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NFL Indsider - Mark Maske

Despite Owens, Pressure Still on McNabb

By Mark Maske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 12, 2004; 10:45 AM

BETHLEHEM, Pa. -- The training-camp spotlight has been on the club's high-profile newcomer, wide receiver Terrell Owens. But the Philadelphia Eagles remain Donovan McNabb's team, and the quarterback says he relishes the fact that the club's success in its Super Bowl-or-bust season will hinge on his play.

"It kind of all starts and ends with the quarterback," McNabb said here Wednesday. "That's why I take a lot of pride in my preparation, my work, my determination and making sure I reach my goals. Every time I step out on the field, I have to know what I'm seeing and put the guys in great position to be successful and then be able to execute. I think it all revolves around the quarterback, and I definitely love the challenge."

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The Eagles are scheduled to wrap up their training-camp stay at Lehigh University with a light morning practice today. They'll relocate to their regular practice facility after Friday's preseason opener at New England. During Wednesday's final full practices at Lehigh, the fans' focus again was on Owens, cheering his every move wildly and chanting his name.

McNabb and Owens were roommates at Lehigh after spending time together in Arizona during the offseason after Owens was obtained in a trade with the San Francisco 49ers. McNabb said the getting-to-know-you process is going well.

For a second straight year, McNabb said, his training-camp focus was trying to improve his passing accuracy and touch. He acknowledged that having Owens will enable him to take a few more calculated risks, putting some throws up for grabs to allow Owens to outmaneuver defenders to make the catches. But that doesn't mean that he will spend the season forcing passes Owens's way , he said.

"I learned a lot about T.O.," McNabb said. "I learned a lot about our offense when we have a guy like T.O. in the offense. . . . It's still a learning process for me every time I step out on the field. . . . When you bring in a guy like T.O., you're able to do a lot more different things. What we have to do is not try to do it so sudden. We have to work our way in stages.

"What we have to do is just execute. With us not having a so-called big-time receiver, we still were able to win 11, 12 games. There are a lot of teams out there who had big-time receivers that didn't win nine games. Does that mean that receiver they said was big-time really isn't big-time? No. It just so happens that we know how to play well in our offense. What we have to do now is find ways to be able to get him the ball and not try to force it to him."

What will happen, McNabb was asked, the first time Owens has a game with three catches for 27 yards? Owens was known for, among other things, his sideline tantrums and his public criticism of coaches and teammates in San Francisco, and the Eagles' run of success has featured Coach Andy Reid's spread-the-wealth offensive approach. Still, McNabb said he's not concerned.

"That should be in the first quarter or the first two quarters, the three catches for 27 yards," he said. "I don't expect that to happen. But if that happens, then we have to come back as a unit, and me as a quarterback working with the coaches, to try to work on ways to get him the ball."

The Eagles seem to have all the parts now as they try to take the next step after three straight NFC title game losses. McNabb finally has a go-to receiver. Wideout Freddie Mitchell is drawing raves, and he and Todd Pinkston could be solid complementary wideouts. Tailback Brian Westbrook gives the team a dangerous runner and receiver out of the backfield if he can stay healthy after missing the playoffs last season because of a torn left triceps. The offensive line was beefed up by the addition of first-round draft pick Shawn Andrews at guard, and the defense should be its old, reliable self if new starting cornerbacks Lito Sheppard and Sheldon Brown can replace departed veterans Troy Vincent and Bobby Taylor. The club's "other" major offseason acquisition, defensive end Jevon Kearse, bolsters the pass rush.

The arrival of Owens and Kearse appears to have reinvigorated the franchise and its fans after the bitter disappointment of the latest NFC championship defeat to the Carolina Panthers in January.

"If you sit around and think about how many NFC championship games we've lost and how many times we've been a bridesmaid, you drive yourself crazy," defensive tackle Corey Simon said.

McNabb is attempting to do his part to keep his team from feeling burdened by the expectations for this season.

