Young Eagles QB continues to improve

Thursday, August 31st 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

IRVING – Donovan McNabb is hosting his own TV show that will air every Sunday morning in Philadelphia. He's the Eagles' undisputed starter at quarterback, and many NFL prognosticators think he will lead his team to the playoffs after a 5-11 season a year ago.

Not bad for a guy with six career starts and a 60.1 quarterback rating last season.


Height: 6-2

Weight: 226

College: Syracuse

Career highlights: No. 2 overall draft choice in 1999 ... Started 6 of the final 7 contests last season to became the first Eagles rookie to start at quarterback since Brad Goebel in October 1991 ... First career start against Washington (Nov. 14, 1999), going 21-8-60 yds. passing in a 35-28 win. Also went 9-49 rushing and converted on a pair of two-point conversions (1 rush, 1 pass).

1999 passing statistics:

Games: 12

Comp.-Att.: 106-216

Yards: 948

Comp. %: 49.1

TD: 8 INT: 7

Sacked: 28

Fumbles: 8

QB Rating: 60.1

1999 rushing statistics:

Rush Att.: 47

Rush Yds.: 313

Rush Avg.: 6.7

Long: 27

TD: 0

But as he starts his second NFL season at Texas Stadium on Sunday, McNabb also has the maturity and versatility to go from being a rookie with potential to a dangerous and productive young quarterback. For those same reasons, he could cause headaches for a Cowboys team with concerns about its pass rush and secondary.

"Last year was tough. ... I didn't always know what to do because I was learning the offense," McNabb said. "This year, we're all pretty aware of what's going on, and that makes things easier."

The Eagles took McNabb with the second pick of the 1999 draft after he made the All-Big East first team all four years of his record-setting career at Syracuse. The 6-3, 226-pound Chicago native is such a good athlete that he also spent two seasons as a backup guard on the basketball team.

That athleticism scares opponents and excites Eagles fans. McNabb has the arm strength to stay in the pocket and throw downfield, but he may be at his most dangerous when he's forced to use his legs.

"He definitely has the ability to make something happen," Cowboys linebacker Dexter Coakley said. "On a broken play, he can tuck the ball in and become another running back."

Last year, journeyman Doug Pederson began the season as the Eagles' starting quarterback. But after Philadelphia stumbled to a 2-7 record, first-year coach Andy Reid named McNabb the starter.

In his third start at Washington, McNabb reminded everyone why the Eagles passed on Ricky Williams on draft day. He led Philadelphia on two 91-yard touchdown drives in the second half to erase a 17-3 deficit, completing 11 of 17 passes for 129 yards and throwing for both scores. McNabb also rushed for a career-high 71 yards on eight attempts in the overtime loss.

The rookie played one game against the Cowboys, making the start Dec. 12 at Texas Stadium.

McNabb connected on 7 of 17 passes with one interception before leaving in the second half with a sprained left knee.

With one season under his belt, McNabb appeared more poised and posted some better numbers in exhibition games. He attempted 63 passes, completed 61.9 percent of them and had an 89.7 quarterback rating. He also has an improved supporting cast around him.

But with improvement comes expectations. McNabb, who won't turn 24 until November, has the talent to avoid pressure from defensive lines. But that might not be the most daunting pressure he'll face.

"I think he'll be a great success in this game, but he's going to have to learn to deal with the ups and downs," said Cowboys backup quarterback Randall Cunningham, who spent his first 11 seasons with the Eagles.

"He's going to need to be consistent because in Philadelphia if you're not consistent, you're not going to last very long."

McNabb said the only expectations he's worried about living up to are his. And his coach isn't too concerned about his quarterback's mental state.

"He seems to be doing fine," Reid said. "I guess time will tell. ... But that's the person he is. He hasn't had to change his makeup to make things fit. Once you start to change your personality into a different mode, you get yourself in trouble. He's just being himself, and he seems relaxed and confident."