Ex-Gator Kearse lived up to his big contract

Published: Saturday, January 15, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 14, 2005 at 10:45 p.m.
PHILADELPHIA - No matter where he lines up, Jevon Kearse pressures quarterbacks, chases down running backs and disrupts offenses.
In his first season with the Eagles, Kearse's impact on Philadelphia's defense nearly equaled Terrell Owens' effect on the offense. But Kearse hardly got the same attention the flamboyant Pro Bowl wide receiver earned this season.
While Owens made the offense prolific, Kearse, nicknamed ''The Freak'' because of his unique combination of speed and strength, quietly helped the defense become the stingiest in the NFC, allowing the fewest points (260) in the conference.
''He has been great,'' Eagles coach Andy Reid said. ''He has had a big influence on our defense. He changes the game. He is somebody that the offensive line and running backs and tight ends have to worry about.''
Kearse lived up to the $66 million, eight-year contract he signed on the first day of the free agency period last March, leading the Eagles with 7 sacks. He had just a half-sack in his last four games, and was held out the final two games because there was nothing on the line.
Kearse had 21 hurries and probably would've had more sacks if opponents didn't double-team and triple-team him so much.
''Teams have spent a lot of energy trying to stop him,'' Reid said. ''He affects the game. He affects the quarterback and he is always around the quarterback. If he is not making the sack, he is in that quarterbacks' vision and that is important.''
Kearse harassed and frustrated Daunte Culpepper, preventing the Pro Bowl QB from making any big plays in Philadelphia's 27-16 victory over the Vikings in Week 2. Though he finished the game with no sacks and just two tackles, Kearse was the most dominant defensive player on either team.
He'll get another chance to try to bring down the 264-pound Culpepper when the Eagles play Minnesota on Sunday.
''My personal goal is to try to sack him this time,'' Kearse said. ''I chased him around last time, but I like to think that I got my misses out of the way. Whenever you get him, whenever you two are one-on-one, you got to go in and control. You can't overpursue and you can't go for a kill shot. That is when he can use that and work it against you.''
Kearse mostly lines up at left defensive end, but defensive coordinator Jim Johnson also uses him in a linebacker spot, confusing defenses and giving the speedy pass rusher an advantage to pursue quarterbacks.
Kearse, a three-time Pro Bowl selection in his five seasons with Tennessee, isn't going to Hawaii for the All-Star game this year, but his teammates recognize his importance to the defense.
''I'm still jumping for joy for having Jevon here,'' said All-Pro free safety Brian Dawkins, one of four defensive players going to the Pro Bowl. ''He's added a lot to us. We don't take what he does for granted.''
Kearse doesn't care about the Pro Bowl. He wants to play a week earlier in the Super Bowl. The Eagles have lost three consecutive NFC championship games, but are favorites to win the conference.
''The week before the Pro Bowl is the main goal,'' Kearse said. ''After this whole Pro Bowl thing passed over, all the guys started pulling me to the side and said, 'Hey, you are the main reason that all of us are in there.' I am just out here doing my job and just trying to do the best I can to get a ring.''
Kearse came close to winning a championship with the Titans in 2000, losing to St. Louis 23-16 in the Super Bowl.
''Playing in the Super Bowl itself, it is just one of those situations that you have to cherish and you can't take it for granted,'' Kearse said.
Last season, the Eagles' starting defensive ends, N.D. Kalu and Brandon Whiting, had 7 sacks combined, the same amount Kearse had this year. Philadelphia's 47 sacks were second only to Atlanta's 48 this season.

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