Eagles camp is quiet without T.O.
BETHLEHEM — Donovan McNabb and the other quarterbacks fired passes on one field, linemen battled each other at the opposite end and the kickers and punters booted balls on the side.
Another hot day, another ho-hum practice for the Philadelphia Eagles.
A year after Terrell Owens created chaos for players and coaches, the Eagles are enjoying a tranquil camp at Lehigh University.
McNabb hasn’t dodged insults on a daily basis. There haven’t been any shouting incidents between players and coaches. No exiled player has held a public workout on his front lawn before a horde of cameras, reporters and even news helicopters. And the new No. 81 — Jason Avant — is a rookie who hardly says a word.
Life without T.O. suits the Eagles just fine.
“It’s unfortunate what happened with the whole deal, but we have to move on,” said McNabb, who was a frequent target of Owens’ criticism last season. “We don’t have to worry about any other distractions as far as the team is concerned. We can just come out here and have fun.”
Owens helped the Eagles reach the Super Bowl in his first season in Philadelphia in 2004, but the star receiver disrupted the team with his contract demands and petulant behavior last year. He eventually was kicked off the squad after seven games but signed with the rival Dallas Cowboys soon following his release in March.
Though Owens’ superior skills can’t be replaced, the Eagles welcome the peaceful environment his departure has brought.
“What a difference a year makes,” defensive end Jevon Kearse said. “We don’t hear the same questions over and over.”
Coming off a 24-21 loss to New England in the Super Bowl, the Eagles hoped to return to the NFL title game and win the franchise’s first championship since 1960.
Instead, the Owens’ saga tore the team apart, and it couldn’t overcome injuries to several key players, including McNabb. Philadelphia finished 6-10, ending a string of five consecutive playoff appearances and four consecutive trips to the NFC Championship Game.
No longer considered a dominant force in the NFC East, the Eagles are eager to prove they’re still a playoff-caliber team in a tough division. It’s obvious the team’s success largely depends on McNabb’s health and his sometimes fragile psyche.
While the feud with Owens was a constant pain for the sensitive McNabb, the sports hernia he played through until finally having season-ending surgery after nine games hurt even more. So far, however, McNabb hasn’t shown any ill effects from his injury, and his state of mind certainly is much improved with Owens gone.
The five-time Pro Bowl quarterback had an encouraging start in a brief appearance in the Eagles’ preseason opener against Oakland. McNabb completed all three of his passes and drove the offense 61 yards on nine plays for a touchdown.
Without Owens, McNabb takes the added pressure to lead the team in stride.
“I was myself last year, but it seems like everybody kept trying to put that dark cloud over me,” he said. “So, it looked like I was trying to sugarcoat what was going on. I’m always going to be myself no matter what.
“There is a time where you have to try and do something to bring a smile to guys’ faces. While we’re out here competing, you just want to add a little life to things. I guess that’s kind of my role. But I’m just going to be myself no matter what, just keep smiling, keep cracking jokes and just try to make as many plays as possible out on the field.”
It won’t be easy for the offense, minus Owens, to match the same level it reached two years ago, when it averaged 351.1 yards and 24.1 points per game.
But a once-feared defense that was terrible last season could be stingy if new additions — veteran end Darren Howard (free agency) and rookie tackle Brodrick Bunkley (first-round pick) — meet expectations and other Pro Bowl players are consistent.
“When you look at the guys we’ve been able to add to this defense, a defensive coordinator like Jim (Johnson) who likes to apply pressure, when you put that much speed in his hands, I know he was smiling from ear to ear once he was able to get all these guys in house,” Pro Bowl safety Brian Dawkins said. “It’s going to be a lot of fun to play in.”