"The team that has the most pressure is pretty much New England," McNabb said. "When you win the Super Bowl, expectations are so high. Everyone expects you to do it again. If you don't come back and do it again, they're going to say you had a bad year. The exciting part for all the other teams is you have another chance to go out and showcase what you can do. So there's no pressure on us. We've been to three NFC championship games. We've lost. We realize that. But we've made it there, so we know what it takes to get there. We have to find out what it takes to get past that point."

The quarterback even took a good-natured jab Wednesday at his new star receiver's attention-grabbing antics, asking a group of reporters for their help in keeping Owens out of the news.

"Every time I lie down and try to get some rest and focus in on what I need to do in order to come out on this field and do well, try to visualize some different things happening when I'm sleeping, I see T.O. on my TV all the time," McNabb said. "Him being my roommate, we talk about it all night. Can you all just keep him off the TV? I'm trying to watch some TV and relax. I don't want to see his face on my TV. Every time I turn the channel, he's on. I try to watch ESPN, watch the local news -- I'll try watching a movie channel or something, and see if he pops in."

Andrews Fitting In

Eyebrows flew upward around the league when the Eagles traded up a dozen spots in the first-round draft order, from 28th to 16th, and selected Andrews instead of the player that it widely was assumed the team had targeted with the move, Oregon State tailback Steven Jackson.

Yes, Andrews was regarded as the second-best offensive tackle prospect after Iowa's Robert Gallery, who went second overall to the Oakland Raiders. But there were questions about Andrews's work habits and conditioning, especially after he ballooned to 401 pounds early in the offseason.

The Eagles already had two top tackles in Tra Thomas and Jon Runyan. They made plans to move Andrews to guard and cleared a spot in the lineup for him by trading disgruntled starting guard John Welbourn to Kansas City on the draft's second day. But was it worth it, people around the league wondered, to use such a lofty draft choice and spend so much money -- Andrews signed a six-year, $13 million contract that included $6.5 million in bonus money -- on a guard?

The Eagles aren't complaining so far. Reid always has built his teams around his offensive and defensive lines. And Andrews has been a terror in camp, showing great athleticism for such a big man and encouraging the Eagles that he can be an immediate force as a powerful run-blocker.

"Things have been going great," Andrews said Wednesday. "I'm starting to grasp the whole offense and starting to pick up on blitzes a lot better. The physical part has never been a problem."

Even so, Andrews acknowledged that the transition to guard has been difficult after playing tackle at Arkansas and allowing only two sacks in 35 college games.

"It has been tough, especially coming from tackle in college and coming into the NFL at guard," Andrews said. "It would have been different if I'd changed in college. There are a lot more dual reads and having to know what the man on the line next to you is doing and the backs and everything -- knowing where to be at the right time. That's the tough part."

He got his weight under control, reportedly getting into the 340s. He underwent surgery to correct a problem with nasal polyps that hindered his breathing and, he said, kept him from working out early in the offseason.

"I can taste my food and I can breathe better now," he said. "I can run for a long time, a lot longer than I used to be able to run."

He is doing his best to progress quickly enough that he won't be the weak link on the offensive line of a team with such lofty goals. His veteran linemates know there will be an adjustment period. "Having a rookie in there is a challenge," Runyan said. "That's going to take a couple months. It's a work in progress."

Said Andrews: "The expectations are there. It's really up to us if we meet them or not. We've been preparing and I've been preparing personally, doing everything right, eating right and taking care of my body and watching what I put in it. All we can do is go full speed and pray that it turns out the way we want.'' . . . McNabb said he has been impressed by Eagles rookie quarterback Andy Hall, a sixth-round pick out of Delaware.

McNabb said that Hall "kind of reminds me of myself," and added: "He has a strong arm. He can throw the ball well. He's always willing to learn. He sits there and kind of soaks up some of the things the coaches bring out. I might say something or Koy [Detmer, the Eagles' veteran backup quarterback] might say something to him, and he doesn't respond in a way that it's bothering him or he doesn't want to hear it. He's always open for guidance, and I definitely like that.'' . . . The latest stir created by Owens came with this week's revelation that he questioned in a Playboy interview whether his former 49ers quarterback, Jeff Garcia, might be gay. Owens backed off the remarks -- sort of -- during a news conference Tuesday.

