THE "DON'T ASK-DON'T TELL" strategy for stemming controversy over Donovan McNabb's sore shoulder clearly wasn't working.
When the Eagles shut down McNabb again during Monday's workout, reporters noticed, and they really started sniffing the air when McNabb remained an observer yesterday. The team's chances of getting through tomorrow's end date for these last "organized team activities" before training camp, still insisting McNabb was fine - well, those chances weren't looking good.
So Eagles coach Andy Reid came up with a new plan yesterday, the "2004 plan." Reid held a brief news conference on the practice field at NovaCare, during which he announced that McNabb would not throw again during this minicamp. Reid tried to minimize concern over that development by repeatedly referring to McNabb having been shut down with the same problem during the same camp in 2004.
"Donovan has slight tendinitis in his shoulder, very similar to what he had in 2004," Reid told reporters. "We're going to back off him, just like we did in 2004, and he should be ready for training camp. There's no surgery, there should be no repercussions from it. He'll just get treatment for about 2 weeks here, and then he'll be ready to go."
It was unclear whether McNabb will be able to bring receivers out to his home in Arizona for extra work before training camp, as he likes to do. Reid said McNabb should be OK to throw again in a few weeks.
Reid acknowledged that, contrary to what he'd said previously, McNabb wasn't just on a "pitch count" at the first minicamp last month when he didn't throw the final day, and was observed rubbing his shoulder on the sideline.
"It was bothering him slightly in the first camp, and then it just progressed in this camp here," Reid said. "We limited his number of reps. We started doing that, really, after 2004, just being very aware of the number count so it didn't reoccur. But it happened, and it's not a big deal."
McNabb declined to speak with reporters. Monday, when a reporter snuck in a shoulder question after McNabb agreed to talk about the retirement of Michael Strahan, McNabb said he wasn't worried because "I know it'll get better."
There's no reason to assume that "slight tendinitis" will be a problem for McNabb in training camp 6 weeks from now, or in the regular season, still 3 months away. But Reid's 2004 references were a little misleading. Most reporters standing on the field yesterday weren't sure what he was talking about. Research - when it was too late to ask Reid a follow-up question - yielded the forgotten information that McNabb was held out of the final day of this OTA, 4 years ago today. Reid said at the time that McNabb had "thrown a lot of balls the last few weeks."
Reid managed to make McNabb's shoulder a footnote that day by revealing that he had agreed to wear Terrell Owens' tights to practice, if newcomer T.O. scored 15 touchdowns during the 2004 season. Different times, indeed. There was no indication of any previous McNabb shoulder trouble that year, and the 1-day shutdown was long forgotten by the time T.O. mania began at Lehigh.
This tendinitis might or might not be similar, but the situation has changed. McNabb is 31, not 27, and has a medical history that now includes surgeries for a 2005 sports hernia and a 2006 ACL tear. Also, we know this problem has lingered for more than a month, despite what surely must have been some pretty diligent efforts to treat it - McNabb accounts for nearly $9.5 million worth of cap room this year. If his throwing arm feels a twinge, Jeffrey Lurie grimaces.
McNabb altered his throwing regimen this offseason, working for the first time with trainer Brett Fischer, who has worked extensively with pitchers, including Randy Johnson. McNabb, speaking during the first minicamp, said they'd focus on using his legs for balance and stability. He did not detail any changes in his workouts for his shoulders or his arms.
Reid said yesterday he didn't think the training changes were the cause of this problem.
"He's going to finish this week up, rehabbing, then he'll get a little bit next week, and then he can go back [home to Arizona]," Reid said. Reid added that if this level of tendinitis had come up during the season, "He could have played."
Of course, that doesn't mean he could have played well. Last week, when these workouts began, McNabb seemed to be putting a lot of air under his throws, and often threw behind receivers, something he rarely does. That was when wideout Kevin Curtis alluded to McNabb experiencing a little shoulder trouble, and the Eagles denied it.
Toward the end of last week, McNabb seemed to be throwing well. But on Monday, he wasn't.
"That was the only day that I noticed [a problem],'' tight end L.J. Smith said. "Two balls that were high, one ball that was low, and they just sat him down. I asked what was wrong and they said his shoulder hurt."
Smith didn't seem concerned.
"I don't think it's anything to get worried about, honestly," Smith said. "If his shoulder's a little sore, then it's just a little sore . . . It's OTAs. We're not playing games anytime soon. Why try to fight through something right now that you don't have to fight through?"
Curtis said yesterday that, "Whatever it is, I'm sure it's nothing like an ACL . . . I'm sure he's going to be ready to go for camp."
The backup quarterback is always in a delicate position when these things come up, kind of like the vice president. He can't act like he wants something to go wrong with the guy in front of him, but he needs to project that he thinks he can handle the job if calamity ensues. Kevin Kolb already seems adept at striking the right tone.
Kolb acknowledged that taking all the first-team reps yesterday quickened his pulse a bit, made him bear down a bit more.
"Subconsciously, you do it. You don't want to say that you do it, but you probably do," he said. "You just do your best to stay ready. Hopefully, that opportunity [to play] doesn't come, because Donovan will stay healthy, but if it does, this time will help me."
Kolb said if the season started next week, and he had to play, "I feel like I'd be ready."
He said "every thrower's had sore arms," that in the past he has gone through elbow soreness, though no shoulder trouble. Kolb said that was probably because McNabb's motion is more over-the-top than Kolb's.
The question remains as to why the Eagles have been so secretive about this if it really doesn't amount to much. It could be they are just crossing their fingers and hoping, that the possibility of a serious problem remains. Or the defensiveness could be mere reflex, in a sports media market that has never been accused of underreacting to anything.
"This is no problem," Reid insisted.
As the coach so often tells us, "We'll see."
The Eagles' first full-squad public practices at Lehigh are scheduled for 8:15 a.m. and 2:45 p.m. on Saturday, July 26 . . .
, the 31-year-old son of legendary Penn State defensive coordinator
, has been promoted from Eagles pro scout to director of pro personnel. That's the title formerly held by
, who recently left the team for an assistant general manager's job with the Jets.