L.J. Smith was a full practice participant yesterday, which would seem to put him on track to start Sunday night against the Giants, assuming the tight end suffers no setbacks in his recovery from a concussion suffered Oct. 26, against the Falcons.

Smith wasn't around to talk about his situation during the time reporters were allowed in the Eagles' locker room yesterday. In fact, he has been a man of few words ever since reports surfaced during the bye week that the Birds tried to trade for tight ends Tony Gonzalez from Kansas City and Kellen Winslow from Cleveland.

Brent Celek was on hand, but if anyone expected indignation from the second-year tight end because Eagles coach Andy Reid decreed Celek will not supplant Smith, despite Celek's six-catch, 131-yard day Sunday at Seattle, he left disappointed.

"I don't think so. I don't think I've really earned it," Celek said, when asked whether he expected a larger role, after putting up more yardage than Smith has ever managed in a game, in six Eagles seasons.

"I think I've showed what I can do, but like I've already said, L.J. is a great player, and I'm happy that he's back this week."

Reid, asked about the process involved in getting Smith cleared to play, said: "There's a written test they take and send it off and have it evaluated. There's a whole process involved. He has been doing better the last couple of days."

No surrender

Judging from the transcript, Donovan McNabb's conference call with New York-area reporters got a little snippish when McNabb refused to play along with a reporter's thesis - that a loss to the 7-1 Giants this weekend would establish New York as the class of the NFC East and virtually leave the 5-3 Eagles playing for the wild card.

Sometimes there are nuances to people'sstances that aren't obvious in transcripts, but just from reading, it's easy to see McNabb's point. Nothing is over at midseason. (Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor?) The Giants could win this week, then next week, Eli Manning could go down for the year and the Giants could be done. A look at where the Cowboys are now vs. where they were 6 weeks ago ought to be instructive there.

"I think that it is a long season, it is not a sprint, it is a marathon," McNabb said. "You have to pace yourself; continue to get stronger as the race continues on. And that is something that we are doing at this particular point. If we go out and beat the Giants, do we go down as the best team in the division? I'm sure you guys would probably say no. So it is a game that we have to play. It is going to be an exciting game, a lot of people will be watching. We will be ready to go. I'm sure they will, too. So may the best team win."

McNabb was asked to clarify that he "wouldn't be conceding" that the Giants are a better team, if the Eagles lose.

"Yes, that is what I am saying," McNabb said. "What would you expect me to say?"

The questioner replied that he was thinking the Eagles might conclude the Giants were the better team, if they had a three-game lead with seven games left to play.

McNabb pointed out that the standings would not have indicated the Giants were the best team in the division at any point last season -they finished 10-6, the Cowboys finished 13-3 - yet the Giants won the Super Bowl.

The questioner said that wasn't his point. But McNabb said it was his point, and the discussion turned to other subjects.

Maybe when he texted with Jimmy Rollins last week, D-Mac got some tips on how to deal with that crowd.

Birdseed

It sure looked as if the first of the two 39-yard field goals David Akers booted Sunday in Seattle was a 40-yarder, and the NFL said yesterday that was indeed the case. That makes Akers 3-for-4 this season from 40-to-49 yards . . . Similarly, Darren Howard said after the game he thought one of his two sacks should have been shared. Yesterday, the league gave a half-sack to Juqua Parker, who now has five, and took a half from Howard, who has six . . . Cornerback Lito Sheppard (groin) did not practice . . . Right guard Shawn Andrews' chances of playing again this season would look better if Andrews could get cleared to fly back from the West Coast, where he has been since his back surgery 2 weeks ago. *