Oh, how Donovan McNabb must be enjoying himself now. Working out. Spending time with his family. Getting together and breaking bread with his receivers in Arizona, preparing for the season ahead. These are the days players cherish and hold as long as they can. It is quiet time as the minutes dwindle between now and the start of training camp.
McNabb is scheduled to report to Lehigh University on July 21 as the cameras scurry to photograph him as he parks his automobile and carries his bags to the dorm room he will then call home for the next three-plus weeks. At that point, of course, McNabb knows what is ahead: He is in the center of the Eagles universe, a place he has occupied with great grace, success and dignity for 10 years.
It has been, in retrospect, a remarkable period of time for McNabb and for the Eagles. Included are all the NFC East titles, the four appearances in the conference championship game, the Super Bowl visit, five Pro Bowl nods and, yeah, a share of disappointments with the rash of injuries.
And as we are again reminded -- by the Brett Favre never-ending story in Green Bay -- the quarterback position is the most important on an NFL team. It is clearly the most valued, the most fickle and without question the most difficult position to solve. The Eagles have had it solved since 1999, the year McNabb arrived as the second pick in the NFL draft.
So what about the year ahead? Is it solved still? The Eagles think so, very much so, in fact. They have McNabb, who despite a minor bout with shoulder tendinitis in the spring camps, will be entering training camp with a 100 percent clean bill of health for the first time since the 2004 summer. Am I minimizing the shoulder? No, not by the way the injury has been described to me, how the Eagles have reacted to it, how McNabb feels right now.
Surely, should McNabb have more stiffness there, should he lose practice time in training camp, yeah, it would be fair to be concerned. But not now. Not with the current state of his shoulder. McNabb is healthy. All the way. He is ready to go.
I did a radio interview the other night with a station in Indianpolis and one of the hosts asked if this year was more of a question mark physically or mentally for McNabb. I didn't know how to answer, to be honest with you. What are the issues with McNabb mentally, I wondered? Are there any mental question marks that I don't see? McNabb overcome some tremendous hurdles last year and when he bounced back and won three games to end the season, well, the page was turned for me. No issues. No lingering question marks about whether McNabb would stay or go, or whether he would be in limbo.
Shoulder tightness aside, then, this has been a strong offseason for McNabb. He will be in tip-top physical condition for training camp. The knee is all the way back. McNabb had the good fortune in the offseason of training to become better, rather than training to recover from an injury.
It is, frankly, a comfort to know the Eagles have McNabb ready right now. That isn't the case everywhere. In Carolina, for example, Jake Delhomme is returning from a serious shoulder injury. Green Bay has Favre and his drama. Jason Campbell ended last year nursing a wounded knee. Chicago doesn't have a clear-cut starter.
McNabb, though, comes into the cauldron, and he knows it. That goes with the territory. He has a Super Bowl to deliver here, and that single elusive goal is the one blemish in an otherwise admirable career here. McNabb has an offense to hoist to more consistent, more explosive heights. He has a division to again capture, and he has a conference to scale.
On the relative eve of camp, the conversation here again turns to McNabb. It is a delight to see him play and to watch as he moves so cleanly through the landmine of questions and critics. McNabb is set for a season of success again, for the Eagles have made their offense better by re-signing tight end L.J. Smith, now fully healthy, by adding running back Lorenzo Booker and wide receiver DeSean Jackson, and by keeping the core intact for another season.
There are X's and O's wrinkles, a new set of eyes in offensive assistant Mark Whipple and a huge surge of optimism. I see McNabb completing a high percentage of his passing in the short passing game involving Booker, Brian Westbook and Smith, and I see home runs with Jackson and Kevin Curtis, with Reggie Brown and Jason Avant doing damage in the intermediate-passing game. I see personnel capable of having a balanced offense, a stable in the backfield that should provide a consistent, reliable running game.
And I see McNabb leading the way. Maybe he doesn't have to carry the offense as he did in the early part of this decade. The idea is to make good reads and then get rid of the football and watch his teammates rack up the YAC (yards after catch) numbers.
Then again, these are the days for dreaming. McNabb, quiet now, enjoying every minute of the down time, will soon be in the eye of the hurricane. He may not be the big story every day, but he will be, as the quarterback always is. And that's just fine with me, as McNabb enters his 10th season here.