"It was just some loose conversation and they asked me about it," Owens said before a group of reporters at the Eagles' camp. "I just told them that my boy always told me that if it looks like a rat [and] smells like a rat obviously, by golly, it must be a rat. My thing was, I didn't say that he was gay. Like I said, the conversation and interview was loose and from my knowledge, I'm not sure if Jeff is gay or not. I've seen him out. He had a girlfriend when we were in San Francisco and there's been recent reports that he has a girlfriend now, so that was the extent of it. Everyone is going to make a big deal about it. But like I said, it's not like I came out and said Jeff is gay. People asked me similar questions about Steve Young, so everybody is going to have their rumors."

Garcia, now with the Cleveland Browns, told reporters Wednesday that it's "a waste of my time to sit here and to have to answer to such ridiculous, untrue comments." Reid brushed off the issue during a news conference Tuesday by telling reporters: "I don't read Playboy."

Owens began training camp by calling the 49ers a bad team, saying he never had played with a quarterback like McNabb and indicating that he maneuvered his way out of a trade to Baltimore in the offseason because of wariness about playing with Ravens quarterback Kyle Boller. His new teammates don't seem bothered by the controversies that he generates, though.

"What's different about T.O.?" Simon said Wednesday. "He fits in well."

Kearse said he's content remain in the background and let Owens grab the headlines. "I'll let him do that," the defensive end said Wednesday. "I'd like to be the silent assassin."

Owens said during Tuesday's news conference: "My grandmother raised me to be honest. She told me not to lie and there's no such thing as borderline lying. I'm not a politician. I'm not going to play to the media. I didn't go to school to be a politician. My thing is, it's honesty first. I think the way that I grew up and the way that my grandmother raised me, the way that I carry myself is definitely out of respect for her. So if people don't like it, then they don't like it. I'm still going to be myself regardless."

Watson Dispute Over Sixth Year

The Patriots' contract standoff with Ben Watson, the 32nd overall pick in the draft, has resulted from the team's insistence that the tight end sign a six-year deal, while Watson and agent Tom Condon want a five-year contract. That would make Watson a free agent a year sooner, and those in his camp feel that's important because a six-year deal would last almost until his 30th birthday. A string of players drafted just before Watson signed five-year deals, and the Patriots' second- and third-round choices -- defensive end Marquise Hill and safety Guss Scott -- signed five-year contracts. . . .

Just-signed prized rookie tight end Kellen Winslow Jr. worked with the second- and third-team offenses Wednesday during his first practice with the Browns. . . .

New York Giants tight end Jeremy Shockey on Wednesday participated in his first practice since undergoing foot surgery in June, but is not scheduled to play in Friday's preseason opener against the Kansas City Chiefs. . . .

Rookie Eli Manning's chances of beginning the regular season as the Giants' starter appear to be increasing. Coach Tom Coughlin gave Kurt Warner the starting assignment Friday but said that Manning and Warner are on equal footing entering the exhibition season. . . .

Arizona Cardinals Coach Dennis Green wanted to build his offense around wide receivers Anquan Boldin, Larry Fitzgerald and Bryant Johnson, but now he has lost two of the three. Boldin is slated to miss eight to 12 weeks after undergoing surgery Wednesday to repair have a torn right meniscus. Johnson is still a few weeks from being allowed to run all-out because of a stress fracture in his right foot. The Cardinals hope to have Johnson back in the lineup by the end of the preseason. . . .

Detroit Lions linebacker Boss Bailey, the brother of Denver Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey, could miss most or all of the season after undergoing surgery Wednesday to repair torn knee cartilage. . . .

Raiders officials say they have offered cornerback Charles Woodson a contract more lucrative than the seven-year, $63 million deal that Champ Bailey signed with the Broncos in the offseason. Woodson, given Oakland's franchise-player tag in the offseason, remains absent from camp in a contract dispute.


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