Baskett ready for big chance

By Jon Marks: Special to the CNJ

PHILADELPHIA — Move over Brian Urlacher. There’s a fellow New Mexican who may be about to share the NFL spotlight.

In his third season in the NFL, Clovis’ Hank Baskett is expected to see significant playing time while the Philadelphia Eagles top two receivers that are sidelined with injuries.

The Eagles open their season today against St. Louis.

“It’s pretty good having a couple of guys from the area doing it at the same time,’’ said Baskett, who has been a backup receiver and special teams contributor during his first two seasons. “That’s nice for southeast New Mexico.”

Baskett said he’s pretty good friends with Urlacher, a Lovington High star who’s gone on to become a Pro Bowl linebacker for the Chicago Bears.

“He’s from about an hour away. It’s not pressure, but it’s definitely different being one of the few (from New Mexico) and having so many eyes on you.

“You’re out here trying to earn a living. But when you have so many eyes — especially the little ones — on you from where I grew up, there’s a little bit of pressure on your shoulders.”

Due to injuries to starters Kevin Curtis and Reggie Brown, the 2001 Clovis High graduate and former University of New Mexico standout will most likely line up as one of Donovan McNabb’s prime targets.

But Baskett is doing his best to take it all in stride, rather than acting like he and the rest of the receivers — Greg Lewis, Jason Avant and heralded rookie DeSean Jackson — have something to prove to cynics who feels the Eagles are undermanned at the position.

“Everybody can say what they want to,” said Baskett, who caught eight passes for 109 yards in four preseason games, having his lone touchdown wiped out by replay when it was determined he fumbled the ball out of the end zone before crossing the goal line. “We see what’s going on in practice and, we have the confidence in ourselves to go out there and make stuff happen.

“We definitely are gonna need those guys back, because they’re a big part of offense. Right now the coaches have put it on us to go out and make plays. We have to go make that happen.”

Baskett, who turned 26 Thursday, said he’s ready for the challenge.

“I’ve never wished ill upon anybody, but when Kevin went down someone had to step up. It’s my turn to step up being his backup.

“I just want to get on the field any way I can. It’s good to know you can get out there and make the play when called upon.”

Baskett has already proven himself valuable on special teams — in fact he was the team’s special team’s MVP last season.

Second-year Eagles special teams coach Rory Segrest said he’s counting on Baskett on being one of the unit’s leaders.

“He’s got the experience now. He understands how to make blocks, how to set up on things. He understands in terms of coverage and returns where he needs to be on the play. He understands all the different components that go into it.”

Baskett although he said he played some on special teams in college, he said it’s much more complicated at the NFL level.

“My first year, I was getting used to everything. Now I’m developing the techniques. I know the little tricks to help myself.

“Some guys are faster than others. Some guys are bigger than others. One time you’re gonna be blocking a big 280-pound guy. Next time you’re gonna be blocking a 180-pound guy. You have to know how to set up differently for each.”

It’s all part of the learning process a player picks up as he progresses throughout his career. And one thing Hank Baskett learned last season was that he had to get himself in better shape .

“My conditioning is better and I lost some weight,’’ revealed Baskett, disputing the 6-4, 220 he’s listed at. “I feel a little faster and quicker.

“They wanted me to lose some, but I continued to lose a little bit more. I got down as low as 204.”

Leaner while at the same time, hungrier, Baskett is confident that this can be a breakthrough season not only for himself but his team. With McNabb healthier than he’s been for three seasons and Brian Westbrook having assumed his place among the league’s elite running backs, he can’t wait to get started.

“Having a healthy Donovan being able to work on his timing with the receivers and running backs day-in, day-out has helped tremendously,’’ said Baskett, who’s already looking ahead to next Monday night when he makes his annual pilgrimage to Dallas. “It’s like night and day compared to last year’s training camp.

“I always believe good can come from bad. Last year we were 8-8. With that bad came a harder work ethic, Guys were more determined, more focused.”