Tue, Feb 01, 2005 - Page 20 News List

Eagles confuse quarterbacks with defensive linemen

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , JACKSONVILLE, FLORIDA

Having lost the NFC championship game to Philadelphia last Sunday, Atlanta quarterback Michael Vick then lost his memory.

Searching for the names of the Eagles who had sacked him four times and had limited his running to 26 insignificant yards, Vick said, "They had Jevon Kearse on one end and another good defensive lineman on the other end keeping good containment and making sure I didn't get outside the pocket."

Perhaps Vick could be forgiven for not remembering the name of Derrick Burgess, who sacked him twice, collected six tackles and was named the NFL's defensive player of the week.

If Vick had not seen much of Burgess, he was not the only one. The Eagles also found him missing in action because of injury for much of his career since they drafted him in the third round out of the University of Mississippi in 2001.

He has missed 35 of Philadelphia's 48 regular-season games and four playoff games in the past three seasons. But Burgess is healthy again, and so is the rest of Philadelphia's obstinate defensive line, which was depleted by injury a season ago.

Jim Johnson, the Eagles' defensive coordinator, prefers to rotate seven or eight linemen, as if this were basketball instead of football. He is counting on fresh legs and sustained enthusiasm against quarterback Tom Brady and New England's pounding running game next Sunday here in the Super Bowl.

In his first season with the Eagles, Burgess ranked second in the NFC among rookies with six sacks. But he sustained a foot injury in the season opener in 2002 and missed the rest of the season. Then he tore an Achilles' tendon in early September 2003 and missed that season. A collector of vintage jerseys, Burgess had to wonder whether he would ever again get to wear a jersey of his own.

"Each year, I come in and try to put the year before behind me and start fresh and let it lie where it lies," Burgess, who stands 6 feet 2 inches and weighs 266 pounds, said before the Eagles left Sunday for Jacksonville.

Of course, doubt, or concern, crept into his mind. "What can happen to me now?" he said to himself.

But once the Eagles held their first minicamp after last January's searing loss to Carolina in the NFC championship game, Burgess said he put the frustration behind him. There was no need to look over his shoulder, he said, worrying about a recurrent injury.

"Whatever was going to happen was going to happen," Burgess said. "Nothing I could do about it."

Everything seemed fine for most of this season. In the opener against the New York Giants, he collected only two tackles and half a sack, but at least he was on the field in cleats, not on the sideline in a foot cast.

"He was the last guy I saw leaving the locker room," coach Andy Reid said that day. "He was as happy as a kid in a candy store."

On Nov. 7 in Pittsburgh, Burgess made a career-high 13 tackles while the somnolent Eagles lost to the Steelers, 27-3. He began to fulfill the potential the Eagles saw in him, but again injury forced him to the bench.

On Nov. 28 against the Giants, Burgess collided with his teammate Lito Sheppard and sustained a chest contusion. A week later, as the Eagles were dismantling Green Bay, 47-17, Burgess reached to make a tackle and felt a pop in his chest. The diagnosis was a separated sternum, and he remained unavailable for the final four games of the regular season.

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