(Oct. 8)—As Mike Pearson underwent surgery on his left knee Thursday, reporters were being entertained by the player who could ultimately take Pearson's place at the sensitive left tackle position.
"I've been playing for so long I forgot I have one eye, but Ephraim (Salaam) reminds me every day," veteran Bob Whitfield said, as he conducted a locker room interview that was one part fact-finding and two parts stand-up comedy.
Whitfield and Salaam, former teammates in Atlanta, are now major players in the Jaguars' quest to produce the franchise's first winning season and first playoff appearance in five years. Salaam will stand in for Pearson this Sunday, but speculation is Whitfield will become the long-term fix at left tackle.
It's the only position he's ever played – largely the result of being blind in his right eye – and for most of his career he was considered to be one of the league's best left tackles.
"You miss the paycheck," Whitfield said when asked if he missed playing football during the month he was out of the game, after having been cut by the Falcons prior to the start of the season. "I got to go to my kids' games. That's what I truly missed; spending time with the kids. Then they said, 'Daddy, we need some more money.'"
So, when the Jaguars called Whitfield this week, he came running. He impressed them in a workout on Tuesday; signed with the Jaguars later that day.
That Whitfield was available would have to be considered an awfully fortunate happenstance for the Jaguars. You don't usually find big guys, especially left tackles of his quality, available five weeks into the season.
He's in his 13th NFL season, but he'll only turn 33 later this month. Heck, Bruce Mathews was just getting into the middle of his career at that age.
"I'm still a player. I still can move. I still got youth in my legs," Whitfield said.
And if he does, the Jaguars will have dodged a major bullet. Pearson was in his third season as a starter. He was coming into his prime years. He had fought off Salaam in training camp and had seized the starting job for good. Now, after a vicious injury in Sunday's loss to the Colts, Pearson is left to consider the long road back from major knee reconstruction, which was performed by renowned knee surgery Dr. James Andrews in Birmingham, Ala., on Thursday.
"I'll stay here as long as they let me stay here," Whitfield said. "It's a good bunch of guys; energetic. You see a lot of camaraderie. That's what you want. There's definitely a winning atmosphere."
And Whitfield could end up becoming a major player in the Jaguars' quest to maintain their winning attitude.