Lito to Lurie: Seriously, Dude ...

Eagles cornerback Lito Sheppard responded today to Jeffrey Lurie's comments that he could improve his YPA this season. (David Maialetti /Daily News)

     Yards-per-attempt, as it relates to passes thrown against individual cornerbacks, is a pretty esoteric NFL stat; it isn't included in the regular statistical package the league prepares for reporters.

     Apparently, along with being dogged by injuries all last season and not having a good year in several more easily quantifiable ways, Lito Sheppard also had a really poor "YPA," because Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie brought it up Monday in his annual "state of the team" address, as Lurie was asked to explain why the  Birds are working toward a new contract with Brian Westbrook but don't seem disposed to do the same for Lito.

    Lurie said he couldn't discuss the situation, then did.

      "I will say that I’m very hopeful that Lito will have a terrific season, show us, and the league, that he’s back to the old Lito, feels healthy, (that) he’s got great playmaking ability and certainly a lower YPA and just really perform the way that we know Lito can," Lurie said. "I think that’s what he’s going to do.”

     Sheppard wasn't pleased. Like most reporters, he was not familiar with the stat, and he said he had no idea how he ranked. Attempts to track down the number Lurie alluded to hadn't succeeded when this was posted. ESPN stats maven K.C. Joyner, one of the stat's chief proponents, ranked the Eagles' duo of Sheppard and Sheldon Brown 17th in YPA last season, at 7.8 yards per attempt.

    "I guess he's got to find something bad against me, huh?" Sheppard said after returning to training camp workouts Wednesday from a groin injury. "I'm not hiding. I know what I can do; everybody knows what I can do. If you've got to dig that deep to bring up something to say I can't do good? Hey, that shows how good a player I am. I tip my hat to him for expressing that."

      Sheppard said he keeps track of the big plays he gives up and the ones he makes.

     "If you want to get down to how many inches I give up a play, so be it," he said. "Guess what? I can play this game and I can play it well."

    He said he couldn't recall a coach ever mentioning yards per attempt.

    "I don't think so. If they have, I'm sorry for not paying any attention," he said. "I didn't know that was that important in this game."

   Sheppard will start at his old left corner spot when the Birds begin their preseason Friday night in Pittsburgh, defensive coordinator Jim Johnson said. Asante Samuel, signed at $57 million to start at left corner, is still sitting out with a hamstring injury.

Afternoon addendum: The respond-to-comment function isn't working for me today, so I'll do it this way: I never said the YPA stat didn't exist or that I didn't understand it. I said I can't locate online a listing that ranks Lito Sheppard last season. The number that one gentleman provides in the comments here doesn't make sense, it's far too low, unless I'm missing something.

   Also: I'd love to talk to the people who keep this stat -- K.C. Joyner of or The Football Outsiders -- about how they factor variables. What if a corner constantly matches up with the other team's top deep threat? He might have a high number but be doing a good job. What if a team plays a lot of Cover 2, and the corner is always handing off to a safety deep? How do you assess responsibility in zone schemes, in  general? Don't corners generally have good stats when their d-lines are getting pressure, and poor stats when they don't? Etc.

   Evening update: K.C. Joyner, who seems like a very nice man, says Lito's YPA last season was 8.1, which tied him for 62nd in the NFL. Joyner is cognizant of some of the variables involved, but he still feels the stat is an accurate barometer of cornerback performance. I'm less certain, but I'll be watching this season to see how it tracks.

   Meanwhile, Westbrook said talks to rework his contract continue and he is "optimistic about the way things have been going." When he reported for camp, Westbrook left open the possibility of not playing in the preseason opener if his deal wasn't done, but Westbrook said Wednesday he will play.

    Quarterback Donovan McNabb said he has been in contact with guard Shawn Andrews through text messaging, and McNabb thinks teammates will be extremely supportive when Andrews returns to the team. Andrews has not reported to camp. He told the Daily News this week that he is suffering from depression, but is feeling better and hopes to join teammates after seeing his psychiatrist back home in Arkansas on Thursday.

     Crunch Time

*Donovan McNabb said fade patterns haven't traditionally been a big part of the Eagles' version of the West Coast offense, because it's a timing offense, but McNabb acknowledged what reporters have noted -- the Birds are throwing more fades in this camp, particularly to 6-4 wideout Hank Baskett. McNabb, who is close to Baskett, said the fade is "something we've worked on this offseason together."

*Wideout Reggie Brown left the morning workout with an Achilles' problem.

*Fans in the stands looking out over a field where only the kicking specialists were working made the best of their situation, chanting "Roc-ca, Roc-ca, Roc-ca!" for punter Sav Rocca., and "A-kers, A-kers, A-kers!" for kicker David Akers. But nobody had a shout-out for backup kicker and punter Richmond McGee.

*Sheldon Brown put on the afterburners and flicked away a long pass McNabb targeted for Greg Lewis.

*Baskett caught in stride a laser-like McNabb slant, working against Lito Sheppard.

*Brent Celek suffered a couple of misses that weren't quite drops but could have been catches. We're still awaiting word from the official scorer.

*With the first-team offense working a rare sequence against the first-team defense, McNabb beat all-out blitzes to flick completions to Brian Westbrook and L.J. Smith.