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Westbrook ready to play again, expecting full load in Eagles' opener

PHILADELPHIA -- Brian Westbrook is ready to run again.

And when he touches the ball, the aging and injury-riddled former All-Pro believes he can still perform at the same elite level that has made him one of the NFL's most electrifying players.

"I think I can still do a lot of dynamic things with the ball in my hands," Westbrook said Wednesday.

Backing up his words will be as arduous as playing all 16 games for the Philadelphia Eagles this season.

Westbrook didn't have the chance in the preseason to show if he has bounced back from his latest injuries in a career riddled with various aches and breaks. As a precaution, he sat out all four games to rest up for Sunday's season opener at Carolina.

Westbrook might be rusty, but his confidence is still high.

"Once you get a couple of plays in, then you are right back to normal," he said.

Maybe for a running back who hasn't been beaten down by injury. It could be a difficult return for Westbrook.

He had surgery to remove scar tissue and bone fragments from his right ankle in June. He also had his left knee cleaned out shortly after the Eagles lost to the Arizona Cardinals in the NFC Championship Game last January.

Westbrook also turned 30 on Sept. 2.

Thirty seems to be the age where running backs -- even great ones such as Shaun Alexander, Eric Dickerson and Marshall Faulk -- start to see their numbers decline. Injuries and a heavy workload begin taking their toll, and by age 35, most running backs are planning a family vacation to Hawaii, not a trip to the Pro Bowl.

The versatile Westbrook has never played a full season, missing one game last year with an ankle injury and another with broken ribs. His participation in practice usually is limited, and his banged-up knees hindered him so much last year that he hobbled around the locker room.

After rushing for 1,217 yards in 2006 and 1,333 in 2007, Westbrook dropped to 936 yards on 233 carries last season. His 4.0 yards per carry matched the lowest average of his seven-year career. His receptions dipped from 90 in 2007 to 54 in 2009.

Westbrook wants to knock down the perception that a running back automatically starts a downslide at age 30.

"I still think I can do some of the things that I've done in the past, and I really just have to wait until game time to show it," he said.

Westbrook was an All-Pro in 2007 when he led the NFL with a franchise-record 2,104 total yards from scrimmage. He became the first Eagles player to rush for more than 1,000 yards in consecutive seasons since Duce Staley did it in 1998 and 1999, and he led all NFL running backs with a team-record 90 receptions.

The Eagles rewarded Westbrook with a three-year contract worth $21 million, including $13 million guaranteed the first two years.

Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb knows a healthy Westbrook averaging 20 to 25 carries is just one more threatening option to stymie defenses.

"That's kind of always the positive when you have another guy behind you that can make some big plays for you as well," McNabb said. "Brian is a guy that when the ball is in his hands, defenses have to try to stop. We're happy to have him and it's a bonus for us, but you don't want to just sit there and keep having him run 30 times a game and hope for the best."

Westbrook said he's "fresh and ready to go," with no reason to limit his carries in his first game since Philadelphia's loss in the NFC title game. However, Eagles coach Andy Reid hasn't provided Westbrook with any inkling of how he'll be used Sunday.

Westbrook jokingly said that he wanted to prove to Reid that you don't have to "kill yourself" in training camp to be ready to play.

"I've worked very hard to get to this point and I want to prove to myself that, 'You can still play. You can still do it. You can still make people miss. You can still make long runs and you still can have an impact on the game,'" he said. "I've prepared myself to be at that point right now."

The Eagles can only hope that preparation helps Westbrook hold up through a full season.

Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press

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