BETHLEHEM, Pa. (AP) -Jevon Kearse endured quite an emotional ride after injuring his knee last September.
Kearse was off to the best start of his career, recording 3 1/2 sacks in the first two games. But he sprained multiple ligaments in his left knee during Philadelphia's overtime loss to the New York Giants in Week 2.
``I was thinking I would come back soon,'' said Kearse, who got hurt in the extra period after the Eagles wasted a 17-point lead in the fourth quarter. ``Then, I saw the doctor and found out I couldn't. I could barely watch the games.''
His injury initially was thought to be career-threatening, but the damage turned out less severe. He still would miss a minimum of 12 weeks so Kearse was placed on injured reserve, ending his once-promising season.
``I had some high hopes,'' he said. ``I was thinking of breaking the (sack) record.''
Losing Kearse was a devastating blow to the defense. Without its top pass rusher, the line had trouble pressuring quarterbacks and couldn't stop the run. As a result, the Eagles struggled. A 4-1 start turned into a 4-4 record.
``I got depressed,'' Kearse said. ``I felt like I let my teammates down. I felt I can make a difference.''
Once the Eagles started winning again, Kearse had a different feeling. He began wondering how far the team could go if he was healthy.
``It was a 'What if?' I was thinking what if I'm out there, there's no telling what we can do,'' he said.
Kearse eventually overcame the disappointment and focused on his rehab. He returned to the field in minicamp and is going all-out now that pads are on.
From the way he's chasing quarterbacks in practice, Kearse doesn't appear to have lost a step. Then again, it's only training camp.
``I feel a little faster,'' Kearse said. ``I did a lot of agility work during rehab. I feel like I did in my second or third year in the league. I had a season off. It gave my body a chance to heal up. It's hard to heal during a normal offseason, but I had extra time off.''
Kearse reported at 249 pounds, closer to his normal playing weight of 255. He was 241 pounds two months ago, but reduced his cardiovascular work and bulked up a bit. His weight became a topic of discussion for those who think he's undersized, but Kearse is certain he can overpower or run past bigger offensive linemen.
``As long as I play with my speed and quickness, I'll be fine,'' he said.
Kearse, who turns 31 next month, is entering his fourth season with the Eagles since signing a $66 million, eight-year contract in March 2004. He has 66 career sacks in eight seasons, including 18 1/2 for Philadelphia.
A first-round pick by Tennessee in 1999, Kearse quickly established himself as one of the NFL's premier sack artists and earned the nickname: ``The Freak.'' He had 36 sacks and went to the Pro Bowl in his first three seasons, twice earning All-Pro honors.
Kearse's impact isn't always measured by his sack totals. He draws so much attention from offensive linemen that it allows his teammates to get free and make plays.
``When we have Jevon on the field, it adds a dimension that teams have to pay attention to,'' safety Brian Dawkins said. ``There are certain blocking schemes you can't use against the Eagles when Jevon is in the game. You have to have someone to make sure they know where he is at all times. ... If he can stay healthy for us throughout the year, there's no telling what type of damage he'll do against the other team.''
Notes: Dawkins (Achilles' tendinitis), CB Lito Sheppard (back spasms), DT Montae Reagor (knee) and WR Bill Sampy (quad) missed practice Thursday. ... QB Donovan McNabb sported a new look - a shaved head. He also practiced in the afternoon without a knee brace.
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