McNabb says to get off Freddie Mitchell's back

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Freddie Mitchell has at least one fan in the Philadelphia Eagles' training camp at Lehigh University.

Mitchell, the Philadelphia Eagles' 2001 first-round draft pick (25th overall) who is supposed to become at least the team's third wideout, caught 21 passes as a rookie and only 12 as an NFL sophomore last season.

Not exactly the stuff that creates a fan club, but Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb went to Mitchell's defense Saturday during McNabb's first press conference of this training camp.

''I don't think it's a 'make-or-break' year ,'' McNabb said. ''I think you guys are expecting a whole lot out of him. The West Coast offense is tough, there are a lot of things you have to learn, especially coming to the wide receiver position. When you come from college and you're pretty much the No. 1 guy and the ball goes to you 75-80 percent of the time, there are a lot of things that you won't be faced with that you will be faced with in the NFL.''

McNabb praised Mitchell for learning the offense this offseason.

And never mind that critics would throw the word ''finally'' before the phrase ''learning the offense.''

''I think you've only seen a hint of the way Freddie can play,'' McNabb said. ''We've seen it in camp. You guys may not have seen it because we brought Antonio in. But this is a different year and we're going to open some eyes this year and I think all of you need to stop talking about Freddie after that.''

Mitchell will get a chance to state his own case Monday when he reports to camp with the rest of the veterans.

Catching on? Millersville University graduate Sean Scott, in his third annual try to make the Eagles' roster out of a training camp, had a couple of nice catches Saturday, including one he had to reach for over the middle.

The official word: Eagles spokesman Derek Boyko said ''there is nothing new'' to report on negotiations between the Eagles and first-round draft pick Jerome McDougle.

Weighing in: McNabb is noticeably bigger than in past years, but says he is still carrying the listed 240 pounds on his 6-2 frame.

''I've put on more muscle mass than usual,'' McNabb said, and explained it was done with the intention of reducing the potential for injury.

Still mending: Safety Rashard Cook, who came up with big plays in the Eagles' 2001 NFC Playoff victory over the Chicago Bears, remains unsigned after suffering a knee injury last year.

''He's making progress,'' Eagles coach Andy Reid said. ''He's not 100 percent right now.''

Make a day of it: If you can't get enough of the Eagles with their 10:30 a.m. and 3:05 p.m. practice sessions today at Lehigh, the team's new South Philly stadium, Lincoln Financial Field, is open to the public from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Early assessment: ''I think the Giants will be strong, and Washington and Dallas,'' Reid said. ''Just look at Bill Parcells' record. He is a difference maker. He will have those Cowboys playing their hearts out.''

orourke@mcall.com

610-820-6779

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