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GOUVEIA HAPPY TO BE ABLE TO SOAR WITH THE EAGLES

They lined the 50-foot-long walk leading to the locker room and yelled Kurt Gouveia's name. The day before, he stood there and signed autographs for almost two hours.

Gouveia didn't mind."It's always good when you hear people going, `Kurt! Kurt!,' " he said.

Especially since he didn't hear his name called a lot last year in Washington.

After eight seasons as an on-again, off-again starter with the Redskins, Gouveia found himself on the wrong side of a youth movement and made only one start.

"I guess I didn't fit their mold," the former BYU player said Tuesday as he trudged off the Philadelphia Eagles practice field here. "I think it was just their philosophy of a middle linebacker. They wanted somebody bigger, stronger. You just have to live with it."

Gouveia lived with it long enough to get out of it. A free agent, he now finds himself the starting middle linebacker.

That may change if Byron Evans ends his holdout and signs with the Eagles. Gouveia said he's unconcerned about Evans, who is rehabilitating from a serious knee and leg injury he suffered last season.

"I can't worry about if he's going to come back or not," he said. "I just have to worry about what Kurt Gouveia does on the field and get him ready for the opening game."

In Saturday night's exhibition win over the New York Jets, the Honolulu native forced a fumble, had two tackles for losses, defended three passes and generally was in the right place at the right time.

Even though it was only an exhibition, Gouveia said it was important to play well.

"Being ten years in the league, you want to be a part of that game and defense," he said. "You want to create something and let them know that, hey, this guy can still make plays."

If Evans doesn't return, Gouveia will be asked to make a lot of plays in the defense being installed by defensive coordinator Emmitt Thomas, who came to the Eagles after eight seasons as the Redskins' secondary coach.

"I knew the situation with Byron, and I thought Kurt was the ideal person to come over and run our defense for us," Thomas said. "I don't care what system you give to him, after the first couple of weeks, he would execute it just as well as this one."

Gouveia isn't huge (6-foot-1, 240 pounds) and doesn't have great speed. He compensates by playing with aggression and intelligence.

"A lot on the football field has to be instinctive movement," he said. "If you see something, react to it. If you see something and you think, `OK, what happens next,' you're caught up in the wash."

It wasn't always that way. Gouveia said he has learned a lot since coming to the Redskins as an eighth-round draft choice in 1986.