There have been encouraging signs every step of the way leading to now. The spring practices were crisp and the execution level was high. Training camp featured big plays all around. Every receiver got into the act. Donovan McNabb was sharp. The backs were weapons. The line stepped up. In the preseason, the Eagles moved the ball up and down the field with McNabb calling the shots.
Now? A new season is here. How much of what the Eagles accomplished on offense during those many months will translate to Sunday and beyond?
"You really can't tell with the preseason games. We got to see DeSean (Jackson) and what he can do with the ball in his hands and so that is another added weapon we have," said wide receiver Greg Lewis. "Myself, Reggie (Brown), Hank (Baskett) and Jason (Avant), we've all been here and we know what we are capable of doing in certain situations. We've got Brian Westbrook, a healthy L.J. Smith, so there are a lot of possibilities out there.
"It all starts with Donovan. I think we have a lot of weapons, and if we do what we are capable of doing, we're going to put up a lot of points."
The challenge is out there. Even with a healthy Kevin Curtis, the critics pointed at the wide receivers as the team's weakest link. It is a criticism that the Eagles have long heard, and long refuted. In a team game, success is gained together and lost the same way.
Certainly, the microscope is pointed squarely at Lewis and Co. again this year. Sunday marks the opening of the regular season and the Eagles are likely to use a myriad of personnel packages against the Rams and try to create favorable matchups and put points on the board. Big plays. Little plays.
All kinds of plays.
"I think we have confidence in each other. And it really doesn't matter what anybody else says," said Baskett. "We have been in the league long enough to know what we have to do. We're going to take it day by day and work hard and then when Sunday comes, we're going to have a great game. That's our approach. We have some great players in this offense. It's just a matter of going out and executing what the coaches plan for us."
The X factor in all of this is the "Z" on Sunday, the rookie Jackson. So far he has said and done all the right things, and the anticipation level to see how Jackson fares in the regular season is as high as it has been for any rookie -- including McNabb -- in the Andy Reid era. A full spring series of practices, training camp and then three preseason games have added to the excitement surrounding Jackson, but a huge test awaits.
Nobody is getting ahead here. The Eagles are going to give Jackson a lot of playing time with Curtis out and with Brown -- who practiced on a limited basis Wednesday and remains a question mark for Sunday -- nursing a hamstring injury. Could Jackson become a go-to receiver so early in his career?
"I'm just working hard and hoping to help out," said Jackson, who was circled by reporters after Wednesday's practice. "I wanted to have a great day of practice today. That's all I'm thinking about. When you get to the NFL, you don't look ahead. That is one of the first things the veterans here told me. 'Stay within yourself and keep your focus.' That's what I'm doing. I'm just taking things day by day. I'm just trying to do the best I can do. I'm here to help this team. There are a lot of great players here. I'm just trying to fit in."
Jackson talked, and then scooted off to a post-practice meeting. The NFL is like that: There isn't much time to fall in love with yourself. And the Eagles, aching to get off to a strong start this season, are trying to come together quickly. Missing Curtis is a blow to the offense, and the Eagles have to find a way to replace his production, and then take a huge step ahead from last year when the offense bogged down too often in the red zone and failed to provide the edge it had earned in years past.
Having a healthy and ready-to-go McNabb in the saddle is the biggest plus. No doubt Smith is going to be a welcomed-back target in the passing game, especially in the red zone. But there is something to be proven otherwise with this offense, with this passing game. It starts Sunday against St. Louis.
"We have to go out there and play the kind of game we are capable of playing," said Lewis. "I like the game plan we have in so far. We're working hard on things. Alll we can do is stay focused and have fun and do what we do. I'm personally looking forward to getting it started. It has been a long time between games. I'm excited to see what we can do."