DeSEAN JACKSON WAS a no-show last summer at Donovan McNabb's annual pre-training camp get-together with his receivers in the Arizona desert, yet still managed to catch a team-high 62 passes as a rookie.
Moral of the story: If you're good enough to get open, the Eagles quarterback still will throw you the ball, even if you didn't bother stopping by Casa McNabb on the way to Lehigh. Then again, if he had gone to Arizona, maybe Jackson would have caught 80 passes last year.
Jeremy Maclin isn't the risk-taker that Jackson is. When McNabb takes roll Sunday at his 6-day sweatfest and passing camp, the Eagles' first-round pick will be present and accounted for.
"I'm looking forward to it," the rookie wideout said. "I'm looking forward to not only connecting on a football level with Donovan and the guys, but also on a personal level."
In the past, attendance at Camp McNabb has been spotty, which always raised a red flag with me as far as the whole Don As Team Leader thing was concerned. I mean, last summer, when Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger invited his offensive linemen down to his lakefront vacation home in Georgia for a few days of R&R, every tackle, guard and center on the roster cleared his calendar and managed to make it down there.
Granted, drinking beer, playing pool and swimming is a lot easier to get psyched up for than lifting weights, doing sprints and running routes in triple-figure heat. Still, when a five-time Pro Bowl quarterback calls, even if it's to help clean his bathroom, you would think everybody would come running.
This year, it looks as if most of the Eagles' wideouts, running backs and tight ends will make the trek to Arizona, which could be a good sign for Birds fans looking for a reason to believe that this . . . could . . . be . . . the . . . year. Even Jackson is supposed to be there.
"I'm going to go out there and work with him," he said. "I had a lot of success as a rookie, but have to add to it. I want to keep getting better. Spending extra time with Don can't do anything but help me do that."
While a few of you will go to your graves complaining that the Eagles didn't trade for Anquan Boldin or Braylon Edwards this offseason, the bottom line is that they will open training camp later this month with the most talented group of receivers in the McNabb-Andy Reid era.
No, they don't have an established All-Pro as they had in 2004 with Terrell Owens. But they have considerably more depth than that receiving corps had. They added Maclin to a wide-receiving group that already included Jackson and Kevin Curtis, who had 1,110 receiving yards 2 years ago, as well as competent possession pass-catchers in Jason Avant and Hank Baskett, who combined for 65 receptions and five touchdowns.
Tight end Brent Celek caught 19 passes in the Eagles' three playoff games last year, including 10 in their NFC Championship Game loss to the Cardinals. His likely backup, fifth-round rookie Cornelius Ingram, is a 4.6 seam-splitter who will be a handful for opposing safeties. With the addition of second-round pick LeSean McCoy, the Eagles now have two versatile running backs Reid can line up anywhere in the formation.
"I expect a lot from this receiving corps," Jackson said. "We've got Jeremy now. We've got the guys from last year. Donovan's going to have a lot of options when he drops back."
While Reid can't order anyone to get his butt out to Arizona on Sunday, he "suggested" to most of the team's receivers this spring that it would be a very good idea to attend.
"It's a good thing," Reid said. "I think it's healthy. It's so important. The smart receivers and running backs and tight ends, they'll be there. Because you want that guy [McNabb] on your side.
"You want him to have a feel for how you do things. You want that extra little coaching where he's going to tell you, at the top of routes and coming in and out of breaks, what he's looking for. You want to know as much about that guy as you can."
Two-a-days at Lehigh are no picnic, but neither is Camp McNabb. We're not talking run-a-couple-of-routes-and-head-for-the-Coronas here. For starters, it's supposed to be 114 degrees in Phoenix on Sunday. And don't give me, "But it's a dry heat." One-hundred fourteen degrees is 114 degrees.
"The thing I love about it is we work so hard out there," said Baskett, who just returned from his honeymoon in St. Lucia with The Lovely Kendra earlier this week and now is packing for a visit to the Arizona blast furnace.
"If everybody watched what we do out there, that's the closest shock you can get to training-camp speed. We wake up, work out, do outside running, then we lift, then we run routes in the evening. Out there, it's 5 o'clock and it's still 110 degrees. You're getting after it. It's work. It's not screwing around and having fun. It helps. It helps you tremendously."
This will be Baskett's fourth year with the Eagles and his fourth summer at Camp McNabb.
"I've gone every year," he said. "I tell all the young cats, I tell McCoy, Maclin, everybody [to be there]. That was the thing that helped me the most [his rookie year]. Just that little bit. Donovan doesn't have the final say-so in who makes the team. But just that little bit of him seeing that you want to work and do what it takes, I think that helps everybody. No matter if you're a starter or an undrafted rookie like I was. It shows you want to do that little bit extra.
"He's our leader. My job is to catch everything he throws. If he has a feel for where I'm going to be and I have a feel for how he's going to throw it, that's a must right there. Because everybody has to be on the same page. We ran a lot of routes out there last year. A lot of routes." *
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