Eagles' Baskett focusing on present

Posted: June 09, 2010

Two big problems in Hank Baskett's life since he last wore an Eagles uniform, both with the potential for locker-room fallout, or at least some really rough kidding:

First there was the New Orleans' Saints onside kick that bounced off Baskett in the Super Bowl, leading to a Saints recovery that fueled a 31-17 upset. The gaffe seemed not unrelated to the Indianapolis Colts' subsequent decision to let Baskett walk in free agency.

Second, and much more delicate, is the fact that Baskett's wife, reality-show star and former Playmate Kendra Wilkinson, is featured in a sex tape, released last month, that reportedly was shot with a former boyfriend when she was 18. Wilkinson has called the release of the tape "extremely embarrassing" - although she stands to profit quite handsomely from it; several reports mention the figure $680,000. At least one report alleged that Baskett and Wilkinson have broken up because of his discomfort with the tape, though other reports have contradicted that.

Baskett and Wilkinson were newlyweds and Baskett was one game into his fourth Eagles season last year when he was cut to make roster room for Michael Vick. The team would rather have axed another wideout, Reggie Brown, but the cap hit for doing that just then would have been prohibitive. So Baskett hit the waiver wire, wound up in Indianapolis, spent his biggest moment in the worldwide spotlight frantically clawing at the ball in an onside-kick pileup, then hit the market again, signing a 1-year deal with the Eagles in March.

His new/old teammates haven't asked questions or made jokes, Baskett said, about the Super Bowl or the DVD market.

"Not one person has asked me about the Super Bowl. I've been asked maybe three questions in the media about the Super Bowl, but no one else has [asked]. One, everybody in Philadelphia knows about my special-teams play. And everybody that follows football knows one play doesn't make a game," Baskett said after a standout OTA day at NovaCare yesterday, in which he made multiple leaping, twisting catches. "I won't let that bother me. Marty [Mornhinweg, the offensive coordinator] talked about it in our offensive meetings the other day; the great thing about football is there's another play, you've got to get over it and move on."

And no one has anything to say about the video, in a ribald moment, when only players are around?

"What I love about this team is, there's great support throughout any situation," Baskett said. "This is a family away from the family. Everyone treats each other here with lots of respect, and everybody in that locker room has everybody's back. That's the way it's been since the day I got here, and that's how it is still now."

When Baskett returned in March, he said he felt like he'd been on vacation and just returned home. He's had some time to settle in now; watching him on the practice field in his familiar No. 84, you almost forget he ever left.

But when these OTAs began, a lot of people looked at 6-3, 222-pound, fifth-round rookie wideout Riley Cooper and wondered if he might not be the "new" Baskett, a big-body receiver with some upside - maybe more upside than a guy the coaches have been watching since 2006.

"I think he has natural hands," wideout Jason Avant said when asked about Cooper yesterday. "You can always use a big body in the red zone."

Though Cooper seems to be performing well, a day like yesterday underscores Baskett's value on a painfully young offensive unit. DeSean Jackson is sitting out this week, for whatever reason, and Jeremy Maclin, a star of Monday's workout, stayed on the sideline with what the team called a "tight" hamstring. Suddenly, steady slot man Avant and Baskett were not only the top two receivers, but the only two with any real experience, capable of running all the routes from all the spots.

"Hank can play a specific role, and on top of that he can go in at any time and make plays," Mornhinweg said. "He's very deceiving with his speed. He's a big guy [6-4, 220] . . . Great day today. Went up to get the football several times, in a crowd."

Is it an either/or for Baskett and Cooper, when the counting to 53 starts?

"You just don't want to go there right now, because there is such great competition," Mornhinweg said. "The guys that get better every day will have the best opportunity to make our ballclub. Putting them in a mold right now, I want to see all their strengths first, and then we'll go from there."

Avant said he's glad to have Baskett back, "to know that he's a stable guy who catches the ball pretty consistently . . . He can back up any guy, he can also go in a starting role, he can stretch the field vertically."

Asked to compare Cooper and Baskett, Avant said: "Both of them are good, both of them are big. But I think Hank has shown he can do a lot more right now, at this stage . . . I think both of them are going to be great players."

Baskett felt he needed a strong showing after some miscues last week.

"I had a rough week last week. Getting back to my old self," he said. "I was overthinking last week. Got back to being me, just playing and making the most of every opportunity."

For more Eagles coverage and opinion, read the Daily News' Eagles blog, Eagletarian, at www.eagletarian.com.

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