Rich Hofmann | Injuries you should worry about, and not

Posted: August 10, 2007

BETHLEHEM, Pa. - They are just names, about a dozen now, black letters on a white background. It is the Eagles' injury list. The weather has been fierce, as has the hitting, and the list grows and shrinks from practice to practice. It is what happens in August.

You scan it and mostly you just shrug. This is what NFL training camps are: ankles, knees, days to days. Most of it means very

little. In a lot of cases, especially among the veteran players, a spot on that list signals nothing more than the ability to get one's sweaty hand on the limited number of get-out-of-hell-free cards that the coaching staff allots.

You look at the list and you try not to overreact. You wonder if the players are starting to get worried. You ask Donovan McNabb if he is worried.

"That I'm not on the list, no," the quarterback said, playing for the laugh. "I've been on that list. But, the good thing for us is the fact that it's nothing serious. This is the preseason, and this is the time where you are able to eliminate some of those little injuries that you can have in training camp.

"Seeing the guys in the training room being high-spirited, knowing that they will be back, it's exciting for all of us to know that, and have the confidence to know that those guys will be back out there when the whistle blows, when it's time."

There are three names worth talking about.

In order:

L.J. Smith . . . worried.

Shawn Andrews . . . not yet.

Brian Dawkins . . . not yet.

Smith, coming back from surgery to repair a sports hernia, had one of those worst-nightmare moments yesterday morning. Everything seemed fine as he ran a route against linebacker Chris Gocong, and then he was down. Yes, the tight end suffered an aggravation of the sports-hernia injury; "tweaked" was the word used by coach Andy Reid. Yes, Smith was driven back to the training building in a cart.

The Eagles will evaluate the

injury and theoretically update us. In the meantime, though, the message was clear to McNabb, who famously suffered the same injury before suffering an even more severe groin injury in 2005.

As he said, "Days where it feels like everything's healed, it's not."

As he added, "Patience is everything."

That Smith has no contract for next season is oft-discussed. It means that it is important that he play well this season, and it

also means that it is important that he finish the season in one piece. How he balances these two imperatives, the team/football imperative and the personal/contract imperative, is one of the sport's typical dilemmas.

How he balances them between a sore gut that clearly isn't yet healed really makes you wonder. How this quarterback, who you don't want running around any more than necessary following his knee surgery, will function without one of his playmaking security blankets, also raises a few questions.

This one is serious.

Next, Andrews. This one is

potentially serious - any injury to your best offensive lineman is potentially serious. That he is a big man and the problem is with a weight-bearing joint just makes it worse.

Andrews has some kind of an ankle problem on the same ankle that now contains a metal plate, courtesy of 2004 surgery. He has seen a specialist. He has been put on crutches and is wearing a boot. That is all we know so far.

There is still a month to go

before the season opener. Time remains on Andrews' side. He is a veteran player now and the

Eagles have a veteran line; they really are plug-and-play at this point in their development.

The concern is not the time missed now. The concern is that the injury will linger - the same with L.J. Smith. An offensive lineman trying to fight through a bum ankle for 4 months is awful to watch, especially the deterioration and the pain in the third and fourth quarters of games. And it never gets better once the season starts.

But we're not there yet.

Finally, Dawkins. Asked in passing the other day how he was doing - he continues to miss practice time with Achilles' tendinitis - the heart of the Eagles' defense offered a dismissive wave, an "It'll be fine" kind of wave. So, there's that.

That it is a potential concern is obvious. Nobody is ready to see what this defense looks like

without Dawkins back there at safety. The day is coming, yes, but not now. Not yet.

There is still every reason to believe that Dawkins is just

being smart. At this point in his career, he does not need two-a-days at Lehigh. He does not need one-a-days at Lehigh. He does not need Lehigh. When you see a player like rookie running back Tony Hunt suffer an ankle injury, it is more of a problem - because a rookie does need this time. Dawkins, no. *

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hofmanr@phillynews.com.

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