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Trotter a thoroughbred

Linebacker happy back with Eagles

Jeremiah Trotter was unemployed and seemingly out of options. So he picked up a phone, called his former coach and apologized for the behavior that led to his departure from Philadelphia three years ago.

Seven months later, the hard-hitting middle linebacker is going back to the Pro Bowl, and the Eagles again are one victory away from playing in the Super Bowl.

"I believe this is our year," said Trotter, who came back to the Eagles last summer after two seasons in Washington. "I'm just excited to be here."

The Eagles, who lost the last three NFC Championship games, host Atlanta Sunday.

Trotter's return to Philly was a stunner, considering he left on bitter terms after a contract dispute. One simple conversation with Eagles coach Andy Reid last summer soothed any hurt feelings.

Reid actually extended the first olive branch, reaching out to Trotter when he injured his knee in his first season with the Redskins.

By the time Trotter signed a one-year contract for the veterans' minimum of about $660,000, the past was forgotten.

"I came back to go all the way," Trotter said. "We're in great position right now to do that, so we still have some unfinished business."

Though he made the Pro Bowl in his last two seasons with the Eagles, Trotter accepted a backup role when he came back to Philadelphia. He made the most of his chance to get on the field early in the year by playing well on special teams.

Midway through the season, defensive coordinator Jim Johnson inserted Trotter into the starting lineup and moved Mark Simoneau to the weakside spot.

The Eagles were 24th on defense and 27th against the run when Trotter reclaimed his job before the ninth game. In the next six games, the defense allowed averages of just 70.2 yards rushing, 227.2 total yards, and 10.7 points per game.

A special coach
When Jim Mora was hired as Atlanta's coach, he was immediately presented with a touchy situation: The son-in-law of former coach Dan Reeves was still on the Falcons' payroll.

Surely, no one would have blamed Mora for dumping such a prominent reminder of the old regime.

But the rookie coach never considered getting rid of special teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis, and it turned out to be one of Mora's wisest decisions.

Throughout the season -- and especially in the playoffs -- "Joe D" has shown why he's one of the best at overseeing this overlooked phase of the game.

"If you're in the business, you keep track of who's good at their position," Mora said. "There was no hesitation to keep Joe. As a matter of fact, we had to convince him to stay because so many teams were after him."

Last week, DeCamillis finally gained some national attention in a 47-17 rout of the St. Louis Rams. Allen Rossum set an NFL playoff record with 152 yards in punt returns, including a 68-yard touchdown on a trick play designed by the coach.

The Falcons lined up three players across their 30-yard line for the return, with Rossum in the middle. After catching the punt, he feigned a lateral pass to DeAngelo Hall on the right side, then took off up the middle. Rossum wasn't even touched on his way to the end zone.

Afterward, the cameras homed in on the guy who drew the play up.

"He was part of the highlights," Mora said, "and he should be because he's a big part of this thing."

Ravens hire Fassel
The Baltimore Ravens completed a shakeup of their coaching staff, hiring Jim Fassel as offensive coordinator, Rick Neuheisel as quarterbacks coach, and promoting Rex Ryan to defensive coordinator. Fassel, who coached the New York Giants from 1997-2003, worked as a senior consultant to the Ravens this season. He wanted another head coaching job, but with few openings around the league he did not receive a solid offer and now will try to improve the league's 31st-ranked offense. He replaces Matt Cavanaugh, who resigned under pressure this month. Neuheisel has been out of coaching since being fired by the University of Washington in June 2003 for participating in a high-stakes basketball pool. After impressing the Ravens while interviewing for the job as offensive coordinator, he was hired for the task of refining the skills of quarterback Kyle Boller, a role Fassel filled this season. Neuheisel was 66-30 in eight seasons at Colorado and Washington. The NCAA investigated both Neuheisel and the Washington football program and cleared the coach of wrongdoing. Ryan takes over for Mike Nolan, who left Monday to become coach of the San Francisco 49ers. Nolan ran the Baltimore defense for three seasons. Ryan has been the Ravens' defensive line coach since 1999. He is the son of former Philadelphia Eagles coach Buddy Ryan and twin brother of Rob Ryan, the defensive coordinator of the Oakland Raiders . . . Nolan yesterday agreed to a five-year contract with the 49ers to become the 15th coach in franchise history. Nolan, a longtime NFL assistant, accepted the job before meeting 49ers owner John York to work out the deal. Nolan will be introduced today as the successor to Dennis Erickson, fired earlier in the month after the 49ers went 2-14.

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