All the characters are in place now, all the primary roles have been cast, and if the events of the last few weeks are any indication, the continuing drama that is the Philadelphia Eagles should be another ratings winner when the new fall season rolls around.

If only it would get here.

The story line is stuck at the moment, bumping up against the long wall of the calendar. There can't be any real plot movement or character development until a football game that matters is won or lost.

This is a long way away. When it finally arrives, the Phillies will have taken a close game into the late innings another 70 or 80 times, by which juncture the collective civic patience will be as brittle as week-old pretzels.

Now, though, the Eagles are caught in the amber that divides the 2006 and 2007 seasons. They are just about four months removed from the playoff-elimination loss to the New Orleans Saints. They are just about four months from beginning the next regular-season schedule in Green Bay. The missteps of the past are still fresh. The hoped-for remedies are becoming apparent.

There is no fast-forward button, regrettably, no way to pulse through the next minicamp, the brief summer break, the predictable rigors of training camp and the tedium of the exhibition games.

So the tension has to build like steam inside a kettle, until that first time Donovan McNabb takes a snap from center. That's when the show starts. It will be all about Don.

If we have learned nothing else in this off-season, it is that McNabb has now been set apart from the team, in some ways that are real and some that are figurative.

He has suffered a variety of injuries in four of the last five seasons. The season he didn't, the team went to the Super Bowl. McNabb, who turns 31 in November, teeters on the brink of being considered injury-prone and a risk that teams, including his own, might be unwilling to wager the future upon. If he's even the same player now.

The Eagles have already taken insurance on their ante. Lots of it. They signed backup A.J. Feeley to a long-term contract, used their opening draft choice to take possible heir Kevin Kolb, and retained veteran Kelly Holcomb to audition for the part of Jeff Garcia. (And if you don't think that's going through the mind of Holcomb - who was, by far, the most consistent, professional, healthy quarterback at the just-completed minicamp - then you underestimate the competitive aspect of this game.)

McNabb has so many people looking over his shoulder that he should charge admission. The official position of the team, as twitched by head coach Andy Reid, is that, of course, Donovan is really getting after it with rehab and he's ahead of schedule and he'll be on the field by training camp and he will be the quarterback of this team for a long time to come.

But, yes, now that you mention it, we did draft a quarterback.

The unknowable part of the equation is exactly how much disaffection toward McNabb is growing within the organization - and only partly because, you know, he's been hurt a lot.

The front office couldn't have been overjoyed when McNabb observed not long after Donté Stallworth was cut loose that he wouldn't mind if a top receiver would stick around for a while. Not counting Terrell Owens, naturally.

And there was that strange matter of the Reid-canceled news conference at the NovaCare Complex . . . so Donovan could concentrate on his rehabilitation.

"No, Mr. McNabb, as your doctor, I absolutely forbid you from sitting in a folding chair and answering transparent questions for 15 minutes. You might never play again."

And the recent interview availabilities for selected media members that featured McNabb's sincere but sinuous responses, most of which were along the lines of: Well, I was shocked we drafted a quarterback, but the beat goes on, and he was the best available, but that won't affect my rehab, and I expect to be back in there this season, and I never knew Andy could text anyway.

It wasn't so much what McNabb said, but that he said it on his own, off-campus, lost in the wilds of New Jersey. The last prominent Eagles player who held a news conference east of the river, out there and on his own, was the aforementioned T.O.

Is that where we're heading?

Next question.

More to the point is whether those little irritations will be forgotten when McNabb comes back healthy and sharp, or whether they will grow into a critical mass if he is unready or, more plausibly, not the same quarterback he was before ripping apart his anterior cruciate ligament.

That's the story to be told, and there was nothing at the minicamp last weekend but an introduction of the cast and the dissonant sawing of the orchestra as it warms up.

Eventually, it's going to be a fascinating show. How long before it starts?