John Smallwood: Any way you slice it, Andrews happy to be back with Eagles

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Eagles Pro Bowl guard Shawn Andrews finally has returned to Philadelphia after spending the last 5 weeks in California. (Yong Kim / Staff file photo)

THE RECENT economic times have been tough for most of us, but if you are a local operator of a California Pizza Kitchen restaurant, relief may be coming your way.

Eagles Pro Bowl guard Shawn Andrews finally has returned to Philadelphia after spending the last 5 weeks in California, recovering from surgery to repair a herniated disc in his back.

In addition to a rooster-red streak to his "FroHawk,"

Andrews has brought back a newly acquired taste.

"I had lunch or dinner at California Pizza Kitchen pretty much every day," Andrews, who goes 6-5 and close to 340 pounds, said yesterday. "My dish was the Margherita pizza with mushrooms, green peppers and pineapples.

"Then it was a Cobb salad minus the grilled chicken, bacon and avocado, and tortilla soup. They even gave me a special parking space there because I came so much."

Andrews, who describes himself as a "pescatarian," said he stopped eating pork and beef 10 months ago and gave up chicken about 4 months ago.

The menu at California Pizza Kitchen fits his taste and dietary considerations.

Who knows what the big offensive lineman will do the first time he goes into a grocery-store freezer section and finds the frozen take-home variety of the Margherita pizza.

To say it has been a trying year for Andrews is the understatement of the season.

It started with his mysterious absence from training camp that finally ended with him revealing he was suffering from clinical depression.

Then, after working his way back into the starting lineup, Andrews injured his back in the second quarter of the second game at Dallas.

The Eagles knew Andrews would be out 6 weeks to 3 months after back surgery, but they didn't expect Andrews to stay in California so long. But

after having surgery on Oct. 21, Andrews didn't return from the West Coast until last Wednesday. Due to swelling and bleeding complications, Dr. Robert Watkins, who performed the

surgery, recommended that

Andrews delay his return to

Philadelphia.

Andrews' stay in California was starting to lead to jokes about him refusing to sign extradition papers back to Philadelphia.

"Why did I have to stay?" Andrews said, when asked about his extended time on the left coast. "That's what [Watkins] recommended.

"How come? Well, that's just what Dr. Watkins recommended. There were some things he saw, I guess, in the X-rays, MRIs and my telling him the way I felt. I guess he used that as a gauge and decided to keep me.

"Each time I made arrangements to come back, he was like, 'I need you to stay.' "

Despite the lengthy recovery period, the Eagles did not put Andrews on the injured reserve list, which would have ended his 2008 season. But while he is back at the NovaCare Complex, Andrews doesn't look anywhere close to being ready to play in an NFL game.

In fact, he has yet to be cleared to begin practice and has not been able to do any weightlighting or serious exercise since the surgery.

"I was told, no 'BLT's,' - no bending, lifting or twisting," Andrews said. "I followed the protocols to the best of my ability."

His physical activity basically has been limited to walking.

"You can hope all you want, and I do hope," Andrews said when asked if he was going to play again this season. "I don't know what the possibilities are, so I'm back here working with [Eagles trainer Rick Burkholder] and the guys.

"Now it's just a matter of getting back out there to the point where I can push and pull and take some people out."

Considering Andrews' bout with depression, it had to be a concern that he was again away from his teammates and dealing with a serious injury on his own.

Andrews said he relied on a strong support group that he communicated with regularly.

"It sucked, man," Andrews said. "I don't ever want to have that feeling again, just the whole postsurgery thing - just sitting on that little table and feeling bad.

"It was kind of lonely out there and very boring. I got to watch some [Eagles games] but all of them were not available. The best thing I can say is that the weather was warmer than it is here.

"But it was a little lonely, sitting in the same hotel, just kicking back and eating salads.

"Being back here is like a breath of fresh air. It's good to be back around the guys again, to be back in my own bed.

"It's been tough, a very, very tough year. I'm focusing on today. I would like to get back out there, but I'm going to stick to the protocols that are set up for me. If I can get back this year, it's a plus, but if not, then next year."

In the meantime, delivery or take out? *

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