The Philadelphia Eagles' offensive linemen were studying game film
in early November when line coach Juan Castillo harmlessly noted
that second-year running back Brian Westbrook resembled a rabbit
as he scampered all over the field. But in a cramped meeting room
filled with wise guys, the comment served as inspiration and
spawned a nickname. The linemen took to calling Westbrook
B-Rabbit, and he chuckles every time he hears it.
Philly's opponents, on the other hand, aren't laughing, because
the 5'8", 200-pound Westbrook is becoming one of the most
dangerous all-purpose threats in the NFL. Just ask the Dallas
Cowboys. Though Westbrook had a total of only 71 rushing and
receiving yards on Sunday, he delivered one of the key first-half
plays in the Eagles' 36-10 victory over the Cowboys. The game was
tied at three with less than four minutes remaining in the second
quarter when Westbrook caught a swing pass, broke three arm
tackles and raced 16 yards into the end zone.
"We knew Westbrook was a good back, but we still couldn't stop
him when we had to," Dallas linebacker Dexter Coakley said after
the Eagles (10-3) had clinched a playoff spot for a fourth
consecutive season, tying a club record. The Cowboys aren't alone
in their futility; Westbrook leads the Eagles in touchdowns (10)
and rushing yards (511), and his 11.9-yard punt-return average
ranks third in the NFC. More important, he's been reliable in the
clutch, helping to take some of the playmaking pressure off
quarterback Donovan McNabb. Westbrook's 62-yard scoring run
sealed a 23-12 victory over the Buffalo Bills on Sept. 28, and
his closing-minutes, 84-yard punt return for a touchdown gave
Philadelphia a 14-10 win over the New York Giants on Oct. 19.
"Donovan can't do everything by himself," says Westbrook, a
third-round draft pick out of Villanova. "If he doesn't feel like
he has to save the day every game, his job gets a lot easier."
Westbrook takes great pride in proving wrong the many pro scouts
who were skeptical of his NFL potential because of his size and
Division I-AA college background (though he did set a I-AA record
with 9,885 career all-purpose yards). After playing sparingly as
a rookie in 2002, he impressed Eagles coaches at training camp
last summer with his quickness, sure hands and grasp of the
offense. It helped that Duce Staley, Philadelphia's leading
rusher among running backs for the past five seasons, was holding
out, increasing Westbrook's practice repetitions. With Staley
back in the fold and third-year back Correll Buckhalter in the
mix, coach Andy Reid uses a three-back rotation.
"The big thing Brian has brought to the offense is the speed to
get to the corner," says right tackle Jon Runyan. "We didn't have
that before, and we might have been hesitant to even call
[outside running] plays because we needed the perfect situation
for one to work. Now we don't have to get the perfect block to
break a big run."
All three backs are close friends who often hang out together
after practice. They complement one another and fill specific
roles in the offense: Staley is the tough inside runner,
Buckhalter is the slasher, and Westbrook is B-Rabbit. "Whenever
we need a big play," says left tackle Tra Thomas, "he's the guy
we go to." --Jeffri Chadiha
TWO COLOR PHOTOS: AL TIELEMANSRUNAWAY Westbrook (above) has caught three of McNabb's 12 scoringpasses this season.