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McNabb on T.O., injuries and the NFC East

Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley

BETHLEHEM, Pa. -- As players such as Jon Runyan, Correll Buckhalter and L.J. Smith saw me waiting at the back entrance of the Eagles' training camp locker room Monday, they all made the same comment: "Waiting on Donovan?"

It's a foregone conclusion that no training camp visit is complete without checking in with the man who's led this team for the past decade. And an hour after all the Escalades and jacked-up trucks had departed the players parking lot, Donovan McNabb finally emerged. He's been in the spotlight for so many years that he almost seems to be on auto-pilot.

He greeted me with a hearty "Welcome to town, man" and invited me to sit next to him. The first thing I noticed was the long scar on his right knee that serves as a constant reminder of his playing mortality. It happened during the 2006 season and held him hostage for a good portion of 2007.

Last year at this time, he wore a knee brace at all times. Now, he's practicing without one and says his last major knee injury is a distant memory. At this point, he understands and even embraces the fact that everyone thinks the 2008 season hinges on whether he can stay healthy. Despite his success with the team, his future is a constant source of debate with the local media.

McNabb has at times lashed out at the constant scrutiny and even questioned the one man -- coach Andy Reid -- who's always stood by his side because, like it or not, he knows his day is coming. He observed the Brett Favre saga through a different set of lenses than most of us because it drove home the fact that the Eagles will some day move on without him. On this day, he seems completely comfortable with that fact. He thinks his knee will allow him to be himself again.

"I've been through my share of controversy over the years," said the 31-year-old quarterback. "But the way I see it and understand it, is that all that negative stuff from last season could easily be changed. [Last year] was a grind, but the injury actually helped acclimate me to being the type of quarterback that I've wanted to be. It's helped me in certain areas."

McNabb thinks the fact he was limited taught him not to always rely on his athleticism. And when his mobility started to return last December, he said he was a much better quarterback.

"I scrambled for 25 yards against the Dolphins in November and I felt like I was back," McNabb said. "But then I twisted my ankle. It wasn't until the Dallas game in December that I felt like I could finally unleash everything."

McNabb caused a mild stir early in camp when he basically suggested that the Eagles shouldn't have lost a game to any of their NFC East opponents last season. In his mind, they were just a few plays away from being a playoff team. He doesn't feel like an 8-8 quarterback heading into 2008.

"I still put us at the top of the NFC," he said. "I feel confident in saying that because all the best teams are pretty much in our division. The Giants and Cowboys are coming off great seasons and the Redskins had a decent year."

McNabb went through last year's NFC East games one-by-one and explained where all of them went wrong. How does he justify the Giants' dominating 16-3 victory in September?

"We were missing our starting tackle," he quickly said. "If we eliminate the mistakes in the red zone and do some better things on defense, it's a different story."

With a healthy L.J. Smith and the addition of rookie DeSean Jackson, McNabb thinks he'll have more players he "can call on" at key moments in the game. He talked about how Dallas can plan around getting the ball to Terrell Owens, and he wants to do that with some of his teammates -- other than running back Brian Westbrook, who's a constant threat.

Since he brought up T.O., I felt like a follow-up question was necessary. Does he ever sit around and think about what the two of them could have accomplished together?

"You mean if he'd realized the situation he was in?" McNabb shot back. "In his situation, he's finally maturing at age 35 [actually 34]. Sometimes it's you, sometimes it's me. [T.O.] thought for so long it was someone else, but at some point, maybe it dawns on you that it's not everyone else's fault. I think once Bill [Parcells] left, T.O. realized that Jerry [Jones] truly loved him. And now he has a quarterback that he feels comfortable with. He's listening. Sometimes you have to understand the reality of the whole situation, and I think he did that."

McNabb stopped to think about it for a moment longer, not wanting to change a subject that will always follow him.

"It could've been great," he said. "What did we have, 30 TDs? You don't see that type of combination very often. That's like Peyton Manning and Marvin Harrison. We would have been up there."

Does all that sound patronizing? Absolutely. But there's probably some truth to what McNabb's saying. What amazes me is that T.O. has been gone since midway through the 2005 season and his former teammates still bring him up on a regular basis. Tight end L.J. Smith called him a "different kind of guy," but he said he never thought he was a poor teammate.

"If you think about it, that locker room fight he got into here was with a non-player," Smith said Sunday.

In other news, McNabb said he no longer worries about the fact that quarterback Kevin Kolb is waiting in the wings. He let it bother him when the team first selected Kolb in the second round, but it's not something he thinks about anymore.

"We needed to draft another quarterback," he said with no t
race of sarcasm. "That's the way the organization's going. I understand that."

As he climbed into his black Escalade truck, McNabb said he wanted to finish his career in Philadelphia. But he said the Favre story reminded him that the Eagles might be ready to move on at any minute.

"I might end up somewhere else," McNabb said. "And I'm prepared for that."