Baskett optimistic for third year

By Jon Marks: Special to the PNT

PHILADELPHIA — Hank Baskett said players are never comfortable this time of year — when NFL teams make their cuts — not matter how long they’ve been in the league.

Baskett, a former Clovis High and New Mexico Lobos standout, appears to have secured a roster spot again in the his third season with the Eagles. Still, he still worries about getting “the call” to come see the coaches and bring his playbook.

“Anything can happen,’’ said Baskett, who’s expected to play a bigger role than in the past — at least at the start of the season — in Andy Reid’s West Coast offense. “Nothing’s guaranteed.

“I feel a little bit more confident now,” said Baskett, who turns 26 Thursday. “But that first year, I didn’t know what to expect. I definitely didn’t want to pick up the phone. It’s still the same this year.”

NFL teams have to cut down to a 53-man roster by Saturday afternoon.

Baskett — who finished the preseason with eight catches for 109 yards — may start the Eagles’ season opener a week from Sunday at St. Louis due to in part to injuries to starters Kevin Curtis and Reggie Brown.

Not only that, he’s become a mainstay on Philadelphia’s special teams, last year accumulating the most “points” — in terms of tackles, blocks, forcing a fumble and other intangibles — to be voted ’Birds’ special teams MVP.

“It means a lot,’’ Baskett said of the honor. “In this league the more you can do, the better.

“The more ways a coach can use you the more value you have to the team.”

Maybe that’s why Baskett wasn’t severely reprimanded last week in New England when his apparent first-half touchdown on a 7-yard swing pass from Donovan McNabb was wiped out by replay. Stopped short of the end zone Baskett tried to stretch the ball over the goal line, but lost the handle on his way down and the ball rolled out of bounds for a touchback.

The officials signaled touchdown, but Patriots coach Bill Bellichick challenged the call.

“I thought it was a touchdown,’’ said Baskett, whose joy turned to dismay when the call was overturned and the Patriots took possession at their 20. “A lot of people did.

“I knew I’d lost the ball, but I thought I’d crossed the plane and everything. You sit there looking at it (the replay). It looks so close. I guess it could go either way and it went the other way.

“Thank goodness it’s preseason. But coaches appreciated the effort. They said next time make sure it’s not so close.”

Fortunately, for Baskett there will be a next time. Not only for him to earn his Eagle wings, but for players such as McNabb and cornerback Sheldon Brown to attend his annual charity golf tournament and basketball game in Clovis.

“We flew them in and put them up in a hotel,” an appreciative Baskett said. “It was well worth it, just to see them get to interact with the people where I grew up.”

“I was able to take them out to the middle of nowhere,” added Baskett, who also spent part of his off-season teaching an eight-week online sociology of sport course at Clovis Community College, where he wrote the weekly syllabus and graded papers. “They all enjoyed the people and had a great time out there.”

McNabb seconds that.

“It was great,’’ said Donovan, before beginning to tease his buddy. “I’ve never seen anything like Clovis.

“If you’re ever flying to Clovis it must’ve been a mistake. But we had a lot of fun. Hank is a legend out there in Clovis. A lot of us who participated in his golf tournament and basketball game had a great time.

“I’ll do it again next year. That’s my teammate. I like to support my teammates.’’

That won’t be for months, though. First there’s a season to play where plenty of drama will unfold for an 8-8 team that insists they’re much better in 2008.

But before that comes this weekend, where Baskett and many of his teammates hold their breath each time the phone rings.