Think about it. The Eagles offensive line finally will scramble together on Sunday, like the line formed after a school bell sounds. Alex Smith, the recently acquired tight end, will try to digest the offense without a burp. Their rookie running back, LeSean McCoy, will try to remember whom to block on which play, where to run, all at an accelerated speed he has never played in before.
Free-agent signee Leonard Weaver, a real-live fullback, will try to define what that means in an Andy Reid offense. DeSean Jackson will try to break through the second-year hex that has plagued some promising receivers of Eagles past.
"We've had a lot of rookies who have had great years in their rookie years," Donovan McNabb said yesterday, "and their second year wasn't as good.
"It's important that we just take it slow."
Listen to that, will you? Now in his 11th season, the man once known for early season pronouncements and predictions now preaches prudence and measured progress. With each cautious response to a question seeking superlatives, both McNabb and Reid, his coach, seem to be distancing themselves from team president Joe Banner's midsummer proclamation that the Eagles roster was the best in the NFL.
"It will be a process," McNabb said at one point yesterday, when asked about the offense's early season efforts. "There will be highs and there will be lows . . .
"It's important that the offensive line continue to gel each day. It's important that our timing and chemistry is there at the wide-receiver and tight-end positions. The same goes for running backs. When you fill in new guys in different positions, sometimes it's tough. You have to adjust from preseason games to games, and there are going to be times throughout the game where we are going to look crisp, and there are going to be times when we don't."
Enter Westbrook, now 30 and in his eighth season.
"We've been doing it together for a long time," he said of his relationship with McNabb, and it was only a couple of years ago that people argued he was the more important piece - which irked McNabb into boastful statements that he was the offense's linchpin.
Yesterday, though, when the quarterback said, "Everything falls on my shoulders, so that's nothing different," it was less about a boast than it was analysis.
"It's very important that I make sure I'm prepared going into games like this," McNabb said. "To make sure that those other guys have the utmost confidence that I'm going to get them into the right position and we'll be able to execute."
Westbrook, when he's in, will lighten that obligation.
"I hope he feels confident that I am definitely going to get my blocking assignment and then anytime I have a pass route that I'm going to get open," said the former Villanova star.
There will be some rust, he said. After all, he didn't get into a game this summer.
"But I feel a lot fresher as I sit here right now going into the first game than I have in the past," Westbrook said.
And if the new guys can just run where they're supposed to run, and the offensive line can hit the ground running - "I just want to make sure that we're all running in the same direction," quipped Reid - then maybe that freshness can add to the offensive weaponry that so far has been more theory than actuality.
"The good thing about this team now is that we have guys outside that can stretch the field," Westbrook said. "We have some tight ends that can stretch the field, so it really gives me the opportunity to be one-on-one with the linebacker, and that really goes back to what I was able to do early on in my career."
Yesterday, on a conference call, Carolina Panthers quarterback Jake Delhomme caught himself talking about Westbrook in the past tense a few times, editing himself in midsentence each time. Even Westbrook got caught once, saying, "I think I can do some of the things that I've done in the past."
But he also said, later, that "I still would love to touch the ball a lot. I think I can still do a lot of dynamic things with the ball in my hands."
McNabb hopes he can be that guy, at least at the start.
Really, after a summer filled with sun and storms, McNabb needs him to be. *
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