Bob Ford | Birds' minicamp needed McNabb's spark

Posted: June 15, 2007

The Minicamp That Ate Philadelphia came to a merciful end yesterday after more than a month of drills, conditioning, playbook repetition, skeleton routes, and everything that makes football great with the possible exception of a single tackle.

After two weeks with just the rookies and free agents and another two with the veterans mixed in, the Eagles finally halted the so-called Organized Team Activity and excused the campers until July 27, when they will gather at Lehigh University.

The NFL season is so far away that little of this prelude means very much, and very little can be learned that is sure to last until September. There is really only the obvious. Kevin Curtis is fast. Takeo Spikes is a huge upgrade. Ian Scott is a large man. That sort of thing.

Beyond that, it is just a bunch of guys in shorts running around without football pads, each fervently waiting to be released from this endless repetition. It gives the coaching staff something to do, and provides an early look into who will be quick to pick up the system. But enough already.

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If the minicamp had a highlight, there isn't much debate about what it was. The moment quarterback Donovan McNabb stepped out of the shadow of his rehabilitation and began taking snaps on Monday, the tenor of things changed slightly. Suddenly, it wasn't merely Busywork Camp. There were some repetitions with the big guy, and the level of intensity went up all around.

"I think Donovan coming out this week obviously changed the atmosphere of practice a little," Curtis said. "That's our guy out there."

No offense to the other guys in red jerseys - backup A.J. Feeley, just-visiting Kelly Holcomb, or rookie Kevin Kolb - but if the Eagles are going to be contenders this season, it is a destination that depends on the long, successful arc of McNabb's comeback from knee surgery.

Andy Reid has consistently said that McNabb is ahead of schedule on the comeback, but that doesn't take into account the reality that there is no firm schedule. Every injury of this kind is a snowflake, no two alike. Every patient heals at a different pace, every knee reacts differently to the surgery, every rehabilitation has its own rate of reward.

The fact that McNabb could take snaps this week, could do all the footwork and rolling out necessary under conditions that weren't that far from game speed, was a good thing. Ultimately, it means nothing, because he could suffer a setback stepping off a curb next week, but his return was still the biggest highlight during the dreary run of the OTAs.

"Well, I've already gotten past the part of believing, knowing that the knee is healed," McNabb said. "Now it's pretty much being able to do a lot of football-oriented stuff - if it's changing directions, starting and stopping, being able to accelerate, whatever it may be - so that trust in the leg is there."

That's what running the offense in this setting did for McNabb this week. He felt good about himself, saw that his knee didn't swell badly or ache horribly, and came away feeling confident that his dedication to coming back had been worth it.

What the rest of the Eagles got is something else entirely. They got a vision of their starting quarterback that erased the last memory of the 2006 season, when McNabb limped away with yet another serious injury.

"Yeah, the tempo picks up and guys were excited to have him out there," Reid said. "He's a big part of this football team. So to have him back in the mix and for guys to see that he's healthy, and all the hard work they've seen him do in the training room now correlates with his performance on the field, [it] picks up practice."

Not only that, but they see the arm, which delivers the ball with significantly more zip than the others. They see a guy who can throw a pass 50 yards off his back foot, and, well, it's just not the same.

"We're excited," receiver Jason Avant said. "We want him out there."

McNabb noticed.

"I kind of felt a different type of energy, of guys flying around and guys smiling and enjoying," McNabb said. "I enjoy trying to bring excitement back . . . of pushing each other. If a guy drops a ball, you tell them, 'Give me 10 push-ups.' I'll do push-ups if I [throw a bad pass]. It's just that confidence that everyone is giving each other."

He said that such confidence was "something that I felt we were missing at that point and I was looking forward to getting back and providing that."

So it was great for McNabb to test the knee, but running through cones by himself on an empty field would have probably done the same thing. He will go to Arizona now for his annual pre-camp workout program and then there is training camp, and there will be a certain amount of peril at each stage.

What mattered this week was not just confirming that the knee appeared stable at this point. That mattered to McNabb, of course. To the others, having him as something more than the ghost of the weight room was equally important. They saw their starting quarterback this week and were reminded that there is a reason some guys start and some guys don't.

Bob Ford |

Bob Brookover offers video observations from the minicamp at

Bob Ford |

McNabb heads for Phoenix, promising more hard work. C6.

How to be a good father? Donovan's dad shares advice. Annette John-Hall, B1.

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