Eagles wide receiver Jason Avant endured a difficult upbringing to become one of the team's most respected leaders. His efforts were recognized Friday when Avant was named the Eagles' 2010 Ed Block Courage Award recipient.
The recipients are selected by their teammates.
"Whenever you have a team voting for you, it's definitely special," Avant said Friday after practice. "I'm thankful that I am able to help in the locker room and also for my teammates to think enough of me to get an award like that."
Avant grew up in Chicago, where he was exposed to gangs, drugs, and violence but credits his late grandmother Lille for instilling in him the proper values.
Avant is passing on a similar message in his many charitable endeavors. He is a spokesman for the Big Brothers Big Sisters organization, has led several youth football clinics, and is involved with various church youth groups.
"I definitely know that me telling the story to kids who are coming from a neighborhood like I came from, wherever it is, we can all identify with hard times, no matter who you are," he said. "[I want to let people know] that you can overcome, and I think kids can understand that."
Avant, in his fifth season, has 48 receptions for 536 yards and a touchdown this year.
"He is the kind of guy you want on your team and the type of guy for young guys to come in and kind of model themselves after," said Eagles second-year receiver Jeremy Maclin. "He does everything right."
Avant, along with one player from each of the other 31 NFL teams, will be honored at the Ed Block Courage Award Banquet on March 8 in Baltimore.
Eagles sign Lawson. Gerard Lawson was grateful to receive a second NFL chance after the Eagles said Friday that they had signed the cornerback and return man to a three-year contract.
Lawson played in 20 games for the Cleveland Browns in 2008 and 2009 after being signed as a rookie free agent.
The 25-year-old from Oregon State was cut by the Browns in August, a little less than a month after being charged with drunken driving. He later pleaded no contest to the Aug. 8 DUI charge, was ordered to perform 20 hours of community service, and was put on probation for one year with 72 hours of alternative jail time and a six-month license suspension. Lawson also must attend two MADD meetings and pay a $500 fine.
After being cut by Cleveland, he played this year for the Hartford Colonials in the UFL, averaging 21.0 yards on 23 kickoff returns. He also intercepted one pass and returned it 41 yards for a touchdown.
Lawson made no excuses for the DUI incident.
"It was a bad decision," he said. "Since then, I haven't done anything and have learned my lesson."
Eagles coach Andy Reid said the team did its due diligence before signing Lawson.
"Well, we know people in Cleveland so we were able to talk to them and try to do our homework the best we possibly can," Reid said. "You know, we think he's a good kid who put himself in a bad position, but he's a good kid, and he's kept himself . . . out of trouble there since then."
Lawson replaced cornerback and return man Jorrick Calvin, who was placed on injured reserve Thursday with a back injury. Reid said Calvin has a disc problem that may require surgery.
According to Reid, it was still undetermined whether Lawson would play in Sunday's game at Lincoln Financial Field against the Minnesota Vikings.
For his part, Lawson has been meeting with the coaches to learn the system, and he spent extra time fielding kicks after practice Friday.
Injury update. Reid said linebacker Keenan Clayton, who missed Sunday's game with a hamstring injury, is doubtful for the Vikings game. Clayton had limited participation in practice Friday.
Linebacker Stewart Bradley is out for the second straight game with a dislocated elbow. Defensive tackle Mike Patterson (knee) had limited participation in practice for the second straight day, and he is questionable.
Wide receiver DeSean Jackson (foot) and cornerback Asante Samuel (knee) are listed as probable after having limited participation in practice.
Vick reflective. Eagles quarterback Michael Vick said he appreciated spending time with his family during this Christmas holiday. Vick spent 17 months in prison at Leavenworth, Kan., after his dogfighting conviction.
"I am just blessed to be here," Vick said. "I spent two Christmases in Kansas, and that was by far the toughest thing I ever had to do."
He says he'll never take for granted the time he can spend with family on Christmas.
"I think each and every year I always reflect on that," he said, "and I think it will always make the holiday season more gratifying."
Before leaving after practice, Vick was asked to whom he would give his MVP vote. He appeared uneasy with the question but still responded.
"If you put me on the spot, I would pick myself," he said.
Looking forward to returning. Winston Justice had one streak snapped and hoped to begin another by returning to the Eagles' starting lineup on Sunday.
Justice had started 28 consecutive regular-season games (and one playoff game) at right tackle before suffering a hyperextended knee during the fourth quarter of the Eagles' 34-24 win over the Houston Texans on Dec. 2.
He practiced all week and is listed as probable.
Justice was inactive for the last two games but said he is ready to go, and, from his perspective, it can't come soon enough.
"It feels good to get back in there and play," Justice said. "It's been a long time, and I'm happy to be back."
Contact staff writer Marc Narducci at 856-779-3225 or firstname.lastname@example.org.