"As long as we're winning and being productive, I'm fine with that," the wideout said. "A couple of years ago, against the Giants, I only caught a couple of passes [four, actually, for 41 yards], but we won the game. I was cool with it. I blocked downfield. But after the game everyone thought I was griping to get the ball more. Jerry Rice did the same thing I did, wanting the ball. But [the media] looks at me like I'm the worst guy on earth."
"Our philosophy is to take what the defense gives us," McNabb said, "and we're not going to change. There'll be games in which he has nine catches, five catches, three catches. He's not going to change my game. He's going to enhance it."
That was evident in the first full-contact intrasquad scrimmage of the summer. The offense drove 70 yards in seven plays--Owens caught three passes--with the precision Reid and offensive coordinator Brad Childress envisioned when Philadelphia worked a three-way trade for Owens in March. (The Eagles gave up a fifth-round draft pick to the Ravens and defensive lineman Brandon Whiting to San Francisco; an earlier trade, in which Owens went from the 49ers to the Ravens, was voided. After he landed in Philly, Owens signed a seven-year, $42 million contract.)
The plan is to move Owens around in various formations, and to illustrate that point, Childress pulled out the tape of the scrimmage drive in which Owens caught the three passes. "Go back to how the 49ers used Jerry Rice," Childress said. "He was the most displaced wide receiver in the league." On the first play Owens was split right and ran a 21-yard cross; with the defense respecting wideout Todd Pinkston's speed by double-teaming him deep with a safety, McNabb hit Owens in stride. On the second play Owens motioned from the left flank and moved all the way across the formation, then ran a quick out and caught an 11-yard pass near the right sideline. On the third, with McNabb sprinting right, Owens took off from the right inside slot, dashed to the flat and caught a four-yard pass. Three catches from three different starting points, 35 yards.
"T.O. is going to make our system better," Childress said. "He wants to be so good so bad. Plus, this is the best camp Donovan's ever had. I think part of it is, when you put a world-class, competitive athlete with Donovan, himself a world-class, competitive athlete, it brings out the best in both of them."
At the same time Childress realizes that Owens's competitiveness can bring out the worst in the wideout, too. He knows all about how Owens ripped into San Francisco offensive coordinator Greg Knapp on the sideline during a game against the Minnesota Vikings last year, but Childress doesn't expect that to happen to him. "The key with T.O. is communication," he says, "to always tell him where he stands."
But it is just as important for Owens to settle differences with teammates, coaches and the front office through proper channels and with respect for authority. "T.O. didn't communicate with his teammates directly," says Garcia, now with the Cleveland Browns. "He communicated through the press. The public way T.O. demonstrated his emotions just wasn't healthy. He created a huge sense of destruction within the team. When you talk to people who've been on his team, you never hear the words 'teammate' or 'team player' [used to describe Owens]." (In response to the Playboy interview, Garcia said he didn't have time to answer "such ridiculous, untrue comments.")
Before the Eagles signed off on the trade with the Ravens and the 49ers, Owens had to convince Reid that he wouldn't be the divisive force he was in San Francisco. Reid is more confrontational than Steve Mariucci, the former Niners coach now with the Detroit Lions, or Mariucci's successor, Dennis Erickson. Because he has more command of the locker room than Garcia had, McNabb won't hesitate to tell Owens to shut up if he starts acting like a prima donna. "T.O.'s got a capo and a consigliere, which he needs--and which I'm not sure he had in San Francisco the last few years," says Young, the former 49ers quarterback.
Another thing Owens will have to do is start accepting responsibility for his mistakes, such as the dropped balls. Owens can always come up with an excuse, as he did when the subject came up during the dorm interview. "I know why I was dropping them," he said. "I was trying to do too much, trying to make up for everyone else's weaknesses. There were times I did get frustrated, and my concentration was off. You bring up the dropped balls, but what about the bad reads by the quarterback? Nobody keeps stats on bad quarterback reads."
"They do here," McNabb said, without missing a beat. "Welcome to Philly."