Derrick Burgess spent nearly a year wincing from pain.
There was the pain from the season-ending foot fracture he suffered in the Philadelphia Eagles' 2002 season opener at Tennessee.
But Burgess said Saturday that he is finished wincing.
''I've been smiling since I got here,'' Burgess said after the Eagles' first training camp practice at Lehigh University on Saturday. ''I'm just happy to be here. I'm trying to get the rust off. It feels good.
''I'm not surprised. We worked real hard on the rehab and to build back the leg strength.''
Burgess figures he will feel even better Wednesday morning, when the Eagles have everybody in camp, and everybody will begin wearing pads.
''I really can't wait for the contact part of camp,'' Burgess said. ''I need to hit somebody.''
The Eagles were counting on Burgess to hit opposing quarterbacks in 2002. He had started four games as a rookie third-round pick (63rd overall) out of Mississippi in 2001 and produced six sacks. He was expected to rotate at defensive end with starters Hugh Douglas and Brandon Whiting and fellow backup N.D. Kalu in 2002.
Instead, Burgess underwent surgery, then watched his teammates produce a 12-4 record and second straight trip to the NFC Championship Game.
''It was frustrating, but I had to deal with it,'' he said. ''I have to start over.''
Burgess is trying to at least get back into a similar rotation at defensive end.
Douglas went to Jacksonville via free agency, but the Eagles still have Whiting and Kalu. And, with Burgess' health in doubt, they drafted Miami (Fla.) defensive ends Jerome McDougle and Jamaal Green in the first and fourth rounds, respectively, of this year's draft. McDougle is a training-camp holdout while his agent, Drew Rosenhaus, negotiates with Eagles president Joe Banner.
So far, so good for Burgess.
''Derrick looks fine,'' Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Johnson said. ''I thought he looked great toward the end of minicamp . He is moving around well and he weighs about 270, which is good for him. I don't anticipate any problems with him.
''We are not going to hold him back. He is out here with the rookies getting extra work. His attitude is great and he is fine.''
Burgess is fighting for a starting spot, Johnson said. But it remains to be seen whether that spot is the right defensive end spot left vacant by Douglas' departure or the left defensive end spot where Whiting is the incumbent. Whiting also plays defensive tackle, so the Eagles have some flexibility in doling out playing time at defensive end.
''I have a favorite \, but it isn't for me to say,'' Burgess said. ''When I'm told which one, that'll be my favorite side.''
The decision won't be made quickly.
''He is the one guy who can play both sides, and we consider him to be fighting for a starting position,'' Johnson said.
''We have some guys with Kalu, Jamaal Green and Burgess who we can rotate in there,'' Johnson added. ''I am very confident in our defensive line; I think it is one of our strong suits right now.''
It should get stronger when McDougle eventually signs and reports to camp and when Burgess gets back to reacting instead of feeling his way through workouts.
''As long as I keep working, eventually it'll hit me and I'll be right back in the swing of things,'' Burgess said. ''It'll be just something that hits me. 'OK, I'm feeling it and nobody can be me today.' It's a mindset.''
It may be a while, however, before Burgess finds that I'm-invincible mindset.
''I know there will be a couple of days here where I come out and don't smile,'' Burgess said, with a smile.
Burgess is one of three Eagles trying to come back from injuries this training camp. Running back Correll Buckhalter, like Burgess an early arrival, missed last season because of a knee injury. Defensive tackle Hollis Thomas, who sat out with a fractured foot, will report Monday.
''Obviously, we will monitor them,'' Eagles coach Andy Reid said. ''Right now, they are ready to go, and doing everything else everyone else is doing.''
Burgess wants to smile again
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