With Eagles, No. 1 Receiver Is Up for Grabs

Donovan McNabb
"We have a great group of guys here who work well together," Donovan McNabb said. "We spread the ball around." (Rusty Kennedy - AP)
By Les Carpenter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 27, 2006

BETHLEHEM, Pa., July 26 -- In some ways, there was comfort in the mayhem. Terrell Owens made lives miserable around the Philadelphia Eagles with his rants and boasts and increasingly tiresome demands for more money. But when he was on the field, the Eagles knew there was someone who would always catch the ball.

Life might be simpler now and the Philadelphia players have talked at length the last few days about how they are glad to be rid of the distractions that invariably came with Owens. Yet, in Owens's absence, they never addressed the problem that glared at the end of last season when the wide receiver was suspended: The Eagles may not be able to adequately replace him.

The talk in the first few days since the Eagles have opened their training camp is about how the team is going to run more this year, how it will have balance and won't need a lead receiver because everyone is going to contribute.

"When you say 'go-to-guy,' sometimes that gets overlooked because -- when you say, 'I am going to go to this guy on third down or I'm going to go to this guy all the time' -- people tend to look at that as we have a guy like Marvin Harrison or Chad Johnson, someone like that," quarterback Donovan McNabb said. "We have a great group of guys here who work well together. We spread the ball around."

Which is always the kind of thing that sounds good in training camp, but often fails to work. Eventually someone will have to emerge if the Eagles are going to have a chance in the highly competitive NFC East.

The obvious choices are Todd Pinkston and Reggie Brown. But Pinkston -- who caught 60 passes in 2002, and missed all of last season after tearing his Achilles' tendon in training camp -- is cautiously stepping back on the field for the first time. And Brown is a second-year player who didn't shine until the season's final four games, when he caught 20 passes. And even with that final month, he had only four touchdown catches.

"That will take care of itself," offensive coordinator Marty Mornhingweg said this week when asked about finding a go-to receiver. "It's kind of a natural progression that teams make on who a go-to guy is and one may rise up and become a go-to guy. We may not have a go-to guy. We may have three different guys catch 40 balls. That happens quite naturally when you're going through a season."

For now, it seems Brown will be given the biggest chance to emerge as a lead wideout. The plan is to go slowly with Pinkston, especially with a longer training camp and five exhibition games. That means the majority of passes may go to Brown with Greg Lewis and free agent acquisition Jabar Gaffney also getting prolonged auditions.

"He's a real smart kid," Coach Andy Reid said of Brown. "He'll work as hard or harder than anybody on this team at what he does. He's hard to tire out, man. He'll keep going. When [Tampa Bay Buccaneers Coach] Jon Gruden had him in the Senior Bowl, that was the thing he told me: 'You can't wear this guy out, he keeps rolling.' And that's how he is. He just pushes, pushes and pushes every play."

As for Pinkston, Eagles coaches remain optimistic he is healthy enough to make an impact. They see him running and making cuts and take that as a sign he is fine again. McNabb said he sees the "explosiveness" returning to Pinkston's stride.

Another option may eventually be Jeremy Bloom, the Colorado star who had to give up two years of eligibility to pursue an Olympic career in moguls skiing. Bloom, a fifth-round pick, is fast but small at 5 feet 9. He has also been bothered by pulled hamstrings and has not practiced yet, making it hard to judge if he can even make the team.

For now, though, there isn't a clear answer on anyone.

"I think every time you focus on one particular receiver, you kind of ask the question: 'Well, what is the other guy doing?' McNabb said. "That's why you see teams like Carolina going out and getting Keyshawn [Johnson]. If they double-team Steve Smith, who else can they go to? Reggie Wayne had a wonderful season last year feeding off Marvin Harrison. T.J. Houshmandzadeh had a wonderful season feeding off Chad Johnson. So it's not one particular receiver. In this offense there are two, three, four receivers that play a major part.

"Once we get cooking, people will understand this is an effective offense."

Last year it wasn't, finishing 19th in the league. And that was with Owens for half a season.

Now that he's gone for good, it might be worse.

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