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Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Eagles call Reno Mahe back to the nest

By Bob Brookover
Inquirer Staff Writer
So now we know that "not necessarily" means "probably" in the most recent version of Andy Reid's conceal-my-thoughts dictionary.

Asked yesterday if the reports were true that the Eagles planned to bring back Reno Mahe in an effort to avoid a repeat of Sunday's punt-return disasters, the head coach said, "Not necessarily." By late afternoon, the Eagles had contacted Mahe in Utah and asked him to get on an airplane bound for Philadelphia.

"I just got the call about a half-hour ago," Mahe said from his cell phone around 5 p.m. "All they said was we're flying you out here and we'll see you soon. I'm just excited to come back."

The Eagles declined to comment on whether they would sign Mahe to handle punt returns, but all signs point in that direction.

Mahe, a four-year veteran who was the team's primary punt and kick returner last season, was a free agent and did not get picked up by another team. He said he did not get overly depressed about the fact that his career might be over after four seasons.

"I've never been in this situation before, but I've heard so much about the NFL being a business," Mahe said. "You always have to have a plan for the future, and I was just trying to enjoy life."

When Mahe was first reached by phone early yesterday afternoon, he said he had not been contacted by the Eagles, but he was definitely hoping to hear from them after watching former teammates Greg Lewis and J.R. Reed fumble away punts that resulted in 10 points for the Green Bay Packers during the Eagles' deflating 16-13 defeat on opening day.

"I keep getting calls from 215 numbers thinking they're from the team, but they're from the media," Mahe said. "Right now, I'm just working out back in Utah."

The question is whether Mahe can make the transition from being unemployed to being a reliable returner within a week. The Eagles play again Monday night against the Washington Redskins.

"I guess we're going to have to see," Mahe said. "I certainly have never been in this position before. It's hard to simulate 11-on-11 with full pads. But I think I'll be able to hold my own."

It would be hard to think he could do any worse than what fans saw Sunday.

The subject of the botched punt returns dominated Reid's day-after news conference at the NovaCare Complex. The Eagles, of course, spent most of the preseason trying to give the job to Jeremy Bloom, a 2006 fifth-round pick out of the University of Colorado. Reid, however, was unimpressed by Bloom's work and opted to go with Lewis as the punt returner while bringing back Reed to handle kick returns.

"Obviously, we thought we could get it done with those guys we had there, and it didn't work out this game," Reid said. "Again, I'm not ruling out the guys that are here, either. But that's my responsibility to have it right, and I didn't get this one right."

The coach was asked if he has changed his views on what he wants to see from his return specialists, given Sunday's disastrous results.

"That he catches the football," the coach said.

Bloom did that part well, but he didn't have any explosive returns after injuring his toe in the preseason opener at Baltimore. Asked if he put too much faith in Bloom and didn't give Lewis enough repetitions in the preseason, Reid refused to have regrets on the issue.

"We could look at all the hindsight things right now," he said. "Greg's thing right now is inexperience. Again, I can go back and look at that. Those are things I evaluated and I put him in a bad position."

Reid opted to go with Reed as the punt returner after Lewis made a second ill-advised decision fielding a punt in the third quarter of Sunday's game.

"I felt like J.R. was a good, solid catcher making good decisions," the coach said.

Reed, however, had never returned a punt in a regular-season game, and neither had Lewis before Sunday.

As the questions continued to mount about the now-infamous punt returns, Reid got defensive.

"These guys are well-coached and all these situations have been covered," the coach said. "Things happen in games, where J.R. made an honest effort for the football on something that if he had to do over again, he wouldn't do. He knew the problem when he came off, obviously. But all those situations have been covered and he's been told and so on. It's an honest mistake there. It's my responsibility to make sure I put guys back there that can get the job done. I had a lot of confidence in J.R. that he could do that."

Now, it appears as if Mahe is going to get another chance to handle returns. In 2005, he led the NFL with a 12.8-yard punt-return average. That number slipped to 9.4 yards last season, which would have been good enough for 13th in the league, but he didn't have enough returns to qualify. He also averaged 22.2 yards per kickoff return, which ranked 26th in the league.

More important, Mahe caught the football and secured it.

If he had been around to do that Sunday, the Eagles would be tied with Dallas and Washington for first place in the NFC East.

Instead, they are tied for last with the New York Giants.

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