Hebron tries to beat odds one more time Gibbons graduate shows Eagles he's healthy

August 18, 1996|By KNIGHT-RIDDER NEWS SERVICE

BETHLEHEM, Pa. -- By now, he knows how to read the signs.

Vaughn Hebron is in his fourth summer of odds-beating. He went through the rookie-making-a-name-for-yourself phase and the prove-you're-not-a-fluke phase and the impress-a-new-coaching-staff phase.

This year, he is in the come-back-from-an-injury phase. Hebron entered training camp thinking that his name had been dropped from the coaches' mental list of players with real chances to be on the final roster. As the camp wore on and he read the signs, he became certain.

It's the little things: playing time, practice repetitions, that amount of attention you receive from the coaches. Hebron read all the signs. He could tell that nobody expected much from him after a year spent rehabbing the anterior cruciate ligament he tore in his right knee.

"I wasn't sure coming in," Hebron said. "But after seeing some things, after seeing how things were working, I don't think I was in their plans. But that's how it is after an injury. Until you prove to everybody that you can play, you're still hurt in a lot of people's minds."

Hebron's goal was to prove that he was healthy. Going into the third preseason game -- and with the first mandatory roster cutdown coming Tuesday -- he thinks he has done that.

"I've done everything I can," Hebron said. "People talk about the competition at running back, but I don't see it. To be honest with you, I feel I deserve to be here. Whatever the coaches decide, I can live with it because I've done everything I can."

Hebron, 25, sounds like an expert on the art of making a roster because he is one. After being injured for part of his senior season at Virginia Tech, the Cardinal Gibbons product was not drafted when he came out in 1993. He signed with the Eagles as one of the several dozen free-agent rookies who serve mostly as training-camp fodder.

"I was pretty nervous that first year," Hebron said. "Of course I was. It was my first camp."

But he showed something to coach Rich Kotite and his staff, as well as Eagles fans accustomed to the likes of Keith Byars -- backs with tight-end size and tight-end speed.

The 5-foot-8, 195-pound Hebron was quick, tough to tackle, fun to watch. He led the Eagles in rushing that preseason and made the roster. He had come from nowhere to win a spot in the NFL.

"It makes for a great story," Hebron said. "Beating the odds and all that. But the thing is, once you're a free agent, you always have that stigma."

In 1994, the Eagles drafted Charlie Garner -- precisely the kind of small, speedy back that Hebron is. Except that Garner was a second-round pick. The Eagles had money and, perhaps more important, their image as savvy talent evaluators invested in him.

Hebron made the team again. His versatility, his special-teams ability, his work ethic combined to remind the coaches that he was worthy of a job.

Last season, with Ray Rhodes and a new staff evaluating the roster, Hebron faced a fresh challenge. Rhodes came in with an appreciation for Garner, who had ripped his San Francisco 49ers defense during a 1994 game. And the Eagles signed Ricky Watters to be their No. 1 back.

Hebron blew out his knee in the preseason. He spent the season on injured reserve.

"I thought I was in good shape when I got hurt," Hebron said. "You never know for sure, but I thought I was fine."

Rhodes said that today's game against the Patriots in Foxboro, Mass., will go a long way toward determining which of several running backs make the roster.

Hebron has shown no signs of being slowed by the injury. He has rushed 11 times for 23 yards, a 2.1-yard average. But that has more to do with the Eagles' run-blocking in the first two games than with Hebron.

"I've proved I'm healthy," Hebron said. "I put a lot of positive film out there. It's all on film, if need be, for other teams to see that I'm healthy. The rest of it is out of my control."

Pub Date: 8/18/96

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