You wonder if a fast start is in jeopardy. You wonder if they are starting to worry about it. You ask Donovan McNabb and you listen to him knock down the notion.
"I'm not worried about that at all," he said, dismissively. The man does not do declarative statements but this was one.
In his 11th professional training camp, McNabb still looks like himself. He looks fine. And while he has never been closer than an adjacent practice field, running back Brian Westbrook looks fine, too, as he works his way back from offseason surgery. McNabb and Westbrook are two legs of the stool, and their news is good. But the rest remains a mystery, 2 weeks into hell (aka two-a-days).
"You go through days like this," McNabb said. History suggests he would not have acknowledged the offense's bad day had not offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg preceded him in the interview tent with just such an acknowledgement. But there it was.
"When you're in training camp not everything is going to be crisp," McNabb said. "I thought, offensively, we've been able to do some great things in the previous days and we've had some tough days, but we've been able to battle through. Today was a tough day for us and the defense had a wonderful day today and we saw some different looks that we haven't seen before and guys were making plays. You obviously want that to happen, but you don't want that to happen vs. us.
"I think we can just watch the film, be very critical and come back out tomorrow and be ready to attack our defense. It's very competitive out here, there's a lot of trash-talking going on throughout the day, and today our defense won. But we look forward to getting back out tomorrow."
Which is a pretty realistic assessment of the whole thing. The defense is ahead of the offense so far, noticeably ahead, and that happens in NFL training camps sometimes. It's just that, well, there were such hopes on offense with all of the doodads the team added in the offseason. There would be a break-in period, sure, but the end result was going to be an offense with more potential explosion and more options.
It's just that the break-in period is becoming excruciating. The game Thursday night against New England will be the first real look at what they have, probably for a couple of series, and then we all will have our first real benchmark. But between now and then, we are left with dropped passes and squishy execution and no earthly idea what this offensive line is going to be able to do.
And McNabb saying in the background, "It's important for us to start fast . . . "
With every body that goes down, and that's on both sides of the ball, this quarterback becomes a more important player for this team. With every hiccup, the focus on McNabb grows sharper. It is the nature of the position. It is the nature of where we are in his life cycle as a player, and this team's life cycle as a franchise. Whatever is lacking, he is going to have to patch and fill the cracks. He just is.
Somebody asked yesterday about his lifetime statistics and McNabb said, "If I can give back all of that to get a ring, that's what I want. I look forward to these next couple years, hopefully this year, of putting things together, leading this team into where we need to go and hopefully holding up that trophy at the end."
The distance between now and then is immeasurable at this point. The only certainty is that, this summer, the Eagles can't spell T-R-A-I-N-I-N-G C-A-M-P without M-R-I.
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