The fifth-year veteran, whose career could be ended by his latest injury, underwent surgery Tuesday to repair a torn right patella tendon. He had surgery on the same tendon last year after sustaining an injury in preseason. Early in camp, he re-injured the knee, and an examination Monday by noted Birmingham, Ala.-based orthopedic surgeon Dr. James Andrews revealed the new tear.
Team officials last week conceded to ESPN.com that they were concerned about the latest injury and broadly hinted it could be season-ending. Andrews had recommended earlier that Buckhlalter receive treatment and rehabilitation on the knee for a week and then have it re-examined.
When the Eagles did not offer an update on Buckhalter's status Tuesday, after his visit with Andrews a day earlier, it was viewed as an ominous sign. An announcement of the surgery then came on Wednesday morning.
"He's a great kid," Eagles coach Andy Reid said Wednesday. "He worked so hard in the offseason. He came back in phenomenal shape. We were looking forward to getting him back out there. He did some good things. For that to happen, your heart goes out to the guy."
Rick Burkholder, the team's head athletic trainer, said Andrews called the injury "a freak thing."
"We're going to rehab him like he's going to play again," Burkholder said.
Losing Buckhalter for the third time in his five-year career leaves the Eagles thin again at tailback, where fourth-year veteran Brian Westbrook is the starter. Rookie Ryan Moats, a third-round draft choice who has performed well in camp and in the preseason, and third-year veteran Reno Mahe, mostly a special teams player, are the backups.
Beyond the depth concerns, the Eagles lack a big, physical tailback. Coaches had hoped that Buckhalter, a tough inside runner with good power, would provide that element. It is possible now that Philadelphia, which has been quietly considering its options given the potential loss of Buckhalter for the year, will sign a veteran free agent.
Veteran Dorsey Levens, who played well for the Eagles last year in a reserve role, could be among the players considered.
A fourth-round choice in the 2001 draft, Buckhalter rushed for 586 yards as a rookie. But the former Nebraska star tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee the following April during a mini-camp practice and missed the entire 2002 campaign. He returned for the '03 season and gained 542 yards, then suffered the patella tendon injury last summer.
Despite his recurring knee injuries, the club re-signed Buckhalter this spring when he was an unrestricted free agent, giving him a one-year, $550,000 contract.
In 30 games, including 11 starts, Buckhalter has carried 255 times for 1,128 yards and 10 touchdowns. He also has 23 receptions for 262 yards and one touchdown.
Is the latest injury career-threatening?
"That's not fair to say and it's not my decision to make," Burkholder said. "My job is to rehab him as if it's his first
time. He has an advantage because he's been through two long
Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. To check out Len's chat archive, click here. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.