A group of men, some of them quite large, ran around a huge lawn in shorts here yesterday.

Several dozen reporters, a handful of photographers and a phalanx of minicams converged on the scene to document the men's activities. After their exertions, which vaguely resembled the popular American sport called "football," several of the men held news conferences that were carried live on a local TV channel.

It's amazing Shakespeare came up with the phrase "much ado about nothing" without the benefit of covering an Eagles minicamp.

Takeo Spikes, a veteran linebacker who has been through more than a few of these, was somewhere between amused and confused by the playoff-level media throng. But then, Spikes spent his previous seasons in Buffalo.

"It is a first," Spikes said. "[Jeremiah Trotter] told me, 'You're an Eagle now. Everything that you see and everything that you experience is going to be a first.' And this is a first, to see this much media coverage."

The truth is, you can't learn much about a team from a handful of May practices with no pads and no contact. Really, you're more likely to be deceived. Linebackers who look fast in minicamp don't move quite so well with all the extra equipment on in a game. Receivers who make beautiful catches over the middle of the field aren't always as carefree when an ill-mannered safety is bearing down on them with evil intent.

Oh, and quarterbacks who casually flip perfect spirals to open receivers aren't always so cool when the hot breath of some monstrous, panting defensive tackle is on the backs of their necks.

"It was the first practice of 2007," coach Andy Reid said. "There are quite a few left."

All that said, there is something profound about the first appearance of a new team. Whatever becomes of the 2007 Eagles as a group, and whatever becomes of the new players in their individual careers, it all started here on a perfect spring morning.

That first official practice has a special significance in Philadelphia. It marks the dividing line between the off-season, that unmapped territory governed by doomsayers and traffickers in panic, and the actual football part of the year, when Reid and his team suddenly appear much more competent. Every year, no matter what traumas and dramas dominate the winter, a pretty good football team seems to show up for minicamp.

That isn't to say this year wasn't a little different. None of the three quarterbacks who practiced yesterday (A.J. Feeley, Kevin Kolb, Kelly Holcomb) was here for last May's minicamp.

For the first time in a decade, the special-teams period was run by someone other than John Harbaugh, who moved over to the defensive side of the ball.

And there was Reid himself, back on the field after the most difficult off-season of his life. That just reinforces the point. Whatever happens between the end of one season and this renewal - free agents signed and lost, whatever Donovan McNabb is being roasted for, contract squabbles, draft-day second-guessing - suddenly fades when the team takes the field.

"You look for that positive look in their eye and the excitement [of] getting things ready to go," Reid said. "You saw the energy out there. The guys were flying around. They were excited about the season coming up. Just like you sensed it, I sense the same thing. You can feel it."

Trotter has seen some things during his tenure here (including, now, a special-teams practice run by someone other than Harbaugh). He has been on bad teams and great teams and very good teams. He has learned that no matter what drama defines the off-season - including, once, his own bitter departure - it's really all about the team that reports to camp.

"I had a really good feeling today, even before practice started, when I went on the field," Trotter said. "But you really don't know until you put on the shoulder pads and the helmets. It's just going to take time to jell."

We'll have to wait until August at Lehigh to learn whether McNabb is able to move as well as he did before the knee injury.

We'll have to wait to see if Spikes is the brute force he was before his own injury, and whether Chris Gocong and Brodrick Bunkley and Sean Considine are enough to upgrade this defense.

We'll have to wait until the pads are on to see if Kevin Curtis and Tony Hunt give McNabb enough weapons to complement Brian Westbrook, Reggie Brown and L.J. Smith.

We'll have to wait even longer to know whether Reid was right about Kolb, and what it will mean if he was.

All we learned yesterday was that another season got here. In a way, that was plenty.

Contact columnist Phil Sheridan
at 215-854-2844 or psheridan@phillynews.com. Read his recent work at http://go.philly.com/philsheridan.