed his resiliency. Brian gained 936 yards on the ground, but his 4.0 yard per carry average was his lowest since 2005.

In September against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Westbrook left the game at the beginning of the 2nd quarter with an apparent foot injury and did not return. An MRI revealed an ankle strain.

The next week (Week 5) he made the Injury Report. Unfortunately, the Eagles didn't get the hint, and he broke a couple ribs.

Two weeks later, coming off the rib and ankle injury, he didn't show any rust against the Falcons. Brian had a career-high 167 yards and two touchdowns off 22 carries and added 42 yards off six receptions. Then in week 13, he scored two receiving and two rushing touchdowns with 100+ yards, the first time since 1975.

Westbrook entered the 2009 season finally recovered from the injuries he sustained in 2008, but his season was shortened again due to additional injuries.

Westbrook’s first injury in 2009 came from a concussion against the Washington Redskins in Week 7. While being tackled, Westbrook hit his helmet on London Fletcher’s knee and lost consciousness as a result.
After not moving for a bit, he eventually was helped up and walked off the field under his own power. On the sideline, he was diagnosed with the first concussion of his career.

He was medically cleared to play the following week, but coach Andy Reid held him out anyway.

Westbrook might have been okay, but then it happened again. His second concussion came three weeks later in Week 10 against the Chargers. He was injured in the 3rd quarter on a screen play in which he was caught between a block by Eagles receiver Jason Avant and Chargers safety Eric Weddle. This forced him to miss the majority of the remainder of the season, playing sparingly in the consecutive losses to Dallas in the season finale and wild-card round.

Eagle head coach Andy Reid wasn't sure if the second concussion was more serious. Westbrook didn't lose consciousness on this one.

"I've heard a couple different things on that," he said. "Obviously it's not a good thing for a second one to happen. I don't know the medical terms of it. I've heard them determine it by if it was a mild hit as compared to a severe hit. It wasn't a mild hit I would say."

After suffering his second concussion of the season, Brian Westbrook’s football future was in doubt. Once again, he showed his ability to bounce back from injury to play in Week 16 against the Broncos. Still, the 30-year-old running back had only 225 rushing yards on the season and only one rushing touchdown.

Brian Westbrook's Oct. 26 concussion was so troubling for the Philadelphia Eagles running back, he openly discussed the touchy subject of NFL head trauma and how concerned he was for his long-term health because of it. Westbrook told Philadelphia-area media that his concussion "scared" him and that he was concerned about the long-term effects of head trauma.

"I didn't have a great understanding of concussions before. When you think about it, they don't have a lot of information about concussions when you get to be 50, 60 and 70 years old, how it impacts your life. Unfortunately in this profession, a lot of guys have concussions. Some guys don't even know they have concussions until it's too late."

During the off-season, Westbrook had two surgeries. His first surgery was on his knee. He then had ankle surgery in June to clean out some bone chips. He also celebrated his 30th birthday in September. Thirty has often been cited as the age when lead running backs begin their decline. Westbrook's fall was rapid, although he has said that he has something left. In a statement after he was released, Brian sounded like he wasn't ready to hang up his cleats:

"I will make a return to the NFL...My plan is to continue to play football...I've already started training."

Another reason to bring him over to the Broncos is his character.

Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie:

"Brian Westbrook is one of the most electrifying players in the history of this franchise and is certainly also one of the most popular. He was personally one of the my favorite players to watch each and every Sunday, and his play-making abilities, leadership and values will be missed."

If Westbrook fails to sign with another team, Reid would welcome him back to the organization in an unspecified role.

"I think we all know that Brian is one of the all-time great Philadelphia Eagles. For what we've done here over the years, Brian has been just a huge part of building this program to the level that we're at now. My heart will always be a Brian Westbrook fan as we go forward here."

"He, to me, is a Philadelphia Eagle and he's the kind of people that you want in your organization."

Westbrook confirmed that the Eagles had not asked him about taking a pay cut. He said he would have come back next season at a lower price if there had been an offer. What more could you ask for. Brian Westbrook is adored by the City of Brotherly Love like his good friend Brian Dawkins.

Here's what some others had to say about Brian Westbrook:

"He's made for big plays. He can run, catch and I'm sure he could throw if they let him. They can deploy him anywhere on the field and I think it takes a rare player to be comfortable with that."

---Bill Parcells

"He's the ultimate weapon. And talking to guys from other teams about his speed, playmaking ability, agility and the mismatches he creates just solidifies what I'm talking about."

---QB Donovan McNabb

So, why would the Broncos want him?

He fits the RB-by-committee scheme. He shows resilience. He has versatility. He has good character, He adds a veteran presence and leadership. he is healthy once again, AND, he's got something left in the tank.

Wow. That sounds exactly like the kind of player Josh McDaniels wants on the Broncos.

And speaking of McDaniels, the Broncos lead horse said the team is always evaluating the free agent market, and that included Brian Westbrook.

"We had a great meeting with him. He’s not in a hurry, but certainly he’s a talented player and we wanted to do our research and make sure we got him in here and had an opportunity to speak with him. He’s a great person, a great football player and he’s healthy now. That’s a really important part for him and for everybody else concerned. We’ll see where it goes, but it would be another addition to our football team that we think would help us."

The head coach made sure to clarify that "it was a visit, it was nothing more than that at this point," but he didn’t hesitate to heap praise on the veteran back.

"He’s a really good football player. He’s got a lot of skills. I think he fits in with the mold of our backs — they’re not one-dimensional, and he certainly isn’t either. If we have an opportunity to add him, we just think we would make our football team better. Again, we’ve been after competition at every spot. We have backs that we feel very good about on our roster right now, but if you could add another good player at any position, we’re not opposed to doing it."

There is a big difference in being a Down Hill runner and Run Down runner.

We'll see if the Broncos are willing to take a chance on an "over-the-hill" running back.