AS THE ball settled into DeSean Jackson's hands 50 yards downfield, Donovan McNabb celebrated with a bump-and-grind dance. A trick play that looked as if it were designed on a side street had worked, mostly because Jackson ran right past the wannabe defensive backs who bit on the play, and caught the ball down by his knees in full stride.

Yeah, this was just the last day of Organized Team Activities. Yeah, no one wore pads, and no one hit. And, yeah, Byron Parker, a free agent, will not make anyone forget Brian Dawkins anytime soon.

But McNabb was in midseason mode nonetheless.

Maybe it was just that Donovan was just being Donovan as Andy Reid said afterward - on his good Eagles days. "He seems happy, if that matters," Reid said. "He seems to be in a great place. But I can't say I haven't seen that before."

Last night, McNabb got a reworked contract and likely a raise. Joe Banner let out the little secret that this was due during a spring in which he opened windows to a few other things as well. Maybe it's due to the backlash over the Brian Dawkins fiasco, or simply a further clarification of Banner's infamous "insanity" line to Comcast SportsNet's Derrick Gunn after the NFC Championship Game loss to Arizona. But after failing to keep Dawkins and failing to land Anquan Boldin, the Eagles' boss seems to finally be on the same page as the fan base he claims to know so well.

The definition of insanity, he said that day in Arizona, is "doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result." And ever since, Joe's been a busy little Banner. He added guys like Jason Peters, Stacy Andrews, Leonard Weaver and Ellis Hobbs, drafted both a wide receiver and a running back.

Jim Johnson's absence as he undergoes another round of chemotherapy . . . the Eagles' legal battles with the city over a multimillion-dollar handshake . . . at times, the last 2 weeks have felt like much more than they are designed to be.

"Drama," Eagles linebacker Chris Gocong said yesterday. "Lots of drama."

Gocong meant every spring, and in the four seasons he's been here, that's been true. McNabb's status, Reid's family troubles have been undercurrents of previous springs. But this was borderline absurd. The pro hockey team and basketball team were bopped from the back page even before they did that to themselves. The world championship baseball team went to the West Coast and the OTAs looked like the week before a conference championship, there was so much media there.

Reid marveled at it at first, but by the end, he had adjusted well.

"I see where you're coming from with the question," he said. "Just going through it day by day it doesn't seem to be all that much, but I guess if you look at it from the outside in, there are a lot of things that have happened. I think for the most part there, they are good things. Obviously there are a couple that aren't, but most of the things have been good things, things I think will help us as a football team."

These types of proclamations have induced groans among the populace in the past. Mostly because not that many things had happened, at least of significance. It sounds so premature when people rave about Jeremy Maclin's playmaking promise, but they are people who have built reputations on evaluating talent correctly. The Eagles ended their latest near-miss looking like a team on its final fumes. Even with the uncertainty surrounding Brian Westbrook and his surgery, they look anything but that now. If Shawn Andrews is right, their offensive line might be better. If Jon Runyan does the miraculous and returns to the locker that still holds all his stuff - including two unopened bottles of wine - they may even be deeper.

It all could fall apart, too, of course. As poised as Maclin seemed yesterday, he hasn't done a thing. As seemingly identical that LeSean McCoy's skill set is to Westbrook's, he is not him, not yet.

But McNabb's plea for weapons was taken seriously this time around. And Banner's words, which some initially interpreted as a muted warning to coach, quarterback, or both, now have a clarity that is much different.

The Eagles did not do the same thing again this spring. If nothing else, they created an incessant buzz, a lot of concurrent conversations. Maybe it's like Reid said, that Donovan's no happier than he's ever been this time of year. But watching his little bit of insanity yesterday, knowing he was going to get that new deal that seemed so improbable just a few months ago, at least suggests a guy who anticipates different results the next time around. *

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