Inside the Eagles: Defensive tackle Mike Patterson to miss training camp, and perhaps more

Posted: July 23, 2012

BETHLEHEM, Pa. - Talk of dynasties, positional battles and the Eagles' Super Bowl chances drifted into the background when Rick Burkholder took the podium before Andy Reid held his annual training camp kickoff news conference.

When Burkholder, the Eagles head athletic trainer, takes the stage unannounced it's usually to deliver bad news. On Sunday he announced that Mike Patterson would miss training camp and possibly more time before he's cleared to return following January surgery.

Nearly a year ago, and nearly 100 yards from where Burkholder stood, Patterson suffered a seizure on the Lehigh University practice fields. A day later, after a series of tests, Patterson was told that he had an arteriovenous malformation (AVM) on his brain. The name of the condition alone was enough to suggest that the defensive tackle's career was possibly over.

Surgery was deemed necessary, but Patterson decided to wait until after the season. With proper medication, doctors were able to limit the risk of seizure and amazingly, he returned before the start of the season.

Patterson played 15 games, had one of his best seasons and was anticipating the 2012 season, his eighth with the Eagles, when he had the AVM removed in mid-January. The procedure was called a success and the Eagles had anticipated a return by the start of camp.

But you could sense by the team's actions this offseason that they were preparing for the possibility of their longest-tenured player not being back in time for the start of the season. And that's how Burkholder spelled it out - at least reading in between the lines. Patterson won't return any time soon.

"We're talking about this preseason as a month, then we'll probably reevaluate there," Burkholder said. "But it could be a couple months or more. We don't know."

Because the Eagles addressed the defensive tackle position - by retaining Antonio Dixon, a restricted free agent, signing unrestricted free agent Derek Landri, and drafting Fletcher Cox with their first pick - the loss of Patterson won't be of much significance on the field.

Patterson, a lunch pail-type player, has been a serviceable defender, but was essentially replaceable. A month from reaching 29, and with all the miles he's logged, it's possible that Patterson's latest setback could be a threat to his career.

"Physically, I feel fine," Patterson told reporters. "I feel like I can go out there and put the pads on and hit somebody. But doctor's orders, so that's what I'm going with."

There is obviously much more at stake than just football. And Patterson, his family, the Eagles and his doctors must weigh any potential risks to his health against playing in a bunch of games. It's the argument NFL trainers and coaches face each time a player suffers a concussion.

Slamming the brakes on Patterson's return, pardon the pun, was a no-brainer. But it did serve as a reminder that there is a bigger picture even as statues dedicated to football heroes are being toppled.

Patterson's setback won't affect the Eagles much in terms of the product on the field. But it puts the game into perspective, and at the very least, is a gentle reminder that all it takes is one injury to derail a season.

The Eagles enter camp relatively healthy. When Jason Peters' ruptured his Achilles tendon in March it was a significant blow. Left tackles like Peters aren't easily replaced. But what if it had happened in August during camp? The Eagles might be looking at King Dunlap instead of Demetress Bell as the starting left flank of the offensive line.

When Patterson went down last August, the Eagles were so thin at defensive tackle that they signed Landri and Anthony Hargrove. They also added a couple of camp bodies by the names of Charlie Noonan and Brandon Collier. Yeah, they were Eagles. Look it up.

But the Patterson injury begot the Landri acquisition, and now he's back and one of the candidates in line to replace the starting defensive tackle. Dixon will probably get the first shot, but the point is the Eagles are loaded at almost every position.

Talent-wise, it may be Reid's strongest roster. There aren't many positional battles, at least in terms of starting positions. There are great expectations, as there are always are, but the pressures for Reid, quarterback Michael Vick and the Eagles to finally win a title will be at an all-time high.

"Every year, expectations are up," Reid said. "I don't take it any more than that. Listen, when you set, as we do, the Super Bowl as your goal and not only to be there, but to win it, that's what you do. The expectations aren't any higher than that."

The Eagles will slow-play Patterson's return for his greater good. But they took the necessary precautions in case he did not return for their greater good, and that's to produce a championship.

Contact Jeff McLane at 215-854-4745, or on Twitter @Jeff_McLane.

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