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LET'S ADD some weapons," Donovan McNabb wrote in his blog on yardbarker.com in January, two months before the Eagles' pursuit of free-agent cruise missile Randy Moss went for naught when Moss re-signed with the Patriots. On a short walk to his car at the Lehigh University training camp, McNabb elaborated on what he meant.
"When you say 'weapon,' people automatically think receiver," the 10th-year quarterback said. "Weapons can be a lot of things. A weapon could be a guy who gets you the ball back on defense. A weapon could be a returner people fear. It could be another guy on the offensive side who can draw some attention."
Coach Andy Reid appears to have filled each of those gaps in his arsenal, in the personages of, respectively, cornerback Asante Samuel, the 2007 Pro Bowl selection who was signed to a six-year, $57 million free-agent deal; wideout DeSean Jackson, a 2008 second-round pick who returned six punts for touchdowns in his three years at Cal; and former Dolphins running back Lorenzo Booker, whose electric training camp made him the talk of the Lehigh Valley.
Philadelphia will continue to benefit from the versatility of Brian Westbrook, the running back whose 2,104 yards from scrimmage led the NFL last season. He has quietly become one of the league's most dynamic players. "He scares me," says Giants general manager Jerry Reese. "Every time we play them, I'm like, Golly, this guy's a magician."
Still, there's little doubt that the missing weapon is a game-breaking No. 1 wideout. Sixth-year vet Kevin Curtis caught a career-best 77 passes for 1,110 yards last season, but he's out for at least six weeks with a sports hernia, and at 5'11" and age 30, is more a No. 2 or a slot receiver. Of the other wideouts, fourth-year man Reggie Brown has yet to contribute consistently, and not one among the trio of Jason Avant, Hank Baskett and Greg Lewis has reached 50 catches in a season. As for the diminutive Jackson, it's too much to expect him to make a significant impact on offense as a rookie.
In fact, Philly hasn't had an elite receiver since, well—"2004, obviously, when we had T.O.," says McNabb. As he watches Terrell Owens continue his Hall of Fame career in Dallas—and sees Owens choke up when defending the honor of his quarterback, Tony Romo—McNabb can't help but imagine what might have been. "The things we could have done together would have been remarkable," he says. "You're talking about Bradshaw and Stallworth. You're talking about Peyton [Manning] and Marvin [Harrison]."
Even so, McNabb has no regrets about the way Owens's ephemeral Eagles career ended midway through the 2005 season, when McNabb and the front office essentially decided that the disruption Owens caused outweighed his considerable talents. "As he began to get in different situations in Dallas, he understood I was right," says McNabb, who figures Owens is finally breaking his long pattern of destructive relationships with quarterbacks. "You see what he's doing right now with Romo? How different is that?"
So for the third straight year the offensive load will be shouldered by Westbrook and McNabb. The good news is that the 31-year-old passer looked as sharp as ever in training camp, the torn right ACL and meniscus, suffered in 2006 and from which he was still recovering last year, a distant memory. "He's putting the deep balls right over the shoulder," says Baskett. "He's threading the needle. It's back to Donovan—like, Pro Bowl Donovan."
McNabb is confident, even in his receiving corps, which he says is stepping up to the challenge. "If we stay healthy and play the way everyone in the NFL knows we're capable of, believe me, by Week 6 everyone in the NFL will be talking about the Philadelphia Eagles," he says. Four of those first six games will come against playoff contenders, including a pretty intriguing matchup in Week 2—with T.O.'s Cowboys.
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP WITH 2007 STATISTICS COACH ANDY REID (88-56 in NFL), 10th season with Eagles