Veteran RB Levens returns to Eagles

This article was originally published in the Inquirer on August 23, 2004.

The next man in at running back is Dorsey Levens.

The Eagles agreed to a one-year deal with the veteran back yesterday, and they will make the official announcement today if, as expected, Levens passes a physical at the NovaCare Complex.

Levens, 34, will receive the veteran minimum of $660,000. Under league rules, only $450,000 of that total will count against the Eagles' salary cap.

Exactly how Levens will be worked into the offense remains to be seen. Though he is replacing Correll Buckhalter, he is not likely to get as much work as the fourth-year back would have. Buckhalter, lost for the season when he tore the patella tendon in his right knee during Friday night's exhibition win over the Baltimore Ravens, was more of a No. 1a than a No. 2 back behind starter Brian Westbrook.

Levens likely will be the No. 2 ballcarrier, with Reno Mahe getting the call on passing downs when Westbrook is not on the field. All three of the Eagles' top running backs have good hands, a necessary quality in the West Coast offense.

It remains to be seen how productive Levens can be at this point in his career. He was a key contributor as the Eagles' No. 2 running back in 2002, when he rushed for 411 yards on 75 carries - an impressive 5.5 yards per carry. He also caught 19 passes for 124 yards while playing behind Duce Staley and in front of Westbrook.

After the 2002 season, Levens signed as a free agent with the New York Giants but could not duplicate the contributions he made with the Eagles the year before. He did not play the first five games of the season, then had his best game of the year in the Giants' sixth game, rushing for 64 yards on 16 carries against the Eagles at the Meadowlands.

He ran just 52 times for 133 yards - 2.6 yards per carry - in the Giants' final 10 games.

His season with the Giants marked the first time in his career he was not part of a West Coast offense. He spent eight seasons with the Green Bay Packers before joining the Eagles two years ago.

Hadley Engelhard, the agent for Levens, said his client had been talking with the Eagles even before Buckhalter suffered the injury. He said he heard from the Eagles the morning after Buckhalter was hurt. Levens also had been in contact with the Miami Dolphins after Ricky Williams' sudden retirement last month.

"Dorsey has obviously played [with the Eagles] before and he's very excited to be coming back," Engelhard said. "He's familiar with the coaching staff and the offense. It's a good fit. "

Though Eagles coach Andy Reid did not reveal the Levens addition after practice yesterday, he acknowledged that the team had opted to bring in a player from the outside rather than rely on the inexperienced Eric McCoo as the No. 3 back.

"I have a lot of trust in Reno, but it's nice to get another guy in the mix," Reid said. "McCoo, I thought, did a heck of a job in Friday's game, but he's a little bit young in this offense, so we'll see how he progresses. "

Reid also worked rookie Thomas Tapeh at tailback yesterday. Tapeh previously had been working only at fullback.

Though the loss of Buckhalter has been cause for major concern among Eagles fans, Reid is taking the same approach he always has taken with injuries. Apparently, there is no panic button at the NovaCare Complex.

"We've never been that way here," Reid said. "People are going to get hurt in this business, and we understand that. The next guy steps in and he plays. Nobody is going to hang their head or worry about it or anything else. Everybody else can do that, but not the people that are on this football team. "

That's the approach Reid took when quarterback Donovan McNabb was lost for the final six games of the regular season in 2002 and the same approach he took last year when all-pro safety Brian Dawkins and Pro Bowl cornerback Bobby Taylor went down in the first game of the season.

It won't change now, even as the injury list seems to grow by the minute.

"When we get injuries, we know how to fight through it," Westbrook said. "We know how to continue to compete. We know a certain number of guys are going to get hurt during the course of a season, and we know how to make it through until they come back. I think the coaching staff has done a great job of getting second- and third-string guys ready to play when they are called on.

"We know as a team we have to step up," he said. "It's always hard to deal with injuries, but we know we are a strong team and we can come back from adversity."