PHILADELPHIA -- When the Philadelphia Eagles opened their three-day mini-camp Friday, they announced that quarterback Donovan McNabb wouldn't address the media and wasn't available for interviews. No sweat. I know what McNabb thinks of the new and improved Eagles because I watched him at the team's opening practice.
He was loose. He was relaxed. And he was happy, bursting into laughter at one point after pulling a Brett Favre and under-handing a short pass to one of his many targets.
|WR Jeremy Maclin is the deep threat Donovan McNabb wants. (Getty Images)|
He should be. Nobody had a better offseason than the Eagles, with the club responding to McNabb's call for more weapons on offense. First, they acquired tackles Jason Peters and Stacy Andrews and fullback Leonard Weaver. Then, they drafted wide receiver Jeremy Maclin, running back LeSean McCoy and tight end Cornelius Ingram.
In short, they listened to McNabb and gave him what he wants -- aside from a new contract, that is. But that's another conversation, and, thank you, but he'll pass.
OK, so forget the contract. Let's concentrate on the new toys McNabb has to play with, and they were everywhere Friday morning -- with one in particular standing out. That was Maclin, the recipient of a bomb that McNabb uncorked down the left sidelines near the end of practice. Maclin was in a race with former New England cornerback Ellis Hobbs -- another offseason acquisition -- with Maclin two steps ahead. When the ball descended, Maclin extended his hands, cradled the perfectly-thrown pass and ran away from his pursuer.
Get used to it, Philadelphia. The ammunition that McNabb said he needed to reach another Super Bowl he now has, with Maclin a grenade waiting to be pulled. There was no way the University of Missouri playmaker should have slipped out of the top 10 in last weekend's draft, but, thanks to the Oakland Raiders' reach for Darrius Heyward-Bey, he did -- lasting until the 19th pick, when the Eagles wisely traded up to get him.
"Mark my words," said an NFC general manager who asked not to be quoted, "Jeremy Maclin will have the greatest impact of all the receivers taken in the draft. The Eagles got themselves a star."
You don't have to convince me. I can't imagine you have to convince McNabb, either. In Maclin he has DeSean Jackson with size. Maclin is taller. He is heavier. He is more physical. Plus, he has soft hands. Like Jackson, he can fly, and, like Jackson, he returns kicks.
"The most important thing," said Mornhinweg, "is our offensive line, which is highly talented, playing well together on a consistent basis. That will be the key. And that will allow the skill players to do their things."
Peters protects McNabb's back, and he's so good that coach Andy Reid called him the best left tackle in the game. Andrews is recovering from a knee injury, but, those within the organization say he's right on schedule with his recovery. Look for him at training camp in August, and look for him at right tackle. He and Peters are major upgrades at key positions and key figures in the protection of McNabb.
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But so is Weaver, the first legitimate fullback the club has had in years. McCoy is a younger version of Westbrook, and he demonstrated his receiving abilities Friday by hauling down a passel of swing passes and short pitches over the middle. Ingram, sidelined last season with a torn ACL, has good hands and size for a tight end and is quick over the middle.
Then there is Maclin, someone Mornhinweg described as "a natural" and the ideal deep threat for McNabb.
"I just want to come in and be of use to [McNabb]," Maclin said. "I want to help him achieve what he wants to achieve and achieve what I want to achieve. I want to fit in and just do the things I need to do. I'm ready."
He demonstrated it by catching everything thrown in his direction Friday. Not since the Eagles had Terrell Owens has there been this much anticipation for a wide receiver, and why not? This is a guy who averaged over 200 yards in all-purpose yards per game, produced over 5,600 yards in two seasons and is capable of scoring by running the football, catching it or returning it. This is also someone who will make life a lot easier for Jackson, the team's leading receiver, and Westbrook, its leading scorer and best all-around player.
"He takes a lot of the pressure off my hands," said Jackson.
That's the idea. If there's a knock on Maclin it's his route running. Scouts say he needs to refine it, but that's what coaches are for. The Eagles love to throw the ball -- last year attempting more passes than all but three clubs -- but not since Owens have they had an outside threat to back off opponents. In essence, that was what McNabb was saying when he complained about not having enough weapons, but I don't hear a peep out of the guy now. I just see him looking for Maclin deep.
"They said I glide," Maclin said of the Eagles' first impressions, "so I'm going to stop gliding. I'm just going to run full speed everywhere I go from now on. I feel pretty confident, and I'm going to take what the coach says to me and run with it."
Congratulations, McNabb. You got what you wanted. Now go play.