Training camp started three weeks ago, with as many "other" stories on the docket as any camp in recent years. Donovan McNabb, I was convinced, was not the headline story. In year 10, McNabb was, well, in his 10th season. What more was there to say?
As camp comes to an end -- the final open-to-the-public practice is Tuesday afternoon -- the big story emerging from Lehigh University is the magnificence of McNabb. The Brian Westbrook Contract Watch was intriguing, the Shawn Andrews Absence was engrossing and the Lito Sheppard Updates are ongoing.
But McNabb is the headline.
He has, from the very first day when the rookies and selected veterans reported, been a great quarterback. He has been the total package on and off the field, in exceptionally good spirits, playing with great urgency and consistency. McNabb has been, and you can ask anybody who has spent more than 15 minutes at camp, awesome.
Like the old McNabb.
Maybe, just maybe, better than the old McNabb.
"Donovan really has had a fine camp," said Eagles offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg following the team's afternoon practice on Sunday. "I think the reason for that is that he is healthy. He is using his feet terrific. We've talked about this before -- I think Donovan has always been a great quarterback -- but I think he became even better when he went through those struggles last year when he had very little mobility and he was getting the ball to four and five in the progression. I think he became a better quarterback that way.
"And then you combine the fact that he is healthy and he can run and gun like he did a couple of years back. He has looked great."
McNabb completed 10 of 13 passes on Friday night against the Steelers, leading the Eagles to 10 points in two possessions. The first-team offense marched down the field both times, rolling 70 yards on 14 plays and then coming back with an 8-play, 65-yard touchdown drive before retiring to the bench for the remainder of the night.
It was encouraging, to say the least. McNabb worked the pocket beautifully, sliding to buy time and, at the same time, keeping his poise in the pocket. McNabb had every bit of the mobility he has had in the past and then, maybe, just maybe, he had a little something more.
After playing most of the 2007 season minus his jets, McNabb learned a little bit more about the position. Now he is healthy, and he showed it in the preseason opener.
"I didn't even think about him proving anything or showing anything in the game, because he has had such a good training camp. I really expected it, so I never even thought about it until you brought it up," said Mornhinweg. "Last year, Donovan was healthy enough to play, but he wasn't healthy enough to be Donovan McNabb. He went through all year. Then in the last several ballgames, he played at a high level, but he was not nearly as healthy as he is now."
Mornhinweg admits that McNabb's lack of complete health and mobility last year changed the offensive approach. The X's and O's were different. The Eagles didn't move McNabb as much and didn't call any designed runs until late in the season.
"It changed things, absolutely," said Mornhinweg. "Now it's all systems go for McNabb. Last year, he had to play a different style, and that will help Donovan in the long run. It's easier to say now than it was to admit then, but that experience was good for Donovan in the long run. It was a good thing for him to play through it. Can he be a better quarterback because of it? I think that's a possibility."
It is apparent how free and easy McNabb's mind is in this camp. Last year, well, the scenario was much different. The Eagles used their first pick in April's draft on quarterback Kevin Kolb. McNabb was coming off the major knee injury. Combine the two and you remember the tone of the questions. If McNabb was asked about his "final season as an Eagle" once he was asked it a thousand times. McNabb's demeanor was visibly less enthusiastic at every press conference. His smiles were forced, and infrequent. McNabb looked trapped, honestly.
In this camp, he has been the life of the party. On the field, McNabb has been the personality of the team with his sense of humor and his let's-get-after-it approach. McNabb is constantly chattering, urging on his teammates, talking trash with the defense, enjoying himself.
Maybe that is the difference. McNabb is enjoying himself. He is playing with a level of confidence that maybe he didn't have last because of his health and that seed of self-doubt about his ability to escape the pass rush. Maybe the selection of Kolb jolted McNabb and shook him more than we thought.
In a year's time, McNabb has returned to being McNabb. That is very good news for an Eagles team that needs to make a big move in the NFC East this season. With a healthy, happy and ready-to-go McNabb at the helm, the sky is the limit, right? McNabb on top of his game means wins, correct? Isn't that what history has told us?
With only a couple of days remaining in camp, and with the Carolina preseason game looming, McNabb is again the big, big story with the Eagles. It is a comforting feeling. McNabb has his mojo rolling when the Eagles need it most.